As We Gather — Sunday, August 14th convention summary

August 15, 2016


Sunday August 14“As We Gather”

The much anticipated 96th Annual National Convention, ONE HEART, ONE VOICE, ONE MISSION Palliative and Hospice Care, began today in beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia.  As members of the League gathered from across Canada the first day was packed with activities, culminating in the beautiful opening Eucharistic Celebration and official opening of the convention by National President Barb Dowding. Nearly 800 are in attendance, 300 of whom are from the host province.

Three themes or motifs ran throughout the day for me, those of community, the past related to the present, and having fun enjoying each other’s company.

The morning presented two choices a Grand-Pre National Historic Site Tour and An Amazing Race.  The Grand Pre Tour educated participants about a dark period in Nova Scotia history, the expulsion of the Acadians (by the way tomorrow the Feast of the Assumption is a key feast for Acadians).  The past does relate to the present as the sad expulsion of the Acadians from their homeland reminds us of present day people forced to leave their home today.  Tour participants visited the 17th century graveyard that became the setting for American poet Longfellow’s touching poem “Evangeline”.  On the lighter side (the fun) wine tasting was included at Domaine de Grand-Pre winery whose product is only sold in Nova Scotia –Pity.  It can be ordered though.  Tasters I talked to agreed that it is a fine product!

A fine drizzle could not dampen the enthusiasm and spirit of the members participating in the League version of THE AMAZING RACE, designed around a walking tour of downtown Halifax.  In her remarks at the Opening of Convention National President Barbara remarked that she thought that Halifax should be called “Hillyfax” a description that race participants would agree with.  Eight teams of ten members each, named for Nova Scotia celebrities, such as Rita McNeil, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Graham Bell and dressed in bright green t-shirts set out to explore the “city’s rich history and architecture”  all the while seeking to get the most stars and to impress the judges with their enthusiasm and display of fun.  To warm up an enthusiastic Zumba leader got everyone moving and then each team was given a different clue to set the teams on their way.  Encouraging members to be loud and proud and to participate fully hardly seems to be necessary when talking about League members at Convention!  All in all participants in the Amazing Race agree that it was FUN, challenging and with the hills at times grueling; they also learned a lot about downtown Halifax.

After fun and games it was time to get down to business with the Resolutions Dialogue.  Jacqueline Nogier National Resolutions Chairperson led members through what I call “Resolutions 101”, a good overview of what a resolution is; the resources needed to write one,; where resolutions can be directed; the purpose of a brief and action  plans; and what happens with finished product.  Janice Mc Lean, National Legislation chair reminded us that there are three level s of government in Canada, municipal, provincial , and national.  Councils can consider monitoring local legislation and responding.  On the theme of community, we were reminded that a resolution is not a one person job; use the many talents available in council members, e.g. research skills, typing, formatting, wording, speaking etc.   I loved hearing the buzz in the room when members were set loose at their tables to consider the proposed resolutions.  The Dialogue is one of my favorite times of convention as it is great to hear the ideas of the members.  The Dialogue serves to whet interest in the Resolution debates on the convention floor.  I can’t wait!

This year we have the joy of having the North American Regional Conference of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO) in conjunction with our Convention.  Following the Resolutions dialogue we were invited to a WUCWO Meet and Greet.  Marie Cameron, Honorary Life Member welcomed all and Velma Harasen, Vice-President, North America Region and Board Member from Canada chaired the session starting with a beautiful Dialogue Prayer.  She pointed out a current banner and then brought the past into the present by calling attention to a beautiful bright banner from the General Assembly of WUCWO in 1983 which was held here in Nova Scotia.  The designer of the banner, CWL member from St. Ninian’s Council, Antigonish, Yvette de Souza-Muise, was present and recognized by the assembly. The themes identified in the banner still speak to us today.  Barb Dowding National CWL president and Sheila Hopkins, National Council of Catholic Women of the United States president brought greetings and outline a bit about their organizations.  Themes of prayer, service, and mercy were some mentioned.  Ukrainian Catholic Women’s League of Canada  President Marion Baraszczyk brought greetings and a traditional gift of bread and salt.  Maribeth Stewart Vice President General of WUCWO and Board member of the United States spoke about her work at the U.N. on behalf of WUCWO, a voice heard throughout the world.  Common threads in her presentation were protection of the family; children not for sale; sexual violence; persecuted Christians; empowerment of women;  responsibility of men and boys in achieving gender equality ; education for women and girls; and importantly being aware of the misuse of language to disguise the true intent of statements e.g. women’s health-abortion.  She spoke of how WUCWO seeks to achieve goals through education about Human trafficking, offering support to refugees, supporting the education of girls, supporting  families while affirming the complementary roles of men and women.  Practical efforts are education, support for small business, medical treatment especially maternity.  

