There was palpable excitement on Oct. as about 350 women gathered for the sold-out third annual Cleveland Catholic Women’s Conference at the Hilton Garden Inn Mayfield. Inspired by St. Faustina, the theme was “Divine Mercy: The More a Soul Trusts, the More it will Receive.”
After being forced to meet virtually last year because of the pandemic, event organizers and attendees said they were happy to be together again in person. Jenn Martin, one of the organizers, told the group it was beautiful to see the diversity of women in attendance in terms of age and vocations.
Highlight of the event was Mass celebrated by Bishop Edward Malesic, followed by Eucharistic adoration. There also were three speakers.
The first was Sarah Swafford, founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries, who said she typically shares her message at youth conferences and young adult ministry groups. Her talk focused on trust and how to surrender and strive when competition, confusion and control take over in everyday life. As she spoke, Swafford led the group through prayerful, uplifting affirmations that loosened the idea of control.
The Kansas resident is a contributor to Chosen and special projects focused on Catholic identity at her alma mater, Benedictine College in Atchison Kansas. She shared personal stories from each of her experiences on these collaborations that had attendees laughing and reflecting on seeing the beauty in chaotic or stressful situations.
Speaking next was Mother Jeanette Estrada, a Mercedarian Sister of the Blessed Sacrament. A native of Mexico, she is the youngest of three children and talked about how much Jesus enlarged her heart by loving these young women who desire with all their mind, heart and strength to surrender their lives to Christ. “I commend them daily to Jesus during my adoration time in front of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in our chapel,” she said.
Mother Jeanette also provided a powerful experience for attendees when she asked them to close their eyes and imagine Jesus’ last minutes on the cross, as he struggled to breathe, shed his blood and sacrificed his life for our redemption. “Don’t let one drop of Jesus’ blood be wasted,” she said. She also reminded the group that Pope Francis said no act done for Jesus, no matter how small, is overlooked.
“Jesus, I trust in you,” she said, in closing, channeling the prayer of St. Faustina.
“It is such a joy to be here with you today,” Bishop Malesic told the women. “This has become such an important conference in the life of the diocese.”
He said he was pleased that event’s divine mercy theme was inspired by St. Faustina. The bishop said a stubborn child who refuses to open his mouth won’t be fed. However, a trusting child believes his mother will only give the child good things, and so opens his mouth wide to be nourished. “It’s the same thing with us,” he said, drawing an analogy to divine mercy. “The more a soul trusts, the more we will receive. In the same way, we must open our hearts in trust that our Lord will give us what we need and that he will nourish us with only good things. The wider our hearts, the greater God’s blessing.”
The bishop said St. Faustina inspired us to have a childlike trust in God. “It is trying to develop that childlike trust that is at the heart of this conference. We must love God with the nature of God’s children and trust the gentle, protective nature of God,” he added.
Mary was blessed not only because she carried and nursed Jesus, but because she heard the word of God and observed it. “It’s what Mary did with that announcement (from the angel that she would become the mother of Jesus) that made all the difference for her and for us. She said to the messenger of God, the angel, ‘May it be done to me according to your word.’ Wow! What trust Mary had,” he said, noting that had she not agreed, there would be no salvation, no Eucharist – and no conference. “Her ‘yes’ allowed God to fill her with Christ and she would fill the world with her son for all generations who would call her blessed.”
Bishop Malesic said the good news for us is that we also can be blessed like Mary was, if we follow her lead and take her example. By listening to God’s voice in our lives, we can nurture a childlike trust and can resolve to do what God wants of us.
Using another Scripture reference, the bishop talked about the wedding feast at Cana where when the wine ran out, Mary told the waiters to do what Jesus told them. She trusted that her son would do what needed to be done, but she wanted to ensure the waiters also heard him, trusted him and did what he told them.
“It wasn’t enough for Mary to trust Jesus; the waiters had to trust him, too, and so do we.”
We have much to be thankful for, the bishop said, including the conference. “We have a day to spend apart. We have speakers to inspire us. We are about to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. And we can listen, trust and then act. The more we trust, the more we will be fed. Open wide and let the Lord into your life. Then, trust me in saying this, the more you give yourself to Jesus, the more space there will be in you to receive him. Listen to him. Trust him. Do whatever he tells you. And then you, too, will be called blessed when you hear the word of God and observe it.”
After Mass, there was time for lunch, adoration, prayer and confession.
The third speaker, Maggie Craig, talked about receptivity, discussing how important it is to share your faith. A New Jersey native who was raised in Ohio, Craig lives in California and is a full-time speaker and retreat leader. She said she began speaking during a Lifeteen summer program and has been receiving additional opportunities to talk ever since.
“The Lord blessed me with the opportunity to keep speaking. Who knows where it will go?” she said.
After praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, there was a question and answer session before the conference closed.
Jen Ricard, executive director of Theology of the Body and a conference organizer, recognized the religious sisters at the event and thanked the sponsors who helped make the conference possible.
Attendees were invited to come forward and venerate a relic of St. Faustina before leaving.
The fourth annual Cleveland Catholic Women’s Conference is planned for October 2022 at a location to be determined.