Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of being one of the 400 first time attendees at the annual Call To Action conference “Justice Rising.” Considering there were around 1,600 attendees in total at the conference, I think it speaks wonders about the conference and its outreach that one-fourth of us there were new. Progressive Catholics from around the country gathered for a weekend of liturgies, caucuses, presentations and keynote addresses focusing on topics such as social justice, anti-racism, anti-oppression, and full Church inclusion. I have to admit that, as someone who not too long ago was clueless to the progressive side of Catholicism, I was somewhat overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, but in a good, positive and moving way.
Maybe this is a sign that I really have been working in downtown DC for a bit now, but upon arriving to the conference’s hotel I felt as though I’d entered a mini CTA downtown. People were walking about en masse, weaving their way through the maze of the hotel conference rooms and banquet halls; a mix of the “city” veterans walking with purpose and the “tourists” seeking help to find their way to the proper destination. I was, without a doubt, a tourist and was happily shown my way to the WOC table in the exhibition hall where I womaned the WOC table.
I’m sure that the idea of tabling probably doesn’t excite most people, but I had a blast! It was so lovely to speak with people who meandered about the hall and who stopped to check out the WOC table. There was so much encouragement and support for the women’s ordination movement that even as a newbie to the conference as well as to WOC I felt welcomed and at home. It was even more exciting to put faces to the individuals I’d previously corresponded with by phone and email. I can’t speak for the people I met, but for me that shimmer of recognition after introductions was always followed by an instant feeling of camaraderie.
Ida Raming, one of the Danube Seven speaking at our caucus
Not only did I get to meet some of the amazing WOC supporters and members, but I also got to meet many of the heroines of the women’s ordination movement: the lovely womenpriests themselves! At a caucus held by WOC, Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) and the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests (ARCWP) I had to contain myself as we recognized the womenpriests in the room.
There I was sitting in a room with a range of women called, from three members of the Danube Seven, to women celebrating a fifth anniversary as a priest to women celebrating their ordination as deacon and their upcoming ordination into the priesthood. I think it is fair to say that I was not the only one extremely moved by these strong and grace-filled women. The outpouring of support from the caucus attendees was moving in and of itself.
I must confess, the WOC caucus was not the only time I had to contain myself that weekend. Although I knew who was coming to the conference, thanks to the nifty schedule CTA posted well in advance, it did not really click that I might get a chance to meet some of the head movers and shakers of the progressive side of Catholicism. I fear I did a better job of keeping my cool amongst the Womenpriests because I was there, even if in the background, as a part of WOC. When I was just Jillian working as a volunteer at the CTA table, all of that discipline vanished.
I realized this when I saw Sr. Simone Campbell walk past. That’s right, the Sr. Simone Campbell from Nuns on the Bus. Please forgive the failure to produce a more mature or more eloquent example than what I am about to give: there is no better way to explain my excitement at meeting the woman I saw not only in the news but also on both The Colbert Report and on The Daily show than that of a tween in the 90’s at an N’SYNC concert. Now I’m afraid I just embarrassed and dated myself, but that is exactly how I felt! Let’s just say that I was excitedly nervous to stop her and steal a few minutes of her time for a quick chat. Not only was she extremely warm and welcoming, but she was also gracious in sharing a few fun stories about her experience on two of my favorite TV shows as well as how the recent fame has helped her grow accustomed to strangers (like me!) asking to take a picture.
As my gushing might suggest, meeting the phenomenal womenpriests and sisters I’d only previously read about and seen on TV and in film was the icing on top of the treat that was “Justice Rising.” Now what was the cherry on top, you’re wondering? Two words: flash mob. It’s true, I had the absolute joy of participating in and helping with a flash mob. The creative genius that is the WOC staff, the lovely Erin Saiz-Hanna and Kate Conmy, used their skills at prose to create a parody to the summer pop-music hit “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. Recruited for my past in dance, I had the pleasure of adding moves to the clever lyrics of “Ordain a Lady.” With the amazing participation of members of CTA’s 20/30 Program as well as WOC Board members and caucus attendees, a small group of people managed to pop up and steal the attention of a banquet hall full of people after a keynote address. My personal goal for the flash mob was for people who weren’t privy to the mob to get up and dance with us. To my utmost joy, so many people joined in on the fun! It was so heartwarming to see people join us in kinship and support, even in something as silly as a flash mob.
I found the crowd participation heartwarming and not surprising because kinship, community and support was what the conference was all about. Every aspect of the conference pointed towards our ability as individuals and as a larger Catholic community to make positive strides towards creating a more just society. Without a doubt, the Church needs to be a beacon for justice; justice for all. As CTA’s Executive Director Jim FitzGerald stated, we, the people, are the Church. I may be new to this movement and still extremely optimistic, but I believe that by actively working to eliminate oppression in ourselves and our surroundings, we can make a positive difference. I believe it is our duty to respond to the call we have all been given; the call to action and to justice.
P.S. I promise to share the flash mob once we get our hands on the video!