College Conference Attendees Hear Speeches and Participate in Breakout Session
Bearing Catholic witness in a secular world was a prevailing theme during many of the speeches and breakout sessions during the 2012 College Conference in New Haven, Conn., Sept. 28-30. Approximately 150 college members of the Knights of Columbus, representing over 70 councils from the United States, Canada and Dominican Republic, gathered for the opportunity to develop relationships, exchange program ideas and discuss the challenges facing their councils and campuses. The conference provides the chance for attendees to grow in faith and leadership through a series of talks, breakout sessions and the celebration of Mass.
The Saturday session began with Mass. Father Gregory Gresko, chaplain of the Blessed John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C., was the main celebrant and homilist.
Following Mass and breakfast, Supervisor of Young Adult Outreach, Michael Brewer, took the podium for a presentation on “Catholic Lay Leadership and the New Evangelization.”
“It’s important to understand the individual’s role in the life of the Church, what does God will from us and what does the Church need from us,” Brewer said. He referred to the Baltimore Catechism and its first three questions: What is man? Why did God make you? What must I do to save my soul? In response to these questions, Brewer offered that it is a misconception that college is a time for young people to “find themselves.”
“College is not about finding yourself. Find God and he’ll show you who you are,” he said. He went on to add that God has a plan for each of us; this is not just an opinion or a worldview, but a fact. He urged the attendees not to wait to make a difference but to start now in service to others.
Brewer continued by urging the young Knights to work to develop real friendships with God and people — not friendships that are based on a “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” mentality, but rather, an intimate knowledge that builds trust. “Don’t settle for mediocrity in this relationship with God,” he said.
In relating a story from his experiences at World Youth Day in Madrid, Brewer spoke of the many churches in Europe that had been turned into tourist attractions for their art and architecture. In one such “attraction” was a display of religious vessels, including a monstrance. “Nothing is more tragic than an empty monstrance,” he said. Brewer added that just as a monstrance is called upon to carry the real presence of Christ to the World, so too are the faithful to carry the presence of Christ in themselves through their public witness to our Savior through their works of charity. He warned the college Knights not to be an empty vessel or an empty monstrance.
“God deserves the best we have to offer,” Brewer said. “Our lives are meant to be ones of sacrifice. Others deserve the best of us.”
Following Brewer’s presentation, the conference attendees moved into breakout session presentations by the members of the conference advisory board. The topics of the discussions included: “All About Membership: Recruitment, Engagement and Retention,” “Best Practices in Council Management,” “Charity and Fraternity” and “Leaders for Life.” Group discussions followed each presentation.
After the breakout sessions, the conference participants gathered again in the main meeting room for a presentation on “The Man of God in the Year of Faith”
Father Gresko said that according to Pope John Paul II, a man of God is defined by his freedom: freedom from the material world and worldly power, freedom from fear before God, and his ability as a free man to serve his neighbor. “A true leader first commits to being a man of God,” Father Gresko said. He added that one “cannot lead people to follow God if you do not follow him yourself.”
Being a man of God, he continued, is a daily battle against sin. It is being open each day to the call to a vocation of holiness, to the perfection of charity. The man of God, he continued, is called to discipleship in three ways: by denying self, by taking up the Cross and by following Christ.
Father Gresko went on to review the three elements of the New Evangelization as described by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.: personal renewal of personal faith, believing in the truth of the One Faith, and a willing/eagerness to share that faith. This is reflective he added of life’s ultimate fulfillment — the love of self and love of neighbor. “The world can be transformed into a civilization of love when each of us does his part,” Father Gresko added.
Following Fr. Gresko’s talk, the college Knights separated by geographic region for regional caucuses. In these caucuses the Knights discussed the successes and challenges of their councils and planned collaboration on future events. A trip and social to the Knights of Columbus Museum followed the caucuses. The evening closed with a Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Mary’s Church.
Knights also met for Mass and breakfast on Sunday morning with Father Gresko again acting as the main celebrant and homilist. Following Mass, Supreme Advocate John Marrella offered some closing remarks.
“Those of us here in New Haven admire you for your fortitude and dedication to the Order,” the supreme advocate said. He went on to discuss the popularity of Facebook and the danger it can bring in the substitution of virtual friendships and presence for the reality of personal contact, both with others and with God. “We need the real presence,” Marrella said.
“Just as Christ is really present to us, we need to be really present to others as his ambassadors,” he added. This is true especially in the work the Knights does for others, he continued. Marella cited an example from a friend whose daughter is hospitalized. Rather than a monetary donation toward presents for the patients, the local council members and their families came to volunteer and run the Christmas celebration themselves. This personal contact meant more to the patients than any gift, Marrella added. He urged the conference attendees to remember this in their own Catholic Witness on their campuses and in their communities.
“You may be the only witness to Christ that someone meets,” he said.
As part of the conference attendees were asked to offer new ideas for service programs. The conference ended on Sunday with the announcement of the winning proposal: Operation Manna, a combined suggestion from St. John’s University Council 5136 in Collegeville, Minn., and University of St. Thomas Council 11949 in St. Paul. The program, geared to helping families in need of food, would create food pantries at parishes and Newman Centers to provide families in need with a week’s worth of food every week. Also through the program, a council would hold a dinner (on a regular basis) for these families at either the parish or a similar location. This would be a way to provide a meal to these families, to further let them know that they are a part of the community and are cared for, and to involve them in prayer with the other attendees.