Kimberly Hahn, left, author, speaker, and wife of Catholic theologian, Dr. Scott Hahn, and Sister Maria Juan, RSM, a native of Boise, were keynote speakers at the Idaho Catholic Women’s Conference. About 440 attended in person, and nearly 200 participated online. (Courtesy photos/Ginger Mortensen)
By Emily Woodham
NAMPA – Children spending too much time on the internet and on television and parents who do not teach their children the faith are contributing factors to a culture that is becoming more distant from the faith and its sacraments, said Antonia Solzano, an Italian mother whose message was piped in to the attendees at the Idaho Women’s Catholic Conference Sept. 10 at St. Paul’s Church in Nampa.
Solzano is a mother who would know how to raise children strong in the faith. Her son, Carlo Acutis, who died at age 15 in 2006 from leukemia, is now Blessed Carlo Acutis, beatified by Pope Francis in 2020 and on his way to becoming the first millennial Saint.
Solzano was interviewed from Italy via video by Hope Ryan, a host of “Morning Light” on Salt & Light Radio, which presented the annual conference to about 650 women from throughout the Diocese.
Solzano said her son was an ordinary child with struggles, but that the goal of his life was far from ordinary: to be united with Jesus and to practice virtue.
“We have to heroically practice virtues in order to become saints,” she said. “This is the principal way the Church appoints a saint.”
“Padre Pio was appointed a saint because he lived the virtues, not because of his miracles,” she said. “Carlo used to say, ‘What is the good of winning a thousand battles if we are not able to win ourselves with our corrupt temptations.’ ”
While many are distracted by television and the internet and do not spend enough time for God, “Everything Carlo did was for Jesus,” she said.
“This is a problem, that we are not truly witnesses of Jesus,” she said. “We have to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, but if we don’t mix these things together – faith life and our real life – we are not witnesses, and the people around us won’t feel the presence of God. This is the reason why, often, we are not able to help other people to change their lives, to discover God,” she said.
The sacraments of the Church are our way to salvation, she said, something her son understood deeply. “Speaking about Carlo means to speak about the Eucharist, the importance of the sacraments,” she said. The remedy for all the troubles of the world is God Himself through the sacraments, she said.
The lack of faith in society most often comes from parents who are too egoistic and self-centered to live out their faith and teach it to their children, she said. “To become parents is a mission, and when we die, we have to answer to God.”
“Pray with your children. Be the first witness to them of this faith that you preach with words and your example. The Eucharist is the remedy for the third millennium. When we eat Jesus, we eat love, the source of love – this means to grow and to be helped by God to love God and our neighbors,” she said.
She encouraged the audience to pray constantly.
“Don’t be afraid, because prayers can move mountains. You have to trust God and prayer. Even if you have to do that novena a thousand times, one day you will obtain the grace. Always be confident. Once Carlo prayed a novena 25 times to obtain a miracle,” she said.
About 440 women were present at St. Paul’s Catholic Church and nearly 200 watched online. In addition to Salzano, they heard messages from Kimberly Hahn, an author and speaker and wife of Catholic apologist Dr. Scott Hahn; Sister Maria Juan, a Boise native and member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, and Bishop Peter Christensen of the Diocese of Boise.
“Triumphant in Joy and Sorrow,” was the theme for the annual event. The conference schedule included Mass, Confession, and Adoration. Many participants also took time to pray before a relic of St. Thérèse de Lisieux. Breakfast, lunch and a post-conference
wine and cheese party were also a part of the event.
“There was a sense of peace about the day; a day filled with tears, joy, serenity and beauty,” said Carol Brown, director of marketing and community relations for Salt & Light Radio.
Of the nearly 200 who watched through video, 61 participated in nine watch parties. Many of the watch parties met at churches where they followed the in-person conference.
“We believe a lot of fruit came from the watch parties as communities came together to make it happen,” Brown said. “A lot of women met fellow parishioners for the first time, building community closer to their homes. Many hostesses are already planning what to do for next year’s parties.”
THE CONFERENCE began with Mass with Bishop Peter Christensen. He recounted the story of his adventure the day before with the staff of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in the Owyhee Mountains.
The staff went four-wheeling on trails near Silver City. While most of the staff took larger ATVs, he and Father Mariusz Majewski, rector of the Cathedral, each took standard, single-seat ATVs. The group stopped for lunch, at the home of a friend before continuing on to the tops of the mountains at 7 to 8,000 feet high. While at the top of their journey, they witnessed spectacular beauty in a pristine lake and natural spring waterfall, he said.
But then came the time to go back down the mountain and to return the ATVs. As they maneuvered across crevices, down dangerous slopes across a steep grade, the danger of losing one’s life was very real. “I wanted to go back to the friend’s house, sit in a comfortable chair and have more lunch with sparkling drinks,” he said.
“Why do I appreciate your smiling faces more than ever? Because I’m alive to do so,” Bishop Peter joked.
He compared the experience to life.
