By Kelly Mescher Collins and Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
The third Christ Our Life Catholic Regional Conference broke a record in 2014, said a conference organizer. About 7,500 people gathered at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines Sept. 20 to listen to renowned Catholic speakers and participate in worship, eucharistic adoration and confession.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan offered the keynote speech. “I feel like Derek Jeter,” Cardinal Dolan joked during his homily as he looked up into the stands full of people.
Cardinal Dolan kicked off the biennial event by celebrating Mass with Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines. After Mass, Cardinal Dolan took the stage for his talk, which focused on the three most recent popes. “One of the ways that we Catholics believe Jesus uniquely and powerfully shares his life with us is through the gift of the pope,” Cardinal Dolan said. “The holy father is always the vehicle of sharing Christ our life.”
Other speakers who took the stage included Rwandan genocide survivor and author Immac-ulee Ilibagiza. St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa brought 15 Rwandan students who attend William Penn University in Oskaloosa to see Ilibagiza’s presentation. “The students were very proud to be able to attend the conference,” said Father Jeffry Belger, pastor of the Oskaloosa parish and St. Mary’s in Pella.
Magnus McFarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals, also spoke. Teenager Allison Ockenfels of St. Joseph Parish in Wellman had the opportunity to volunteer at the Mary’s Meals informational booth, and enjoyed the experience of meeting some of the 7,500 individuals in attendance through her participation. “I got to meet a lot of different people from around the state. … Everyone’s different, but we’re all the same (in our faith).
Jonathan Cain of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City attended the conference with his father and two brothers.
He said he experienced a personal encounter with God after offering confession at the conference.” I felt a massive wave of God’s love come over me. It was very reinvigorating.”
Bishop Pates urged attendees to take the fires ignited at the conference forward. “Inevitably, we will leave this conference in high spirits, bursting with enthusiasm, eager to release pent-up energy. We must ask, but what am I best to do with this energy the Holy Spirit has stirred up in me? Better yet, what are we to do? After all, Christ is our life. Hopefully, these days will not fade into a pleasant memory drifting off into faint recollection some six months from now. Rather may they prove to be a decisive moment activating a new perspective for us that penetrates our outlook.”
For Susan Fritz, a parishioner of St. James in Washington, that energy is being channeled into a renewed dedication to prayer and scripture. ”I was very excited to be at the conference, and to hear so many good speakers. Since the conference, I have been reading the Bible at least once a day, and also praying much more.”
James Lamansky of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City left the conference with a renewed confidence. The teenage brother of seminarian John Lamansky said, “I was re-energized to live the faith out with my words and actions.”
(Kelly Mescher Collins is a reporter for The Catholic Mirror.)