Boston hosts International Catholic Stewardship Conference

BOSTON --The Catholic faith is not a spectator’s sport Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship told the 1,200 people gathered at this year’s International Catholic Stewardship Conference at the Hynes Convention Center from Oct. 1-4.

“In the Church there are no spectators. It is not as in the case of soccer where 22 people are playing but two million are spectators who watch, enjoy, comment and sometimes yell and occasionally throw bottles,” he said.

“In the Church everyone is called to be players,” he added. “It is indeed a great honor and a serious responsibility for us as Christians to be called by the Lord to be stewards, His stewards.”

Cardinal Arinze, the conference’s opening speaker, addressed the gathering of people from across the country from Florida to Michigan as well as those from abroad. The conference attracted people from the Bahamas, Guatemala, England and Australia.

Jesus is the ultimate model of stewardship because He gave Himself on the cross and continues to offer Himself in the Eucharist, he continued.

The Eucharist is essential nourishment for all Catholics, no matter their individual vocations. Through the Eucharist they are enlivened and strengthened to be good stewards, he said.

“It is not enough to answer God’s call to the lay state or the priesthood or the consecrated state. It is also necessary to be generous and faithful in ones’ calling and to grow in these virtues,” he said. “Continuing conversion is the work of a whole lifetime.”

Cardinal Arinze “set the tone” of the stewardship conference and was both “delightful” and “engaging,” said Ann Masden, this year’s chairperson. Masden, from the diocese of Alexandria, La., has attended the conference for 14 years and was on the planning committee four times before assuming the role of chairperson for 2006.

Masden said she hopes that participants are nourished by the conference as they are by the Eucharist. The conference is meant to provide stewardship education and practical tips to enliven parish and diocesan stewardship programs.

Stewardship, like ongoing formation, is a never-ending process, she added.

The conference was open to pastors, parish leaders, diocesan development and stewardship directors, Catholic associations, and leaders of religious congregations from around the world. It began in 1962 and is run by the International Catholic Stewardship Council, known as the National Catholic Stewardship Council until 1999. The conference is hosted by a different U.S. city each fall and was last held in Boston in 1994.

The fact that the conference was held in Boston this year is a “true blessing” because it will promote continued healing in the archdiocese, according to Michael S. Rhodes, the archdiocesan manager of parish stewardship. The clergy abuse crisis and parish reconfiguration have caused a disconnect between Church leaders and parishioners, he said.

“Boston has been through so much, so it’s really a blessing that the conference is coming to Boston at this time,” he said.

Speakers throughout the four-day conference said that Catholics are called to give their time, talent and treasure with the understanding that through giving they are showing their gratitude to God. No one is required to share their gifts, but those who know that all they have comes from God will desire to give as much and as often as possible, they said.

Presentations were divided into seven tracks: beginning stewardship, stewardship renewal, understanding and living the pastoral letter, practical stewardship, diocesan stewardship and development, forums for diocesan directors and Spanish-language sessions.

The track “Understanding and Living the Pastoral Letter,” is based on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s 1992 pastoral letter, “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.”

Giving one of the talks in this track, pastor at St. Gianna’s Parish in Winnipeg, Canada Father Darrin Gurr, spoke on the topic of “The Spirituality of Gratitude, Generosity and Trust.”

Father Gurr said that in order to become like God whose image we are made in, Catholics must be grateful and generous. That generosity is a response to God’s generosity. He gives us countless blessings “each and every second of our lives,” he said.

Many Catholics say that Mass on Sunday is boring that they do not like the music, the homily or the other people around them. Those people come to Mass with the wrong attitude because they are trying to get something out of the Mass instead of giving, Father Gurr said.

“We come to Mass to give something,” he said. “We come to Mass to give our gratitude to God.”

Many Catholics do not believe they have anything to give, said Debbie Rossi in a talk entitled “Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish.” Rossi is the director of stewardship and development for the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C.

Those in charge of parish stewardship should encourage parishioners to identify and use the wonderful gifts that they most certainly possess, she said.

“We all have an abundance of people who have talent in our parishes,” she said.

The conference also held several liturgies, exhibitions and awards ceremonies. Bishop Sylvester D. Ryan, from the Diocese of Monterrey, Calif. was awarded the Christian Stewardship Award and awards in a dozen other categories were given for first place and honorable mention. The Archdiocese of Boston received an honorable mention for their Annual Appeal video.

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley celebrated the closing Mass for the conference on Oct. 4, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis epitomizes the love that God wants us to have for each other, love that lies at the heart of stewardship, he said in his homily.

St. Francis displayed a sacrificial love for all brothers and sisters in the Lord because he understood that God asks us to give what we have to others, he added.

“Everything that we have is a gift, and we are called to give of ourselves,” the cardinal said.

Mary Reilly, a conference participant who is on her parish’s finance committee in Sun City West, Ariz., said that the conference has shown her that each parish is a steward. Her parish does not currently have a stewardship program but is lucky to have many generous members. She hopes that in the future the parish can use that generosity to benefit those parishes that are less fortunate, she said.

Kathy Nastally from Houston, Tex. said that the conference has also expanded her definition of stewardship. Stewardship is more than giving; it is about showing gratitude to God for the generous gifts He bestows. This deeper understanding of is being realized in the Catholic Church, she added.

“Stewardship has always been on the scene,” she said. “Recently there’s been a huge push to make it a way of life.”