“What are those tough mountains and valleys? Those boulders and crevices? Those things in your life you have had to cross, wondering if you’d be able to do it? What are those things?” He said it was also important to be “able to travel with friends and others to guide us along the way. Who are those people? Who are they today?”
“What is asked of us as Christians seems sometimes impossible: Where you lead, Lord, it’s amazing. What you ask of us, Lord, seems too much.” The Bishop quoted St. Teresa of Avila, who once joked to God: “If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.”
The Bishop said the harrowing nature of the ATV trip made him want to go back to his friend’s place for comfort and skip the journey. “Some people do that. They give up. They don’t want to follow the Lord anymore. In the Old Testament, they called it ‘flesh pots,’ ” which is a form of idolatry and that says, “I want to stay in my comfort zone; I don’t want to be led.’”
Staying in our comfort zones should not be an option, the Bishop said. “A life without movement forward is not life. Your journey has high points. Your journey has low points. It always will,” he said, pointing to the theme of the conference “Triumphant in Joy and Sorrow.”
“In our greatest sorrow, the death of Christ, is found our greatest joy, that is salvation,” the Bishop said.
Hope Ryan, left, a co-host of ‘Morning Light’ on Salt & Light Radio is with Diana Tetreault, station manager of Salt & Light. Ryan was the emcee for the conference. (Courtesy photo/Ginger Mortensen)
Bishop Peter shared a prayer he had been praying over the previous week: “Lord, I know You understand all. You know exactly what I am going through. You know what the world is going through. You understand everything. Lord, I know you are greater than evil. You have power to destroy evil. You can overcome evil. You overcame your own death. You have that power. Have at it! Have at it, Lord! Do whatever it is you want to do! And I am willing to be with you on that journey. Use me as much or as little as you want to use me in this situation.”
KIMBERLY HAHN, like her husband, is a convert to the faith. Her husband, Dr. Scott Hahn, was a Presbyterian minister who converted to Catholicism. It took Kimberly Hahn another four years to follow him into the Church. The book about their storied conversion, “Rome Sweet Home,” has been translated into more than 20 languages. One of their sons is now a priest for the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio.
The early Christians depicted hope as their anchor for the storms of life, Hahn said. “When the boat of our spiritual life feels like it might capsize with the relentless waves of financial challenges, strained relationships, or loneliness, political unrest, and overall stress, our Lord says to us what He said to His disciples just before he left, ‘Peace, I give you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’ ” (John 14:27)
Hope isn’t determined by our circumstances, but becomes a constant in life when one has the Holy Spirit, who is the source of God’s presence in life, Hahn said, offering up this acronym for “HOPE”: Holy Spirit, Obedience, Perseverance, and Eternal Perspective.
“H” - Holy Spirit. Christians receive the theological virtue of hope at baptism, Hahn said.
“Through baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to make us children of God and to enable us to live as children of God. Hope is not wishing. It’s not whistling in the dark to kind of stave off the shadows,” she said. Instead, it is walking and standing in the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, she said.
Hahn encouraged women to read and memorize scripture as a way to help them stand firm in hope.
When we meet challenges and difficult circumstances, it is important to remember that God’s power is not diminished when circumstances don’t change.
“Our heavenly Father is both all-powerful and all-loving. He can change the circumstances, but sometimes He does not.” Just as a physician or parent must permit suffering or pain in a sick child, through surgery or medicine, to bring healing, so God permits suffering and pain to bring a greater healing in us, she said.
“O” - Obedience. Christians should obey from the grateful heart of a child, rather than out of fear of punishment. “Mary exemplified this heart of obedience. She knew the scriptures. She loved God, and she lived to serve Him,” she said.
The idea that God commands Christians to obey, leads many to think they are saved by the works. Hahn addressed the issue of faith and works, long a point of contention between Catholics and Protestants. Protestants, and even many Catholics, have the misconception that Catholics believe they are saved by their works.
Referring to Ephesians 2:8-10, Hahn said the grace of God saves us because that grace gives us the strength to do good works. “He is doing His own work in us, but we are active cooperators.” Catholics do not believe they are saved by good works, she said, but good works are the natural response back to God of one who has been truly converted.
“P” – Perseverance. Obeying Christ, even through trials and suffering, requires perseverance. “Sufferings are part of the human condition, and yes, even the Christian condition. And if you’re not suffering at the moment, it’s a lull,” Hahn said.
“St. Paul says we are to rejoice in our sufferings (Romans 5) because the Holy Spirit is at work in us,” she said.
Catholics are accustomed to hearing the phrase “offer it up,” when urged to offer up their sufferings to Christ. But that saying is more than “Catholic custom.” Instead, it is deeply rooted in scripture, she said, quoting Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His Body,” which is the Church, she said.
“When we take on suffering, we can unite our suffering to Christ’s suffering on the Cross, and it has power unto salvation,” she said.
“E” Eternal perspective. “We need the big picture. We need to understand why we are here and where we are going,” she said. Christians have a mission in their short lives, she said. “This life is fleeting. Even if you’re in your 90s, it’s a breath compared to eternity. Are we living today in light of eternity?”
