Hundreds gather for first women’s conference

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

Five hundred women from throughout the Diocese of Austin packed the St. Rita Activity Center at St. Helen Parish in Georgetown to attend the inaugural Catholic women’s conference titled “The Face of Mercy.”
Bishop Joe Vásquez celebrated Mass, noting during his homily it was very appropriate the conference was held on Aug. 27, the feast day of St. Monica. He told the story of her marriage to a cruel pagan man, who later converted as a result of her prayers, and that of her son, St. Augustine, who converted as well.
These conversions happened because of St. Monica’s deep faith, he said, and the church still needs women of deep faith.
“We can’t do the work of the diocese without you,” Bishop Vásquez said.
St. Monica was made a patroness of the conference along with St. Veronica, who wiped the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary. 
The conference featured three speakers. Dr. Patricia Sulak, author and a medical doctor and medical school professor from Temple, focused on “Wellness: It Begins and Ends with God.” 
Maria Morera Johnson, author and blogger who was born in Cuba before emigrating to the U.S. in 1960, shared “The Tender Face of Mercy: A Family Story in Three Acts.”
Kelly Wahlquist, an author and founder of WINE: Women In the New Evangelization, focused on “Woman: God’s Vessel of Mercy, Joy and Hope.”
Sulak admitted she left the church for a while, thinking she knew more. But she was not spiritually healthy. The World Health Organization defines health as the optimal state of physical wellness, psychological and social (economical) well-being, not just the absence of disease or infirmity.
Sulak said we must add spiritual health to the mix.
“We need this so we can help other people,” Sulak said. “We cannot help others if we are not well … We need to meticulously manage the minutes and the money” we are blessed with because “we spend a lot of time consumed by the superficial and seeking entertainment,” she said.
Women don’t take care of their bodies as evidenced by the high rates of obesity, she said. We are sedentary and eat the wrong foods. We seek comfort in alcohol and drugs rather than with spiritual activities. And we work too much, she said.
Sulak said she and her husband now start their days with “greens and movement.” They also pray and meditate before taking on the day. It is important to periodically pause, ponder and pray every day because only by filling ourselves with Jesus Christ and taking good care of our bodies can we help others. 
“We can’t give to others what we don’t have,” she said.
Johnson shared the story of her father’s illness and death and the countless acts of mercy that surrounded her and her family. She noted that mercy is always relational.
For her family in Florida, it was Father Juan Carlos Rios, a friend from her youth, who was the face of mercy at all hours during her father’s painful illness.
Showing mercy eases but does not take away the pain and sorrow, Johnson noted. When St. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, it did not take away his pain or change his fate. The simple act of wiping his face was an act of mercy amid the pain and suffering –– it was an act of love.
“She could not have done that if he had not loved her first,” Johnson said. “When we talk about the face of mercy, it means being present to each other.”
Wahlquist said women are needed in the church’s new evangelization because women see things differently than men.
“God created us equally but differently so we could complement each other. Our relationship is a reflection of the Trinity –– the most perfect of relationships,” she said.
“Woman was created radically relational,” she said. She noted that when Adam was created, he first saw God and then was oriented to work and bring order to Eden. When Eve was created, she first saw God but was oriented to Adam, for relationship, since she was created for him.
Mary was also created to be the perfect vessel for Jesus, and she constantly directs us to Jesus, Wahlquist said. She was present at his first miracle at the wedding at Cana and what she told the servants applies to us as well, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Our call, Wahlquist said, is to do the will of God.
Sharon Perkins, the diocesan director of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life, was thrilled by the turn out of so many women for the conference.
“This is a dream come true for me personally and for the entire diocese,” she said. “We are so glad to see so many women on fire for the Lord.”
The conference closed with the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the announcement of the date for next year’s conference: Sept. 23, 2017, at Santa Cruz Parish in Buda.