SCCCW convention features workshops on environment, Bantu refugees

NORTH CHARLESTON—“Connecting with the Spirit” was the theme of the seventh annual South Carolina Council of Catholic Women convention, and women from around the state made sure that spiritual connection took place.

The convention, held March 19-21 at the North Charleston Convention Center, was dedicated to past president Helen Merritt for her long and faithful service. It included Mass with Bishop Robert J. Baker, the election of new officers, and several workshops.

During the opening session, women from the individual deaneries processed in with the Christ candle and placed flowers in front of the icon of Our Lady of South Carolina. They remembered their deceased members, 12 military personnel from South Carolina who were killed while serving their country in Iraq, and the family members who continue to serve.

During the business session on Saturday, the council elected its 2004 officers. Cherrin Moore from the Pee Dee Deanery was voted president of the state council, Toni Wilson from the Midlands Deanery was chosen as recording secretary, and Barbara Birds from the Coastal Deanery was re-elected to treasurer.

Joan Mack of the Coastal Deanery was elected as province director. Mack will be the representative voice of the councils in the province to the National Council of Catholic Women Board of Directors. She will be installed at the general assembly in September in Austin, Texas.

Saturday’s workshop was led by Pat Smuck from the National Council of Catholic Women, who was involved with the program “Children’s health in A Safe Environment” (CASE). The South Carolina Council of Catholic Women was selected to participate in the project by the national council.

In 1997, NCCW resolved to help protect children in poverty from permanent mental and physical damage from environmental toxins such as lead, air pollutants and pesticides. The organization called on its members to support the inclusion of child protection in all environmental policy. It also asked them to support research on the effects of toxic exposure on children, and to support federal, state and local policies that help to build healthy environments.

In her presentation, Smuck said that the key to a safe environment begins in the home.

“It is important that we understand that God left the earth in our hands, and it is our responsibility to take  care of it,” Smuck said.

She explained that many of the products used in the home for sanitation and beauty are actually doing more harm than good.

“There are cancer-causing agents that we are using in our homes, and we must present alternatives to our children and our grandchildren,” said Smuck. “We can change people’s lives with this information.”

This program is one that Smuck has been a part of for several years. She has seen participation increase from only four states to nearly all 50.

“If you have the ability to do something positive you have the responsibility to do it,” she said.

Richard Robinson, director of the Somali Bantu Refugee Resettlement Project, presented another workshop. Hundreds of items for the Bantus were collected by the SCCCW affiliates and brought to the convention.

The items were taken to Columbia and stored in a warehouse for the 120 Bantu families settled in the state.

“We had so many donations that all the delegates who came from Columbia had to pack their cars to take the items back,” Mack said.

Honorees for the weekend were Ann Marable of the Piedmont Deanery, who was named 2004 SCCCW woman of the year, and Our Lady of Mercy Sister Veronica Janas, who received the religious award.

Margaret Adams, Ph. D., director of  Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Charleston, was present to receive crucifixes for the libraries of the Catholic schools in the state. The crucifixes were donated by all of the women’s organizations.

“The focal point of every school should be the library,” Adams said. “How meaningful and appropriate for the Catholic women to give each school a crucifix.”

Mack was pleased with the results of the convention.

“The ladies were all impressed and much energized to come back to their communities to carry through with the mission of the organization and that is to serve the church and community,” she said.

Bishop Baker said it was a great honor for him to be with the diocesan council of Catholic women on a couple of occasions during their convention.

“I was able to personally acknowledge my thanks for the many labors of love done by this organization throughout the past year,” he said. “I share the sentiments of all the pastors of the diocese, who have benefited from their creativity, ingenuity and support, in thanking the Lord for all that this organization does and all that the women of our diocese do on behalf of the church and in devoted service of the Lord.”