During a second talk given later in the day, Hahn focused on spiritual warfare. Catholics can have confidence in God and His victory, she said. “As my husband, Scott, says, ‘This world is not a play-ground. It is a battleground.’ ”
“We need to choose to have a mission mentality, to move from just maintaining our faith, our status, our marriage, our family, to being mission-minded,” she said. “The battle has been given to you and to me to pick up our cross, to follow Him faithfully and to know that we are part of building the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth.”
Through the sacraments, meditating on scripture and living out our faith through sacrifices and good works, we help to overcome the evil in the world, she said.
SISTER MARIA JUAN, RSM, a Boise native who now is a part of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich., and serves in Tennessee, spoke on reordering the passions and appetites, which are our emotions and physical needs.
Before the Fall, our passions and appetites were ordered by our sinless intellect and will, which are a part of us being made in the image of God. But after the Fall, because of sin, we became disordered, with passions and appetites now ruling the intellect, she said.
“This is the human experience. Why do you think there is a new fad diet every three months that doesn’t work? Because instead of fixing the disorder within us, we try a quick fix, and that’s not going to work,” she said.
“Jesus supplies the remedy for every spiritual illness,” she said.
“We have a sure and firm knowledge and hope that we can receive grace through the seven sacraments of the Church,” she said. Confession and Holy Eucharist are the two most effective sacraments in remedying the disordered nature, she said.
“The power of the sacraments is that God always takes ordinary simple elements and absolutely, totally transforms them into something totally different before our very eyes. But at the same time, nothing changes in front of us. And this is where our faith, this gift of faith comes into play,” she said.
Just as the bread and wine still seem unchanged, they have been transformed into His Body and Blood. Likewise, we are completely changed by baptism, she said. When we receive the Blessed Sacrament at Mass, go to Confession, and receive the Anointing of the Sick, it may seem that nothing has changed. “Everything looks the same, but everything is different,” she said.
The sacraments are how we can receive healing from the wounds of our sins, she said. “Every time we sin, we receive a wound in our very soul that needs healing.”
Sister Maria Juan’s Order, the Religious Sisters of Mercy, has Sisters who are physicians who operate clinics for the poor. She said that sometimes even physical healing is not readily seen. One of the clinics provides “oxygen therapy,” during which a patient sits in a type of oxygen room. It is not apparent that healing is taking place because the healing starts on an unseen, cellular level. “Patients can’t see a difference after the first visit, but our Sisters know that something has changed within that wound,” she said. Over time, the patient sees the wound healed.
To receive healing from the wounds of sin, we need the sacraments, she said. “There’s a lot of sorrow in our world, in our own hearts and in our own families. And the place that God has created for us to begin to receive healing is the confessional,” she said.
She challenged the audience to ask for the grace and courage to bring wounds – including the sins we are afraid to speak aloud – to the Divine Physician, through the priest, in Confession. “He will heal you, God keeps His promises, He gave us the Sacrament of Confession, and He desires you to be whole again.”
The second gift that Jesus gives to us in order to help us and sustain us through moments of sorrow and to change them into joy is the Holy Eucharist, she said. Although physical food becomes a part of us physically, she said the Eucharist is a holy food that does not become a part of us, but transforms us into Christ.
Jesus desires intimacy with us, she said, through our consuming the Eucharist and through Adoration. Being in Adoration is like being in another oxygen room, she said.
“You just have to sit there and receive. And again, it’s a place where you can reveal your wounds to the Physician,” she said. “You’ll look the same. You’ll smell the same. You’ll talk the same. But you’ll be different. Because every time we encounter Christ in the sacraments, we are never the same again.
“We can grow in confidence in the grace of the sacramental life. And every time you receive this grace and the virtues that God infuses into our soul and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, this starts to put that inner person back into order,” she said.
Bishop Peter Christensen gave his homily on his four-wheeling adventure in the Owyhee Mountains with staff of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. He compared the experience to life. “What are those tough mountains and valleys? Those things in your life you have had to cross, wondering if you’d be able to do it?” He said it was also important to travel with friends and others to guide us along the way.
Maria Biggi, Maria Foster, Kateri Lester, Michaella Pape, Rebecca Mohun and Christine Watanabe led the singing for Mass and Adoration a cappella. Traditional pieces were sung in English and Latin. (Courtesy photos/Ginger Mortensen)
Amy Hazelton, with her baby, Forrest; Colleen Ware, with her baby, Elliot Carlo; and Catherine Wolf, with her baby, Anna Maria, were among many mothers with babies at the conference. The sounds of babies are a joy to hear, Sister Maria Juan, RSM said. She told the audience that the cry room, where mothers could care for their infants, was one of the holiest rooms in the church. (Courtesy photo/Ginger Mortensen)
Antonia Salzano, mother of Blessed Carlo Acutis, spoke at the conference from Italy through video. (Courtesy photo/Lorena Meza Photography)
Sister Maria Juan prays the rosary. (Courtesy photo/Lorena Meza Photography)