More than 350 Catholic men and women, from 28 states and Canada, gathered Jan. 27-29 at the Westminster, Colo. Westin for the 11th National Catholic Singles Conference.
It was the first time the event had returned to the Denver area since being established here in 2005.
“Since that time conferences in Chicago, San Diego, San Antonio and Clearwater Beach (Fla.) have drawn more than 3,000 people,” said Anastasia Northrop, National Catholic Singles Conference founder and director.
The conference featured keynote talks, Masses, prayer, sacraments and fellowship—geared toward single Catholics of all ages. Pre- and post-conference events hosted by Catholic Speed Dating of Denver drew nearly 200 participants.
“The conference prepares us to make better gifts of ourselves in the vocation of marriage or religious life,” Northrop said. “Or if not entering one of those vocations soon, then to make a gift of self as a single person, to the Church.
“If all singles were really giving of themselves and their free time, I think it would be a different Church,” she added.
For Matt O’Rourke, 41, of Denver, this was his second National Catholic Singles Conference.
“It’s great to see the Church community here,” he said “I’ve made a lot of good friends … and the talks are really relevant to singles.”
Mary Beth Bonacci kicked off the conference Friday night with her talk: “What if there is no Bob? Faith, Hope and Looking for Love.” Saturday’s speakers were Jonathan Reyes, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, who delivered “Not Counting the Cost”; professor and artist David Clayton on his “Way of Beauty” program; and in her talk, Daughter of St. Paul Sister Helena Burns, asked the question: “Is True Love for Everyone?”
In a presentation that drew both laughter and tears, counselor and author Roy Petitfils delivered Sunday’s closing session.
A passionate Petitfils relayed his journey of being raised in poverty by a mother who worked three jobs to keep him in Catholic schools, the pain of growing up without a father, struggles with loneliness and food that caused to him weigh 530 pounds by the time he was 18, the hurt he suffered from feeling invisible—and his separation from God for “not giving him a dad.”
“How many of you have ever been lonely?” he asked the crowd.
A winding journey eventually led him to college, and the friendship of a campus ministry priest that brought him back to God and the Church.
“I believe he saved my life … two and a half years after that priest walked into my life, I lost almost 300 pounds,” he said to the audience who responded with applause. “He challenged me to do the inner work.”
Petitfils said oftentimes self-acceptance can only come through the eyes of another.
“That priest did that for me,” he said. “He looked deep into me with a love I’d never seen before.”
Knowing that love helped him accept himself, and today has made him “a real good dad” to two young sons—and “a decent husband,” he joked.
Loving one’s self is a journey of first knowing one’s self.
“Whenever we see the ‘real’ in us,” he said. “We’ll be more able to do that in others.”
At the closing Mass, Bishop James Conley, apostolic administrator of the Denver Archdiocese, pointed out the day’s second reading, 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, at the start of his homily: St. Paul’s reflection on marriage and single life.
“You’re probably expecting me to begin with the second reading,” he said. “A rather providential reading, didn’t you think?”
He urged attendees to be transformed by Jesus.
“We were all made for great things,” he said. “When we encounter Jesus in the sacraments and in adoration, we learn to love as God loves: to die to ourselves and to lay down our lives for our friends.”
He said many singles feel single life is fraught with anxiety: a search for their vocation, as well as their place in the Church, family and community.
“Single life can be characterized by instability and uncertainty, about the present and the future,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be … St. Paul is encouraging single men and women to draw close to Jesus Christ; to find in him a focus on the Christian life."
“Ultimately every vocation is a call to radical love,” he said, “a vocation to make a gift of oneself in a particular way.”
Joanne Goralka, 52, from Sacramento, Calif., appreciated the message of the conference.
“A lot of times you go to single events and it’s all about meeting ‘the right one,’” she said. “This one was more about vocation, wherever it will take you."
“This conference was so spirit-filled,” she added. “It was beautiful to meet others that are strong in their faith.”
Posted with permission from the Denver Catholic Register, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Denver, Colo.