Coastal Catholic Conference attracts diverse crowd of 650, provides fellowship



MYRTLE BEACH — The Coastal Catholic Conference recharged the spiritual batteries of more than 650 participants at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center Jan. 19 with liturgies and an assortment of workshops providing spiritual growth for everyone.

The event is an effort organized by parishes in the Pee Dee Deanery, which brings in nationally known speakers to the Palmetto State for a day of prayer, worship, and education.

The gathering began with an inspirational message from Father J-Glenn Murray. Father Murray, a Jesuit priest born and raised in Philadelphia, started his morning address with a song his grandmother taught him to sing whenever he was asked who he was.

“I tell them I’m a child of God,” he sang. “Sing it loud,” he said, as the audience joined in.

“It really is the only thing you need to remember about me,” said the director of the Office of Pastoral Liturgy and a teacher of homiletics for the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio.

“Since the events of 9-11, 2001, our lives have been changed forever,” said Father Murray. “In the wake of those tragic events people did what people have done since time out of memory.” Noting the words of King Lear, he quoted, “The weight of this sad time you must obey. Seek what we fear, not what we ought to say.”

Children have come forward with their piggybanks. Celebrities, stripped of their makeup and flattering lighting, rolled up their sleeves and went to work in New York City. Others participated in unprecedented fund-raisers of authentic altruism. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised to help those in need.

“Yet, in the midst of all that happened in the wake of 9-11,” the Jesuit priest explained, “there is a refrain that keeps on going over and over in my mind and in my heart, ‘Over my head, I hear music in the air,'” he sang.

His interpretations of Biblical passages were dramatically enhanced with new century inflections, including the voice of a valley girl and the hip-hop recollection of poor Lazarus in the tomb.

“Yes, we are born, but in baptism we are reborn, remade, refashioned and for a purpose, to let somebody and everybody know that there is a God somewhere,” Father Murray said. “We are called, every single one of us, to be evangelizers, to tell somebody somewhere that there is good news.”

The priest asked, “Where do you find the news? Where is the content for all the good news?”

He answered, “It is in God’s living Word. God still wants to provide saints of all ages, colors and hues willing to lay down their lives on the consuming altar of sacrificial love, and somebody needs to hear that. God makes a way out of no way. God’s love is beyond memory. God does not constantly remind us of our sin and what we have done. God’s love for us is beyond control. We do not control God’s love for us. God loves us in the very midst of our sin,” he said, reading from St. Paul.

“We don’t have to browbeat people. All we need to do is have a discerning eye. There are always people out there who are waiting and wanting to hear the good news,” Father Murray concluded. His final remarks were followed by a standing ovation.

Thirteen different workshops were offered throughout the day, with some sessions being held twice. Following is a brief roundup of some of the presentations.

Morning workshops

Msgr. Thomas Duffy, pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City and dean of the Pee Dee Deanery, discussed “The Gospel of Life: Consistent Life Ethic.”

“Murder is wrong,” he said in opposing capital punishment. “We cannot throw away our dignity. We must be against all murder. Every human life has its origin in the heart of God. Genocide happens all too frequently. The Holocaust is not just something that happened in history and won’t happen again. It’s still happening.”

The monsignor asked, “What about abortion? What message is going out to the world … when millions of unborn human beings are being killed in their mother’s womb?”

Msgr. Duffy said that some people justify abortion by saying that people are being created that are unloved and that it’s better to kill a child in the womb than to bring that child into the world where it will not be loved.

“Our message to those young mothers or older mothers or any mother about that child is remember where that life came from,” he said. “It came because there was sexual relations, but it came because God created. Any human being who comes into this world, it took a woman, a man and God. That is human life.”

In another session, Dorothy Grillo, director of social ministries, outlined the six key principles of Catholic social teaching in “Living Catholic Social Teaching: A Family Perspective.” Grillo listed the principles as: the dignity of humans, community and the common good, rights and responsibilities, option for the poor, dignity of work and solidarity.

Diane Bullard, Pee Dee regional director of Catholic Charities, addressed poverty.

She provided a handout that called for political action through voter registration, support of political candidates “who support people issues,” community organizing with right to life issues, and the creation of credit unions and funding for needed programs.

“We’ve got people who can’t work because they can’t get there,” said Bullard. She explained that health concerns play a big role in the life of the poor who will be affected by the closure of the Loris Health Department in Horry County.

She told a story about a man dying of cancer, who couldn’t afford $900 a month for medication with Medicare eight months away.

“He’s now gone,” she said.

In another case, a female client came in to the Catholic Charities office after being told at a job interview to wear better shoes, while a child in Florence is going to school with no shoes at all.

“How can you worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?” she asked.

