EMMITSBURG – Five strangers simultaneously walked toward the same table, smiled and gracefully said hello to one another in Patriot Hall at Mount St. Mary’s University Oct. 8.
They were among the Sunday crowd at the seventh annual Maryland Catholic Women’s Conference Retreat, a three-day gathering whose purpose is, according to its organizers, to “enkindle the ‘Fire Within’ your soul.”
The women sat together for a small group discussion after Iowa-based keynote speaker Jon Leonetti’s talk entitled “Saints alive today.” The group ranged from a retired great-grandmother to a college freshman, and the issue of trust in God surfaced insistently in their conversation.
In sharing the challenges they face, all asked to remain anonymous.
“As mothers, we hurt,” said one after sharing that her daughter, now in college, had recently ordered birth control without her or her husband’s knowledge. “I have to trust that if she falls away (from the church’s teachings), God will bring her back.”
“Where is God leading me?” said the 19-year-old freshman, shareing her hesitation about entering religious life in a society that she felt was “closing in on her.”
“I should trust God more with my granddaughter,” said another woman in the group. “Her divorce has tested my faith. I struggle with the thought that a separation may be for the best.”
Over the retreat, which began Oct. 6, those topics and many more were broadly discussed by Leonetti and Sister Helena Burns, of the Daughters of St. Paul, the other keynote speaker, and in small groups as a way to help Catholic women recognize their virtues, connect with each other and, as the MCWC puts it, “let God talk directly to your soul.”
Saturday morning featured Mass with Archbishop William E. Lori and a talk by Sister Helena Burns, who focused on the value of being a truly feminine voice in today’s church. Archbishop Lori encouraged the hundreds of attendees to ‘be salt and light,” and to strive to be missionary disciples within their communities.
Julie Mathias, one of the organizers, noted that 116 zip codes were present among the registrants, from states such as Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio.
“We had roughly 300 attendees this time,” said Mathias, “a few less registrants than last year, but a few more than the previous couple of years.”
Closing Mass with Baltimore auxiliary Bishop Mark E. Brennan took place at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, after fellowship over brunch.
Gazing over the worshippers, Bishop Brennan greeted the women by stretching his arms and stating that, even though he didn’t get a chance to participate in any other activities within the conference, he “can see from your smiling faces that you got a lot out of it.”
The closing hymn – a cover of Unspoken’s “Start a Fire” performed by the contemporary rock-tinged band from St. Peter Parish in Libertytown – evoked strong emotion among the women whose voices filled the chapel on the chorus:
Start a fire in my soul
Fan the flame and make it grow so there’s no doubt or denying.
Let it burn so brightly that everyone around can see that it’s you that we need.
Start a fire in me.