"The Sahuaro cactus begins life from the size of a poppy seed and lives to be hundreds of years old. They don"t even develop an arm until they are at least 60 years old. That reminded me of our modern NFP movement-we're not old enough to develop arms yet, but as we stay alive (and faithful) we will last long enough to grow our arms and grow taller. .... The cactus can go up to two years without water and sometimes it also seems like a long drought in the NFP desert. But, we learn how to use the little we have to our best advantage. That was a good visual image for me to keep persevering (after all, it's against our religion to be pessimistic)."
Cecilia LeChevallier, NFP Coordinator, Diocese of CamdenThe above quote aptly reflects the spirit of the Diocesan NFP Ministry National Conference. The purpose of the conference was to provide time for continuing education, networking, rest and retreat. These conferences have been held biennially since 1983.
The setting for the 2003 conference could not have been more appropriate — the desert of Phoenix. Over the ages, the desert has become a symbol in the life of the Church for putting all distractions aside as one searches for God. Our Lord himself set the tone at the beginning of his public ministry when he went into the desert to pray right after his baptism. Our gathering place was not, of course, as austere but our intent was the same. Diocesan NFP coordinators, teachers and NFP leaders came together to focus on NFP ministry through learning new information, visiting with old friends, and making new ones, and seeking refreshment in mind, body and soul. An important feature of this conference was the retreat-like atmosphere with daily Mass and an Eucharistic chapel for silent prayer in the evenings.
The theme of the conference was the continuing importance of the encyclical Humanae vitae on its thirty-fifth anniversary. Conference sessions began with Mark Johnson, Ph.D., Marquette University, speaking on the encyclical as "A Theological Watershed". Dr. Johnson's theological insights and infectious humor provided a dynamic beginning to the conference. Helen Alvaré, Esq., Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America, examined the sociological and legal elements of the current cultural problems of premarital sex, cohabitation and divorce. The editor of Current Medical Research, Richard Fehring, DNSc, RN, College of Nursing, Marquette University, offered a review of the last five years of NFP research (see Current Medical Research, Summer/Fall 2003 Special Edition). The first day was capped off with round table discussions on a variety of topics including: "The Future of Diocesan NFP Ministry"; "Educating the Health Care Professional"; "NFP Intros and Marriage Prep."; and "Chastity Programs, What can be done on a shoe-string budget."
Day two opened with a presentation entitled, "The Pope, The Pill and The Theology of the Body," given by John Grabowski, Ph.D., Catholic University of America. Richard Doerflinger, Deputy Director, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, USCCB, next spoke on cloning and embryo research. A working lunch with mouth-watering Southwestern food, had conference participants listening to what was new in NFP methodology and resources. Representatives of the various NFP Approved teacher training programs took part in the panel. The entire afternoon was filled with a workshop called, "Influencing Without Authority." Educator, corporate trainer and program designer Andrea Zimmerman, Ed.D., led the participants in a variety of activities to examine how to communicate more effectively. Finally, Most Rev. Victor Galeone, Bishop of St. Augustine, ended the conference on Saturday with a stirring talk on Humanae vitae—"Bedrock for the Future." At the end of each day throughout the conference, Rev. Kurt Pritzl, O.P., Dean of the School of Philosophy, Catholic University of America, offered a spiritual reflection and led participants in prayer. A group trip to Sedona, land of the "red rocks" was a fitting end to the conference. (Some participants stayed on to visit the Grand Canyon on Sunday before heading home).
The one-hundred and twenty participants were enthusiastic with their evaluations. "This was the best conference that I have been to all year!" said most. Overwhelmingly, conference participants appreciated the high level of presentations. Solid suggestions were offered about how to improve the organization of round table discussions in the future. Many good suggestions of topics for skills building workshops for 2005's agenda were also given. Everyone was especially grateful to Bishop Galeone who blessed the conference with his love and shepherding.
Conference tapes and CDs are available for purchase. Contact: AVER Assoc., 410-796-8940; FAX, 410-796-8962; E-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Gallery -- 2003 Diocesan NFP Ministry National Conference
The beautiful water fountains of Pointe
Tapatio Hilton Resort in Phoenix, AZ.
Conference participants discuss local
programs during a break.
An afternoon visit to the town of Rawhide
in Scottsdale, AZ, leads to an unexpected visit
to the jail for Theresa Notare, USCCB's Assistant
Director of DDP/NFP and Mary Pat Van Epps,
Diocese of Memphis' NFP director.
On a visit to northern Arizona,
Montezuma's Castle, an ancient Indian
pueblo dwelling was a popular stop.
Mary Pat Van Epps (Diocese of Memphis) and
Stella Kitchen (Diocese of Harrisburg) enjoy the
bus trip back from the Grand Canyon.
John and Claire Grabowski pose for
a picture in "Red Rock" Sedona.