Dominican Sister Pat Keating, regional coordinator for Catholic Charities for the Coastal Deanery, followed Bullard and urged participants to get involved politically.

“The question is why?” she challenged. Why are there poor people in the richest country and in Charleston without food? Why do people die needlessly?

Three weeks ago, she said, a man froze to death in Charleston, and recently in Myrtle Beach, a homeless man was seriously injured while sleeping in a dumpster that was being unloaded.

She challenged participants to analyze the problems and shared a confusing scenario: She said some Catholic Charities clients are obviously mentally or physically disabled, but because the system doesn’t label them as such, they can’t get assistance.

In “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll,” Tim Forbes, director of Youth Ministry at Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant, led a candid discussion among teens and adults.

“Today things have changed,” Forbes said. “When they asked me to come and talk seven months ago, I said, ‘Sure, no problem.'” He said he wanted to steer clear of Sept. 11 events since youths have discussed it at length at home, school and church; so he turned to the morning headlines for a discussion topic. The top story in area newspapers was the posting of the Ten Commandments in S.C. classrooms, which has attracted teens’ attention.

“I don’t think it would hurt to have Christianity in as many places as possible, but I think more importantly than posting the Ten Commandments in our schools, we need to bring back the Ten Commandments to our families,” he said.

Afternoon workshops

In “Discipleship in Marriage: The Sacrament and Issues Surrounding It,” Msgr. Joseph R. Roth, vicar general of the diocese and pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, said that the love between a husband and wife should be a continuum of growing together.

Presently, the diocese requires a six-month preparation period before couples are allowed to marry in the church. “They need that time to talk and figure it all out,” said the monsignor. “When we can see differences and live with them, then we’re learning.”

He said the diocese is preparing a new booklet on marriage preparation that focuses on the various aspects of marriage and religious preparation.

Some of the areas discussed included mixed religions, non-Christians, dispensations, permissions, obstacles to marriage, children, fidelity, permanence of the sacrament and unity.

Kathleen Merritt, director of the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries, presented a session titled “Appreciating Diversity Among the Nations: A Cultural Perspective Focused on Children and Youth.”

Merritt’s workshop included a demonstration of a sensitivity and diversity program for kindergarten through fifth-grade students as well as addressing sensitivity and diversity awareness issues among preadolescents.

She also examined things participants could do to increase sensitivity and diversity awareness among children and youth. Some suggestions were learning the Hail Mary in a different language, listening to an ethnic radio station, watching the Hispanic TV channel, inviting someone from a different culture to all social gatherings for youth, doing a service project on the Martin Luther King holiday, making a piñata for a child’s birthday party, visiting a historically black Catholic Church or school, visiting an ethnic restaurant and trying different foods, and inviting professions from different ethnic groups to talk about their careers, especially priests and nuns.

Our Lady of Mercy Sister Donna Lareau, director of the May Forest Center for Spirituality in Charleston and a worship columnist for The Miscellany, gave a presentation on “Growing in Enthusiasm for the Faith by deepening our Spiritual Life.” Sister Lareau said enthusiasm for the faith involves intimately coming to know God through a deeper prayer life, trusting in a God we cannot see, thirst for love and meaning in life, and hope in the communion of saints, hope in the world to come, and hope in more than this world has to offer.

Another Miscellany columnist, Mary Hood Hart, spoke on “Lighting the Home Fires.” (See related article on page 6.)

Eucharistic celebration

Led by a Fourth Degree Honor Guard from the Knights of Columbus as well as representatives from the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Bishop Robert J. Baker, along with a cadre of priests from across the state, formed a striking procession as they entered the convention center exhibit hall for the closing liturgy.

In opening remarks, Bishop Baker officially launched diocesan evangelization efforts in union with the universal church.

Archbishop Montalvo, in his homily, said the Pee Dee celebration demonstrated the love that the participants have for Pope John Paul II. “Today, through the church, Christ’s voice continues. This diocese has embraced wonderful initiatives. After a year of prayer and preparation, you are embarking on a year of evangelization, continuing the work of Christ begun at the seashore. Each of you are privileged to continue the Lord’s vision by embracing the work of a new evangelization.”

The archbishop emphasized that while the mission is clear, the task will not be an easy one. He stressed to listeners that they will need to be strengthened with Christ himself in and through the Eucharist.

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Catholics. The Eucharist provides us spiritual food. When you taste God’s love, you are impelled to share that love with your neighbors. In Communion, we are constantly reminded that each of us is created in the image of Christ. The Eucharist gives life and direction to the parish community.”

The apostolic nuncio said that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and that with Christ life is never the same again.

Jordan McMorrough contributed to this article.