Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
August 27, 2001
CWL unites women from sea to sea
National convention draws 750 league members to Calgary
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
CALGARY — At 94 years of age, it was nothing for Margaret Bettin to climb on a bus in Creston, B.C., and travel to Calgary by herself for the 81st annual convention of the Catholic Women's League of Canada from Aug. 12 to 15.
Likewise, Brenda Smith flew in from Inuvik, inside the Arctic Circle, and proudly bore the flag of the Northwest Territories as part of a procession at the beginning of the convention's formal opening Mass.
In turn, Madeline Skelton, Diane Coffin and Loretta Gismondi - dubbed the "Spaghetti Ladies" - held their fifth annual spaghetti dinner and bake sale in early June in Alliston, Ont., to raise money for their trip to the national gathering.
The women joined 750 other women, half of them from around Alberta and the rest from across the country, for what amounts to one of the highlights of their year, a chance to gather with other Catholic women of faith to pray, sing, talk, play and do business together.
While the total membership of the CWL across Canada has been in gradual decline since the late 1960s, these women would like nothing better than to tell Catholic women who are not league members what a gift membership has been in their lives.
"It's nice to get together and talk about what's going on in the Church," says Bettin, a CWL member for 66 years after joining in Beiseker the day she returned from her honeymoon in 1935.
Upon arriving in Calgary this year for the convention, she joined Elly Jarvis, one of her six children, while attending the convention. "I get a good feeling of fellowship working together for the good of the Church," said the retired schoolteacher who taught in the Edmonton area during the 1920s.
"It's just awesome," says Smith,
diocesan president for Mackenzie-Fort Smith, a member of Our Lady of Victory Church, the igloo-shaped church that is a symbol of the northern town.
"I'm always blown away by the experience, spirit and knowledge of all the women."
"Join the league and see Canada from sea to sea to sea," says Skelton who, along with the rest of Spaghetti Ladies, raised $1,600 for their trip. "We're all here as one, reaching out to open that door."
That door refers to the CWL's national theme for this year and next, The Open Door.
"It is a wonderful theme because it is simple and can be studied from many perspectives, like the facets on a diamond, Bishop Douglas Crosby, the CWL's national spiritual advisor, said in his welcome to the women.
"It is clear that Jesus Christ is the open door, welcoming us to come to know him, providing the healing forgiveness we seek, and sending us out to proclaim and to be Good News to the world."
In a series of presentations they learned how to do that. CWL president Vivian Bosch encouraged them to participate in Pope John Paul's new evangelization.
"The new ministry league members are being called to is the ministry of new evangelization - evangelization new in ardour, new in method and new in expression," said Bosch.
Father Thomas Rosica talked about how World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto cannot succeed without the help of the Catholic Women's League.
Energized by a dynamic video and oral presentation, members responded by establishing a $250,000 voluntary fund to help cover the costs of a book containing the Gospel of Matthew and devotions in five languages to be given to several hundred thousand pilgrims when they arrive.
Hard on his heels, Joanne Chafe led a workshop on how to undertake the new evangelization with people at different points in their life.
"Evangelization needs to take into consideration 'the soil' of the believer, the life in which he or she is in, and find the skills needed to dialogue with the person," said Chafe, director of the National Office for Religious Education with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in Ottawa.
Later in the convention, Father Roger Formosi talked about the "big secret" in Canada's Catholic Church - Catholic Missions in Canada, formerly known as the Catholic Church Extension Society in Canada.
"Yes, there really are Catholic missions in Canada," said Formosi, Catholic Missions president. "That's a big secret for a lot of Catholics in Canada."
In fact, there are missions in 26 of the country's 71 dioceses. "Many of them would collapse without the financial support of the benefactors in Missions in Canada," he explained.
The CWL responded by agreeing to set up a voluntary catechesis fund for communities across Canada, which will be evaluated annually.
In addition, members passed seven resolutions dealing with promoting peace, help for the aged, uniform water quality standards, and increased social assistance for the hungry.
They signed two petitions, one dealing with the prevention of child abuse worldwide; and a second asking Parliament to establish an independent commission to implement aboriginal land, treaty and inherent rights.
Moreover, they prayed before the Blessed Sacrament in the Rundle Room-cum-chapel. They purchased pens, pins, memo pads, mouse pads, stickers and sewing kits emblazoned with the CWL logo in the Whitehorn Room.
And they chatted with Kellen Foss, 17-year-old fine arts student from Frontier, Sask., who sold copies of his portrait of Jesus Christ gazing through an Open Door that illustrated the cover of the convention program.
Yet for all it has to offer, CWL membership has dropped from a high of 169,000 in the late 1960s to about 104,000 at present.
President-elect Marie Cameron of Calgary, says the decline is due in part to members passing away; the merger and amalgamation of parishes; and the fact that women today find it more difficult to fit the CWL into their hectic lives.
There's also the problem of perception, where many non-members view the CWL as a group of women who spend their time in the kitchen cooking for church socials and funeral receptions.
Cameron, who succeeds Bosch after next year's convention in Moncton, N.B., says the CWL needs to do a better job of marketing itself and be more flexible, adaptable and innovative to accommodate the needs of younger members.
Alberta is one of the few areas where membership has risen during the past five years. In fact, coincidentally, it was a new member from Whitecourt who won a national prize with an all-expense paid trip to the national convention.
"It made me cry when I found out," said Joan Bogner, who began attending CWL meetings even before she was received into the Church at Easter 2000.
"It's a lot of fun, very rewarding," Bogner said as she held her six-month-old daughter, Emily, who came along for the trip. "I like the way the community helps you give to people in need."
Annette DeBoer, president of the CWL council at St. Joseph's Parish in Whitecourt, sponsored Bogner. DeBoer has been active in her parish CWL council for more than 10 years.
Says DeBoer: "I like being a part of a group of women who are not afraid to admit they believe in God."
At the closing Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral, Bishop Crosby commended their efforts. Citing the resolutions, he said, "these resolutions demonstrate that you gather not just for you - but for the benefit of those who suffer.
"As women together, you provide a voice , a loud and clear voice for those whose voice is often not heard," said the bishop for Labrador City-Schefferville.
"You are credible witnesses to what can be done when women of faith work together with a common vision."
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