Velma drew our attention to a small white well on the convention floor and introduced an International Project to provide well water in Senegal and a water distribution system to a school in Argentina.  Attendees were encouraged to lift the cover of the well and drop in donations.

Maria Giovanni Ruggieri, President-General , WUCWO spoke bringing greetings form WUCWO sisters around the world and focussing on mercy “Hope and mercy meet in God’s love”, often referencing Pope Francis.  Three points stood out for me from her presentation. 1.  WUCWO is a challenge to the indifference of the world to those on the peripheries of the world who knock at our doors.  2.  WUCWO’s goal is to give voice to the voiceless.  3.  WUCWO founded by women offers the gift of listening to the grassroots and offering their contributions to the universal Church and society.

Under the soaring ceiling and gorgeous stained glass windows of historic St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica the happy hum of voices greeting old and new friends almost drowned the choir and organ until called to order by the stirring hymn “O God of all the Many Lands” that accompanied the flag procession, always a stirring traditional moment of League pride as Provincial Presidents carry in their flags.  We were asked to reflect on what it means to be a citizen of Canada and a member of the Catholic Women’s League as we watched.  The booklet reminded us of community in the words “The Catholic Women’s League flag reminds us that we are all sisters who become one in the Eucharist”.  Archbishop Anthony Mancini of Halifax-Yarmouth spoke of how the Scriptures focus attention on the word of God, the importance of hearing the word and putting it into action.  Mary is our model in this as she said yes, carried the Word in her, accompanied the Word of God in suffering and passion, and in ultimate victory.  We celebrate that victory. He asked what will we hear?  The CWL work is a call to fidelity to the Word in a world of many voices.  We are called to witness, to hear the word and respond.  In all this we are not alone, we have companions for the journey.   As it was with Mary may it be so for us.

Following the Eucharistic celebration came the Official opening with greetings from dignitaries and declaration of the opening of Convention by the National President.  Peggy Mc Neil chaired and welcomed delegates on behalf of Nova Scotia Provincial.  Carolyn Lawrence, Halifax-Diocesan President  welcomed us from the diocese and First Nations people, the Mi’kmaq.  Rev. James Richards Nova Scotia Provincial Spiritual Advisor spoke of the Amazing Race(G/race) and a wonderful start to a long planned convention.  Archbishop Mc Grattan, National Spiritual Advisor  asked us to come to see the strength and gift of unity in Christ and reminded us that “Every National convention can awaken in those who attend a deep sense of gratitude for the gift of faith that you share as Catholic women from across Canada.”   Michael Savage, Mayor of Halifax spoke of growing up in a Catholic family of seven and praised the focus of the convention on palliative and hospice care.  Steven Mc Neil Premier of Nova Scotia ( yes, he is the brother of Danielle, Carol and Linda, all involved in the Convention Committee) from a family of seventeen, spoke of the beacon of faith that our mother looked to in difficult days.  He encouraged members to pause and reflect on past resolutions especially those related to teen mental health and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (past into present) Darrell Samson MP for Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook praised our 96 years of service to family and community and the gifts that CWL brings. George McCormack Past Deputy Knights of Columbus called us strong faith based leaders, focussed on Gospel and service oriented.  He urged us to have fun while here.  Barbara Dowding, national President formally declared to Convention open and spoke of the importance of how we encounter one another at convention.  Our strength comes from faith lived out through mercy.

We are off and running!