By Barb Arland-Fye
Catholics whose lives were impacted by attending the Christ Our Life Conference in October 2010 in Des Moines are encouraging everyone to attend this year’s conference in September.
“We can’t miss another opportunity to really celebrate our Catholic faith and be a witness to the world that we’re proud of our Church, our faith, and just being Catholic!” said Father Rich Adam, who accompanied some 60 parishioners to the first conference.
“The Christ Our Life Conference was really the first of its kind in our area and I think many people were skeptical two years ago. However, I believe everyone who did attend would have to admit it was a very worthwhile weekend and one which ignited a Spirit in our faith!” said Fr. Adam, pastor and rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.
Bishop Martin Amos, along with all the bishops of Iowa, encourages participation in this year’s conference. The goal of the second conference is the same as the first: “to ignite the faith of Catholics, to encourage people to live their lives sacramentally, and to save souls,” Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines Diocese said in a letter. “This is an opportunity to learn from Catholic speakers and hear their stories of witnessing the Gospel.”
Featured guests are Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington; Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of the Archdiocese of San Antonio; Father Michael Gaitley, M.I.C., director of the Association of Marian Helpers; Roy Schoeman, who converted from Judaism to Catholicism; Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan genocide survivor; Allen Hunt, former Methodist pastor of a Texas mega church; John Prodimore, a former London gangster; Steve Angrisano, who will provide praise music; and Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, a 2010 CNN Television Hero, who founded Mary’s Meals, an international movement to provide hungry children with a daily meal in their place of education.
The conference’s co-chairs, Marilyn Lane of West Des Moines and Ellen Miller of Indianola, said they were inspired by the Holy Spirit in 2008 to create a regional conference. This second conference focuses on “bringing Catholics together, inspiring, celebrating and exploring their faith and bringing souls to Christ,” they added.
Pam and Dave Ockenfels of St. Joseph Parish in Wellman took their three children to the first conference with Fr. Adam’s encouragement, and are planning to attend the next one.
“It was a beautiful opportunity to learn more about our faith,” Pam said. “We’ve been to other Catholic conferences before and they’ve been very good, but at this conference one speaker after another inspired us. They helped us to understand what is important in life, why we are here, what we need to be working on, and how we are to be serving while we’re here.”
She also appreciated Fr. Adam’s efforts in chartering a bus so that people from the cluster parishes of St. Joseph in Wellman, Holy Trinity in Richmond and St. Mary in Riverside could attend together. Fr. Adam was pastor of the parishes then.
Pam points out that the conference isn’t just for adults. In fact, her youngest child, Allison, now 14, was so inspired by Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals, that she began fundraising for the organization.
A couple of weeks after the conference, “I was thinking, ‘What would it be like to go without a meal for a couple of days?’” Allison said.
“She came to me and said, ‘Mom, I would like to raise enough money to build a kitchen to feed the children for Mary’s Meals. Do you think I could do that?’ I said, ‘Yes, I think you could do that. It might take some time, but I think you could do that,’” Pam said.
Allison talked to members of the cluster parishes, and within six weeks raised $11,000 to build a kitchen in Malawi. Parishioners “were just very, very generous,” Pam added.
Shortly afterward, Allison raised $7,000 to feed children at another Mary’s Meals kitchen and more recently, she raised $12,000 to build another Mary’s Meals kitchen in Malawi. Some funds from that effort came after MacFarlane-Barrow visited the cluster parishes at the Ockenfels’ request. “We asked him to come because he was going to be in Kansas City and Des Moines,” Allison noted. Her brothers, Aaron, 17, and Alexander, 15, serve as behind-the-scene helpers to their sister.
“We just never know what God is going to ask of us. That’s one of the exciting things about going to a conference like this. We would have never guessed that the Holy Spirit would have inspired Allison to do this,” Pam said.”We’re just an ordinary family trying to do what’s being asked of us.”
Fellow parishioner Pat Schmida said the first conference, which she attended with her husband, Milton, also made an impact in her life. Already active in her parish, she said the conference “inspired me to do even more for the church.” In addition, Schmida accompanied Allison on some of her fundraising efforts to various groups in the community.
“Allison has been responsible for feeding countless children and this came about all because of this conference. I was so impressed with her humility and her ease of public speaking that I, who had such a great fear of public speaking, am now doing readings at Mass as often as possible.”
Schmida, who plans to attend the conference this fall, observes: “You benefit from what others have learned from conferences like this. I’m really looking forward to the next one.”
What: Christ Our Life Regional Catholic Conference
When: Saturday and Sunday, September 22, 23
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, 730 3rd St., Des Moines, Iowa, 50309
For a package that covers admission, hotel accommodations, and transportation if needed, call Sacred Heart Cathedral office in Davenport at (563) 324-3257. Time of departure and locations will be announced. Reservations required by July 18 to reserve rooms.
Rooms at Embassy Suites are $272 per person for single occupant, $194 per person for two occupants, $172 per person for three occupants, and $161 per person for four occupants. (Cost includes transportation and tickets.)
For more information about the conference, visit www.christourlifeiowa.com.