TACOMA – More than 1,000 Catholics were called to a new way of seeing their faith and their neighbors during the Cornerstone Catholic Conference Oct. 20-21.
“Oftentimes we pick and choose our neighbors based on how comfortable we are,” said Ralph McCloud, director of the U.S. bishops’ anti-poverty Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Instead, he said, Catholics need to go outside their comfort zone, asking not just, “Who is my neighbor?” but also, “What does my neighbor need?”
Sponsored by the Washington State Catholic Conference, Cornerstone drew Catholics of all ages from around the state to hear prominent Catholic speakers and their bishops talk about pro-life and social justice issues, from the death penalty and supporting single moms, to immigration and human dignity.
“Our responsibility to care for all God’s people springs from our faith,” Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said in his opening remarks on Friday night. “These two days are about discipleship,” he said. “Once we’ve been formed, we can go forth.”
The weekend gathering was “enrichment for the soul,” said Gina Brennan, who is involved in the pro-life, jail, hospital and rosary ministries at her parish, St. Stephen the Martyr in Renton. Cornerstone, she said, is a place “where you can just be peacefully, joyfully, unabashedly Catholic.”
The five Catholic bishops of Washington state spoke about a variety of life and justice issues at the Cornerstone Catholic Conference Oct. 21. From left are Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson, Spokane Bishop Thomas Daly, and Seattle Auxiliary Bishops Eusebio Elizondo and Daniel Mueggenborg. Photo: Janis Olson
‘As Catholics, we’re united’
One of the conference’s big draws was Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese who is well-known for his Word on Fire ministry.
The Mass, Bishop Barron told those gathered, is key in bringing together Catholics who are concerned with social justice issues and those who advocate for family and marriage issues.
“The changes that take effect in the world start in the sanctuary,” he said. The Mass brings together people from different backgrounds and walks of life to worship together, he said, a reflection of the community being called out from the world into a “whole new way of being.”
Jordan Tracy, a fan of Word on Fire, came to Cornerstone with a group of young adults from Holy Rosary Parish in Tacoma to hear Bishop Barron speak. Tracy said she liked his message that “there’s no us and them; it’s not one side or the other.” His words, she said, are “timely and hopeful in a time that feels very divisive. As Catholics, we’re united.”
The call to discipleship and love
Discipleship and the Christian call to love all people, at all stages of life, were recurring themes of the two-day conference.
“We have the radical and beautiful imperative to give every person you meet that look of love you crave,” said Friday keynote speaker Helen Alvaré, a law professor and consultant to the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee.
Advocating for immigrants was the topic of several speakers, including Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo. “Every day we delay in advocating for immigrants and refugees, they are dying in the desert and families are being broken up,” Bishop Elizondo said in an interview. “Every single time we don’t raise our voice,” he said, “people will think it’s OK.”
Attendees at the Cornerstone Catholic Conference, including Kianna Garmanian, a sophomore at St. Martin’s University in Lacey and a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Bothell, listen during one of the keynote sessions Oct. 21. Photo: Janis Olson
Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, presented a workshop on immigration. In an interview, the bishop said Catholics “have the responsibility to address the needs of the people in our neighborhoods.” That might mean helping people know what their rights are, or changing unjust laws. “We have to be a voice that advocates [including] compassion as a part of local laws,” he said.
During a session where Archbishop Sartain and the state’s four other bishops spoke about life and justice issues, Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson highlighted the Prepares program that was introduced at the first Cornerstone conference, in 2014.
An initiative of the bishops, Prepares supports families in need from pregnancy to the child’s fifth birthday. Today, Prepares has more than 700 volunteers in 113 parishes across the state, serving some 5,000 families, Bishop Tyson said.
“We’re privileged to walk the journey with these women,” he said, “because they are helping us to become the persons God meant us to be.”
Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, leads a workshop on immigration at the Cornerstone Catholic Conference Oct. 21. Photo: Janis Olson
Simple involvement, profound impact
In an interview, Archbishop Sartain expressed the hope that those attending Cornerstone “will be motivated in whatever they feel called to. The simplest of involvement can still have a profound impact,” he said.
That can be as easy as being open to meeting new people at Mass, said attendee César Galindo, a member of Bellevue’s St. Louise de Marillac Parish who came here from Mexico when he was 23. In turn, he said, that may “move you to do some other work with that same group of people.”
For Dede Higginbotham, a member of Hoquiam’s Our Lady of Good Help Parish, involvement means volunteering at her local pregnancy center. For Catholics, it’s all about the sending forth, she said: “It’s a natural outcome, whether it’s prayer, action or treating your neighbor well.”
Another simple step could be making a phone call to a state legislator to support affordable housing, said Diana Ching, a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Tacoma. “The baby steps are the big steps,” she said. “People just need to do it every single day.”