July 7, 2014
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Faith begins with the family. Formation starts in the parent/child relation. Home is where learning about communication, prayer, forgiveness and other virtuous qualities are nurtured.
This message was reinforced at the 19th annual Catholic Family Life Conference, June 27-30 at Lac Ste. Anne. The gathering attracted more than 2,000 people seeking to deepen their faith.
"This is a massive conference full of Catholic families that come from all over. We have people from B.C., Saskatchewan and throughout Alberta that come to be inspired, listen to talks, and learn about different ways of raising their families in the faith," said Kristen Schiller.
Schiller, a conference organizer with Catholic Family Ministries, said it's a chance for active fellowship among other like-minded, Catholic families.
"The overall message is a way to live, so it's about community and raising good Catholic families. The message is about bringing up a new generation and drawing strength from each other," said Patrick Schiller, Kristen's brother-in-law.
The theme of this year's conference is Love One Another.
CENTRAL TO GOSPEL
Each year, organizers go to Scripture in search of the message for their upcoming conference, Patrick said. Loving one another is a central Gospel theme.
"It's about how we love each other as a community, and how we love the rest of the world."
Kristen agreed, saying, "It has to start with us. We have to feel loving towards one another so that we can go out and show that love to everybody else – Christians, non-Christians, everybody, so that they can see God's love."
Maurice Beier, also with Catholic Family Ministries, said, "We really want to focus on marriage.
"For those who are married, it's a tough battle. Once you're married doesn't mean it's over now and you live happily ever after. There are many, many ongoing struggles in marriage."
His own message for those who are married is that your partner is not your enemy, and ought to be your greatest support. Likewise, in the parent/child relationship, the parent should not be seen as the enemy.
Beier said loving one another also means loving the unlovable – the lonely, the outcasts, the discarded.
"We should never see a person who's just out there by himself. We should love him," said Beier.
"We certainly have a great teacher right now in our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He's reaching out to loving everybody, and he's a great ambassador for the Church right now."
With the secular world's ongoing attack on the family, Beier said the four-day conference is one time of the year when people can come together for mutual support.
"Just listen to the media and there's such a constant attack on the family. The secular world is always bombarding us. If we try to practise our faith, we're called fanatics," said Beier.
Couples who openly profess they are Christian or pro-life are often met with disdain, he said. As well, many people delve into negative activities via the Internet or television.
"It can be very destructive if you don't have any kind of positive formation from other sources," said Beier.
In his Saturday morning presentation, Archbishop Richard Smith spoke on discipleship, the process of embracing the life and ethic of Jesus. Marriage is a noble calling that husbands and wives should seek to live out authentically and joyfully, he said.
Beier agreed. "We need discipleship within the family. If we don't get formed within the family, it's very dangerous because we don't have anything else. You're probably not going to find formation in the schools or even among your friends."
SOMETHING FOR ALL
The conference had something for every age group, from toddlers to seniors and everyone in between. Representatives from NET Ministries and Our Lady of Victory Camp ministered to the young people. There were youth sessions, with speakers giving talks pertinent to them.
Four sessions at the conference were specifically for the 18-to-35-year-old demographic. Conference organizers were trying to make the young people feel welcome and engaged.
"These past couple years we've focused on the young adults because sometimes they're kind of left out. That age group is often single, going to university and very challenged in their faith," said Beier.
Also speaking at the conference were Matt and Mindy Dalton, a married couple from Denver, Colo., who have worked in full-time marriage ministry for eight years. Their message was that couples should invite Jesus into every aspect of their marriage and family life.
"For the Catholic families, the challenge is how to be authentic in your faith, not just to hear a talk or a message and then carry on living like the rest of the world and everyone around us," said Patrick.
"You have to apply these things and live differently, and live a Catholic faith."
With next year being the 20th annual conference, Patrick expects an even bigger and better event. The 2015 conference will be extended to five days, and he anticipates more than their typical 500 families.