DRAPER — Stories and more stories were told Sept. 22 as presenters at the 2012 Pastoral Congress emphasized hospitality, catechism and other aspects of the Catholic faith. As the program said, "Stories are how we understand our world and the meaning of our lives. As Christians we are trying to live the Christian story."
The Congress theme, "Hospitality: All Are Welcome in This Place," was also the title for both principal speakers, the Most Rev. José Arturo Cepeda Escobedo, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit, who gave the keynote in Spanish, and Glenmary Father Les Schmidt, the keynote speaker in English.
Fr. Schmidt, a Glemarian for 55 years, spoke of growing up as one of three Catholics in his school. "I got beat up every other week," he said.
As a Glenmary missionary, he has helped others who have experienced being an outsider. One story he told was of helping a non-Catholic teenager who came to Fr. Schmidt on the brink of suicide because he feared being thrown out of his home and his church because he was gay.
Fr. Schmidt also recalled the time before Vatican II when the prevailing thought in Catholic circles was that non-Catholics wouldn’t be saved.
Now, however, the Church’s message is that "with God there are no outsiders," Fr. Schmidt said.
Fr. Schmidt’s stories resonated with Margaret Leuschner, a Holy Family parishioner. "I grew up in the era where if you weren’t Catholic, you were toast, as he said. It was interesting how he brought that up, and that we are to accept everybody," she said, adding that the message encouraged her to try to be more open to others, particularly in her workplace.
The congress was attended by about 550 people, who spent the day in workshops that dealt not only with various aspects of hospitality, but also diverse topics such as strengthening Catholic identity, the New Evangelization and Marian spirituality.
As he opened the midday Mass, the Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, said, "It is good to spend time reminding ourselves of the importance of hospitality in our Church."
God gives so generously that, as his disciples, Catholics must do the same, Bishop Wester said in his homily. "It is God’s will, not ours, that orders our days.... God gives us so much that we can relax, we can begin to understand that it’s okay to be hospitable, it’s okay not to worry me and my needs, that God will take care of me.... The more hospitable we are, the more fully alive we are. The more we give to others, the more we receive in return."
Being reminded of the need to be hospitable is important, said Marvin Kocher, a member of the Saint John the Baptist Parish RCIA team.
"I think that sometimes we judge people before we get to know them and we don’t give them a chance," he said. "You have to look at everybody as being God’s gift. I usually have been that way but [the message from the Congress] will help me to be more aware of it. I want to be really welcoming and don’t judge."
Likewise, Marie Ortiz, a member of the hospitality ministry at St. Peter Parish, said the conference refreshed her.
"It’s a little injection," she said. "You need to have this injection of spirituality. And it’s nice to be with other Catholic people, experiencing some of the same things that they are, learning and just being able to feel that love of Christ that permeates."