Fort Myers | Two very different Diocesan Conferences took place in February. Both served to encourage different groups of the faithful to be true disciples of Jesus Christ by being the best version of themselves.
During the Men’s Conference Feb. 2, the message was direct: a man strong in his faith helps to make the world a better place. To stress this point, the day was built around how they can make the world a better place in a time when traditional roles for men, as the head of household and protector of the family, are constantly being redefined. Blunt talks and some bonding during a burgerfest and games hit the mark, causing the conference-goers to reevaluate their place in the world and gain the confidence that the Lord wants for them to be strong in their faith.
For the Women’s Conference Feb. 16, the message was more subtle, if not more poignant: God loves them for who they are, flaws and all. Once they can accept this, they will be empowered to do anything and realize that the image of the ideal woman is facing them in the mirror.
The Conferences are organized through the Diocese Office of Evangelization and strive to provide speakers who can address issues of faith that men and women face daily. Each speaker tried to connect with the conference-goers and the response from the men and women was overwhelmingly positive.
Lorraine Sullivan of Ascension Parish in Fort Myers Beach was a first-time conference attendee and said she was overwhelmed by the positive messages and courage she now has to handle any challenge.
“I realize I am not alone in my struggles and that through Christ and the Virgin Mary I can find my place in the world,” she said. “Jesus loves me. That’s what is important.”
Other women noted how the talks were empowering and very relatable, something they found important.
JoAnn Piacente of St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Cape Coral said she knows she is not alone in how she feels about herself or the burdens she carries. “These conferences are very freeing. Really wonderful.”
The men reacted similarly, with many leaving the day realizing that even though they are not perfect and without sin, they must continue to work to be a better version of themselves because God made them for more.
“It was reassuring to know that I can make mistakes as a person so long as I sincerely work hard to follow the Lord in my everyday life,” said Kurt Grant of St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs. “As men, we tend to set the bar for perfection and let ourselves down every time. God understand this struggle. I just need to understand it’s okay to try for that perfection and fail, then to never have tried at all.”
Bishop Frank J. Dewane, speaking during the Mass at the Women’s Conference, spoke of how he was grateful that some 900 women took time out of their busy life to spend time with the Lord.
“It is through the grace of Christ that you are here at this conference,” Bishop Dewane said. “If we strive to go forward as the Lord has asked us — to live with that intention — we become the more that God has called us to be.”
Each conference was held at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers and included Eucharistic Adoration early in the day to put everyone in the right frame of mind — focused on the Lord and his sacrifice that the faithful might find salvation. An adoration chapel was available all day as well. In addition, there was the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation to which many availed themselves of the opportunity.
The Men’s Conference theme was “Iron sharpens Iron,” which is from Proverbs 27:17. The speakers included: Dr. Mary Healy, a professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, who promoted the use of studying the Bible as the best way to understand the message of God; Deacon Ralph Poyo, who used visuals to help promote self-evangelization; and Hector Molina who gave simple tips on how to become a better man in a world devoid of “good men of God.”
At the Women’s Conference the speakers were Jennifer Fulwiler, a convert from atheism and national radio host, who spoke about accepting one’s self as a true woman of God; Leah Darrow, a former contestant on “America’s Next Top Model” who works in fashion, focused on self-worth in the eyes of God; and Mother Adela Galindo, foundress of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. She explained the need to let the Immaculate Heart of Mary become a true refuge and sure path that will lead to God.
Plans are already ongoing for the 2020 Diocese of Venice Men’s and Women’s Conferences. Dates to be announced in future editions of the Florida Catholic.