Catholic Free Press

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  • Nov
  • 7

Women gather, respond

Posted By November 7, 2013 | 1:00 pm | Lead Story #1
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By Tanya Connor

Life seemed unfair: for Mama, those with physical limitations, the starving. But they helped impart important lessons.
With these stories, Ursuline Sister Bridget Haase encouraged participants in Saturday’s Gather Us In- 2013 women’s conference to “live from this blazing fire, not from smoldering ashes.” She and her brother, Franciscan Father Albert Haase, do the “Spirit and Life” Relevant Radio program.
Also making points through stories – and songs – was keynoter ValLimar Jansen, a recording artist with Oregon Catholic Press who has toured the world professionally.
“The women were happy to be there and share their day and faith with others,” reported Anne F. Ancona, of the diocesan Commission for Women, which sponsored the conference which was held at the DCU Center. “The speakers were insightful and full of God’s grace and the vendors were happy to share their gifts.”
The theme of “Gather Us In was “Responding to our God of creation, redemption and inspiration.”
Sister Bridget said her father committed suicide, leaving her mother with $12.50 and children to educate. She wanted her mother’s later years to be good, but she got Alzheimer’s.
“One day I was feeding her, but I was not present to her,” thinking instead of her past and future, Sister Bridget said. But “Mama was totally in the present moment, enjoying the taste of chocolate ice cream.”
Sister Bridget, spiritual coordinator at The Boston Home in Dorchester, told of second-graders visiting the residents, many of whom can’t speak. One child waited patiently for a woman to type, so a robotic voice could speak for her. He hugged her and said, “Lady, don’t you worry you can’t talk; you smile so pretty.”
“Being totally present to one another is to live this abundant life,” Sister Bridget said, using them as examples.
She told of a woman diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in college. She and her husband adopted children, who were killed by a drunken driver. Devastated, her husband divorced her. She went to a nursing home. Sister Bridget found her going in circles and asked if she was all right. She explained, “I’m dancing.”
After a routine physical, she learned she had terminal cancer. Before sipping her dying wish of strawberries and champagne, she said, “I want to toast God for the wonderful life I have had.”
“We get up, dress up and show up for life, even though we walk in darkness, because getting up, dressing up and showing up says to God, ‘I trust in you,’” Sister Bridget said. “Whatever the weight of the cross on your shoulder, we know … that God’s grace is greater … We may not see the solution, but God does.”
It was the same message as the one in the workshop, “All is Well,” presented by Peggy Patenaude of Cape Cod, founder of the “Taking Time Out” retreat and workshop ministry. Mrs. Patenaude said even though life is messy, we shouldn’t be undone by the mess. “Choose to be grateful for life’s pleasures, and know that there is always a blessing in the darkness,” she said.
“God’s grace is always available to use, “ she said.
Sister Bridget too called for seeing God everywhere and told of her mother telling her, as a child, to look for him in the double amputee she thought stunk. Women of passion keep looking, she said; “God comes by surprise and disguise.”
Feeding starving children in Sudan, she let a 5-year-old choose a sweater benefactors sent and noticed a note.
“My dear child, I made this for you,” it said. “Somebody cares about you in the UK. I hope you have food.” Three days later the boy was buried in his sweater.
As she was leaving Sudan, a woman with three starving children gave her a bill that would have taken hours to earn.
“Whether I give this to you or to Allah, it is all the same,” the Muslim told her.
“One on one is how it’s done, and it’s done for God,” Sister Bridget said. She said Mother Teresa said she had the Gospel on her fingertips: “You did it to me.”
Ms. Jansen got women to “do it” to each other, whether it was a pat on the back, a sign of the cross, or dancing – to illustrate the song “Come and go with me to that land where I’m bound.” In heaven there’s no more crying or dying, but dancing with Jesus, according to the song and accompanying pictures on the large screen.
Ms. Jansen instructed participants to bring someone to the next women’s conference: “This stuff is so good we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves.”
She retold – with expression and action – the stories of creation, Naomi and Ruth and Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. She spoke of seeing and hearing Jesus in the Eucharist and when not at Mass, “that I may love everyone the way you love me, the way you love everyone.”
She sang, “You’ll walk through blazing fires … Walk with hope, know you can, because you can, if only you will.”
“She was absolutely life-giving,” Sister Janet Provost, a Sister of St. Joseph, said of Ms. Jansen. “I always like to move to music. … I’m going to use one of her songs for my confirmation class” at Christ the King Parish in Worcester.
This was “the first time I was actually involved in the talk,” said Linda Bent, of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Westborough. “When you do things, you remember more.” She said she liked how Ms. Jansen interspersed her talk with songs.
“What’s wonderful about her is the way she gets people to sing,” said Ellen Linn, St. Luke’s music director, who accompanied Ms. Jansen on the keyboard.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever come,” said Sheila Vaillancourt, of St. Joseph Parish in Fitchburg. “I felt like I didn’t want to leave.” She said she told one presenter she would take her home.
Her fellow parishioner Maxie Turk called the conference “very enjoyable and uplifting.”
“I was looking for a day to minister to myself, to become centered and more focused on what God wants,” said Kimberly Gibson, of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Upton. “Someone said, ‘If we do what we think we can do, it’s not going to be near as good as if we do what God thinks we can do.’ Ending with Mass caps the whole day off.”
In his homily Father Richard F. Reidy, vicar general, spoke briefly about the presentations and Scripture readings.
He said St. Teresa of Avila, a doctor of the Church, was beautiful, popular and talented, but that wasn’t enough. Like Zacchaeus in the Gospel she said, “I want to see God.”
“This diocesan event is a wonderful opportunity for women of faith to meet one another and to grow in their faith and commitment to the Church,” Bishop McManus said in a letter in the program booklet. “St. Paul teaches us that faith comes from hearing. Faith also needs to be nourished and deepened, and this happens in an especially powerful and effective way through prayer.”
He expressed confidence that participants would benefit from presentations about lectio divina and Taize prayer. Sister of St. Anne Yvette Bellerose and Religious of the Assumption Sisters Mary Ann Azanza and Jurgita  Sereikaite gave that workshop.