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A gathering of hundreds of Catholic women in Indianapolis during the Holy Year of Mercy included, fittingly, a birthday celebration for the Mother of Mercy.
The opening Mass for the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) convention was celebrated on Sept. 8—the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, principal celebrant of the Mass, emphasized Mary’s key role in Divine Mercy, and praised the convention’s timely theme of “Catholic Women: Instruments of Mercy.”
(Related story: Archbishop Kurtz encourages NCCW members to show, receive mercy)
“This year, Pope Francis invites us to turn our thoughts to mercy,” Archbishop Tobin told the more than 700 convention attendees from across the United States. “When he spoke of Mary in his letter that introduced this jubilee, he called her under one of her most ancient titles: Mother of Mercy. And he said that she will help us rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness. For her entire life was patterned after the great presence of mercy made flesh within her.
“Chosen to be the mother of the Son of God, Mary from the first moment of her existence was prepared … to be part of the covenant between God and the human race,” the archbishop continued. “She treasured Divine Mercy in her heart in perfect harmony with her son, Jesus. The hymn of praise she sang at the threshold of her cousin Elizabeth’s home was dedicated to the mercy of God, which extends from generation to generation.”
Through workshops, presentations and numerous opportunities for prayer, the theme of mercy was unmistakable throughout the Sept. 7-10 convention, held at the Downtown Marriott. This marked the first time the annual event has taken place in Indianapolis.
In welcoming visitors from nearly all 50 states, as well as Canada, Archbishop Tobin referenced “Hoosier Hospitality,” which he said he has experienced first-hand since arriving in Indianapolis. Ella Wagner, president of the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women and a member of NCCW for decades, said that the response from attendees was tremendously positive.
“Everyone loved the city of Indianapolis,” said Wagner, one of the principal planners of the event and a longtime member of St. Pius X Parish. “I heard nothing but positive comments. I’ve been to the convention many times, but [being able to host] was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I cannot say enough about all the volunteers who made this happen,” she continued. “They truly went above and beyond to make everyone feel welcome.”
The NCCW, which is celebrating its 96th year, has placed renewed focus on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy during this jubilee year. Specifically, the organization has challenged its members to count such individual acts and reach a collective goal of 1 million works of mercy by the end of the Year of Mercy on Nov. 20.
That challenge extended to the annual service project associated with the convention. Organizers in the host city select the charity that will benefit, and this year, they chose Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis. Convention attendees were asked to bring new clothing items—particularly underwear and socks—to donate to the homeless shelter that is specifically dedicated to families.
The response was overwhelming, according to Wagner.
“These women are absolutely the most generous people,” she said. “There was an unbelievable quantity of items collected, along with monetary donations.”
The U.S. bishops created the National Council of Catholic Women in 1920 to give women a unified voice, a program of service and a vehicle for collaboration. Since its founding, the NCCW has aimed to empower and educate all Catholic women in spirituality, leadership and service so that they may respond with Gospel values to the needs of the Church and society in the modern world. Its annual convention “brings together women from around the U.S. to pray, learn and share ideas,” according to NCCW President Sheila Hopkins.
Those ideas focused almost exclusively on the mercy theme at this year’s convention, with Archbishop Tobin setting the stage during his opening Mass homily. The mother of Jesus, he said, brings us closer to her Son and helps us to understand his infinite mercy.
“My sisters and brothers, at the foot of the cross, Mary, together with John, who was the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness that were spoken by Jesus. This supreme expression of mercy toward those who crucified him show us the point to which the mercy of God can reach,” he said. “Mary is witness that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone without exception.
“Because of her, we come to know Jesus, our savior . . . the face of the Father’s mercy.”
(Victoria Arthur is a freelance writer and member of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg.) †