Be courageous witnesses to your faith, Cornerstone participants urged

Sister Miriam James Heidland speaks at the Cornerstone Catholic Conference October 19 in Tacoma. Photo: Janis Olson Sister Miriam James Heidland speaks at the Cornerstone Catholic Conference October 19 in Tacoma. Photo: Janis Olson

TACOMA – More than 600 Catholics of all ages were inspired, educated and encouraged in their faith during the recent Cornerstone Catholic Conference, “United for Life & Justice.”

“Being in the presence of hundreds of other Catholics in the state and people committed to the sanctity of life was really inspiring,” said Jill Murphy, a member of St. Michael Parish in Olympia.

“It’s a good place to hear more about our faith, because we’re so young and we don’t know everything,” said Jeffrey Harn, a 19-year-old from Sacred Heart Parish in Lacey, who attended with fellow students from Catholic Campus Ministry at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

This was the third Cornerstone Conference organized by the Washington State Catholic Conference on behalf of the state’s bishops. In addition to three keynote speakers — described by participants as “awesome” and “outstanding” — the October 18–19 event at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center featured a panel of the state’s five bishops (watch the video).

During his remarks, Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne noted that Saturday morning’s keynote speaker, Sister Miriam James Heidland of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, “cut to the chase by saying that we really need our essential living, vibrant, intimate relationship with Jesus before anything else.” (Watch her video message from the conference.)

And that’s what he thinks the bishops had in mind when creating Cornerstone, Archbishop Etienne said: “To help people understand that Christ really is the foundation, and everything about our human dignity and all of the various social issues that we’re dealing with in the day ultimately have to be rooted there, in the person of Jesus.”

Friday night’s keynote speaker, Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, spoke about the challenge of making the Gospel attractive “in a highly secularized world today,” Archbishop Etienne said, but he also pointed out that “our hope is always in Jesus Christ.”

“The main thing that the church has always needed is living, courageous witnesses to the faith,” Archbishop Etienne said, and Bishop Caggiano encouraged “all of us to be those courageous witnesses to the faith in the world today.”

Dignity of immigrants, refugees

The dignity and human rights of immigrants and refugees was the focus of Saturday afternoon’s keynote by Missionaries of Jesus Sister Norma Pimentel, who works on the front lines of the immigration issue at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Visiting children being held in a U.S. detention center without their parents “was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Sister Norma, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.

“We must be a country that is out to respect all life, the sacredness of all life, and that whatever things that we do to make our country better, it can be without neglecting the fact that all life is sacred,” said Sister Norma, who oversees the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, which has served more than 150,000 people since 2014.

She urged a change from a “culture of indifference” to a “culture of encounter, an opportunity to meet each other and to show that we care.”

“Our ability to love comes from the recognition that we’re loved ourselves by a God that is love,” Sister Norma said, “a God that tells us that we must stand up for the rights of others.”

Moved to action

Cornerstone participants also had the opportunity to attend workshops on topics that included praying as a family, life issues, mental illness, the sin of racism and Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’.

Attending the workshop that covered mental illness education, resources and ministry “made me feel motivated to do something in my parish. It sparked something in me,” said Amy Ruiz, a 19-year-old CWU sophomore from St. Joseph Parish in Lynden.

Kiana Rose, 19, a CWU student from Sacred Heart Parish in Battle Ground, said the Laudato Si’ workshop “inspired me to make a difference in our campus ministry for the environment,” whether that means using natural cleaning products, LED lights or solar power. “It’s something that I’m passionate about,” she added.

Also highlighted in workshops and by the bishops’ panel was the statewide Prepares ministry that supports parents from pregnancy through a child’s fifth birthday (see box). Since the bishops launched the program five years ago, at the first Cornerstone Conference, more than 12,000 families statewide have been helped.

Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson introduced a new Prepares video, saying it features “courageous witnesses to the gift of life.”

In Washington state, where abortion was legalized by popular ballot, abortion is “deeply embedded in our environment,” Bishop Tyson said. This is why Prepares is so important, he added.

“We want to give people a pro-life moment in a pro-choice culture,” Bishop Tyson said, and Prepares provides “an uplifting, enlightening, joyous, humorous, loving response to the gift of life. This is us becoming courageous witnesses.”

Prepares turns 5

For five years, scores of parishes around the state have been walking with and serving families with young children through Prepares.

In 2014, the Catholic bishops of Washington state created Prepares to support parents from pregnancy through a child’s fifth birthday, as a commitment to the sanctity of life.

Since then, more than 12,000 families have been assisted.

Support services are provided free to any family in the state. Coordinated by the state’s three Catholic Charities organizations, services are developed and provided at the parish level.

Today, Prepares programs are found in 158 parishes around the state, in 34 of 39 counties. Services vary among parishes, but can include providing diapers and other needed items, volunteering as family companions to bring practical and emotional support and ministry of presence to a family, and support groups for moms and dads.

Across the state, 525 parish volunteers are providing direct service as companions, while more than 1,500 other volunteers are providing indirect services.

To learn more about Prepares, watch this video.

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at jean.parietti@seattlearch.org.