By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Nearly 7,000 Catholics filled the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines last month for the biennial Christ Our Life Conference.
The event, which many Catholics from the Diocese of Davenport attended, included Catholic speakers, daily Mass, an adoration chapel, a eucharistic procession, adoration and benediction, Divine Mercy Chaplet, reconciliation, praise music throughout the weekend and dozens of Catholic exhibitors.
“It was very uplifting to be with so many Catholics clearly on fire with the faith,” said Patty Erusha of St. Mary Parish-Solon. “It was a wonderful time of renewal and strengthening our faith. Several of the speakers touched on the current crisis in our church and the over-riding message was that we don’t leave Jesus because of Judas.”
Bishop Barron a draw
Hearing Bishop Robert Barron speak was a highlight for many Catholics from the Diocese of Davenport. Among them was Scot Wilson of St. Mary Parish in Grinnell. He said he has been following Bishop Barron’s Facebook feed for Word on Fire Ministries for several years.
Vicki Gardner of St. Mary Parish in Albia said, “Seeing and listening to Bishop Barron was the ultimate experience.” She described him as an excellent speaker who took deep theological thoughts and helped Catholics to better understand the meaning. “He seemed so very down to earth.”
Gardner attended the conference along with two women from her parish, including Sharon Crall, pastoral associate and director of religious education for parishes in Georgetown and Albia. Crall appreciated that Bishop Barron addressed the current sexual abuse scandal. “He acknowledged it, made no excuses for it, and said this is a time to lead, not a time to leave.”
Speakers offered a variety of messages
Crall has attended the conference in previous years. She said the conference always seems to attract high caliber, engaging speakers. Aside from Bishop Barron, Crall enjoyed the message of Renee Bondi, a singer who is quadriplegic. “She is so positive despite everything she had dealt with.”
“I loved the speakers,” Erusha said. Each speaker, with his or her unique story, style and way of emphasizing Jesus and the Gospel, “fed us in ways that facilitated an encounter with Jesus and helped us answer the call to holiness with joy.”
Gardner said Matt Fradd was also engaging in his talk about pornography. “He got the sin and addiction to porn problem out in the open and (talked about) how to deal with it.”
Johnny Blauw, a member of St. Mary Parish in Pella, said Cardinal Thomas Collins’ “peaceful” celebration of Mass and message of strength and courage were inspiring.
Kathy Thomas of St. Patrick Parish in Ottumwa said she loved all the speakers, “especially Cardinal Collins, who touched my heart and spirit with his simple but deep reflections.”
Worshiping and learning together
Hieu Nguyen of Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish in Davenport said the speakers inspired him to “do more.” He also loved eucharistic adoration in the arena, which included periods of music and silence and praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. He also checked out the informational booths of different organizations.
Laura Aschenbrenner, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, attended the conference with her husband and three oldest children. It was her second conference, the first for her family members. She described it as a bonding experience. “I laughed so hard my stomach hurt, received many random ‘Mom, I love you’ hand kisses, listened to brilliant people quote Aquinas, Aristotle and Poe, and heard real stories from real people about the real presence of the Divine on earth.
“My 9-year-old son especially loved the music. Bishop Barron said, ‘We become ourselves when we give God the highest praise’ and explained how ‘right praise’ in God leads to internal and external peace. Cardinal Collins reminded us that our dignity and strength do not come from our powers to do things; it comes from the fact that we are children of God. Christ Our Life was a breath of fresh air for our family; it was re-centering and energizing.”