Des Moines, Iowa, Sep 17, 2014 / 04:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy Spirit's inspiration can strike at the most unexpected times - like while running on a treadmill.

That's when Ellen Miller felt called to create the first regional Catholic conference for Iowa in 2010, the “Christ Our Life” conference. She ran the idea by her friend Marilyn Lane, who had felt similar promptings, and the two now co-chair the bi-annual weekend that serves as a “shot of holy adrenaline.”

“It is a grassroots effort - Holy Spirit inspired, definitely,” Miller told CNA. “It really came to my heart that Iowa needed a Catholic conference, one that would bring us all together to help us grow in our faith, to help us understand what we believe, live and celebrate.”

Perhaps most impressive about the conference is the well-known Catholic speakers it attracts. This year's lineup includes keynote speaker Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Catholic youth speaker Mark Hart and Rwandan genocide survivor and author Immaculée Ilibagiza among several others.

Miller, who serves as a youth minister for her parish, said that while putting together a large arena event for thousands of people with big-name speakers seemed intimidating, she has always been one to encourage people to give their “yes” to the Lord.

“I always encourage my kids to give their 'yes', to remind them that so many things in life pull us to give our 'yes', but how many 'yeses' do we give to God?” she said.

A steering committee of 26 people help put the conference together. One of the most important parts of getting people to come to the conference, she said, has been a personal invitation.

“I have about 235 people who I call go-to people,” she said, “...they create that personal invite in the back of their church. And it really does take that.”

Around 5,000 people attended the last conference, and the Wells Fargo Arena allows for room for the event to grow to 10,000. The hope is to especially draw in families that will experience the conference together and grow in their faith.

“Our goal is to see families, whether you're 10 years old to 110 years old, come to this beautiful celebration of God's infinite love,” she said, “and then go home and share that mountaintop experience, something that you were all apart of so that you can go home and grow from there.”

Miller experienced this in her own family, when her son, who helped chauffeur some of the speakers around for the first event, decided to serve as an accountant for a non-profit charity in Africa after talking with one of the speakers and experiencing the conference.

“He really felt bold enough in the Holy Spirit to listen to those promptings, and now this is his fourth year in Africa,” she said. “If I wouldn't have gone to that conference with him I would have thought, 'What are you doing?'”

Because the event takes place over just two days, the schedule is pretty packed with speakers, adoration and Mass with the only “break-out” session times occurring during meal times. The speakers also try to strike a balance of being both educational and testimonial, Miller said.

“We try and keep the conference to a balance of both of those: that educational, learning aspect with the teachings of the Church and about the sacraments, and then the stories that make it real in our own personal life,” she said.

This year's Christ Our Life conference will take place Sept. 20-21 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. The cost is $25 for adults and $15 for students. Registration and more information can be found on their website:


Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2014 / 02:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was “a monumental step forward” for human dignity, but continued work is necessary to fight the “destructive influence of racism,” said the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“As America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 this year, I join together with my brother bishops in recalling the heroic history of that achievement,” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky. said in a statement this month. “We honor the many civic, business, and religious leaders, students, laborers, educators and all others of good will who courageously stood up for racial justice against bigotry, violence, ignorance, and fear.”

“We remember with deep gratitude the countless personal sacrifices they made, sacrifices that all too often included hardship, violence, and even death,” he said. “We honor the victory they won after such a long and sustained civil and legislative struggle.”

The 1964 federal act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, provided more federal protection for voting rights and barred discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in government, in employment, in public services and in public accommodations.

The archbishop said the 1964 act “offered an olive branch of hope for equal treatment and opportunities for education, employment, and fuller participation in society” and “promised a better quality of life for millions of Americans who had been excluded from the privileges of citizenship based on race, color, national origin, and other grounds.”

The U.S. bishops have been encouraging commemorations of the 50th anniversary of milestones in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Over the next year, the bishops’ conference Subcommittee on African-American Affairs will remember major milestones and release blog posts, video clips and suggestions to engage the Catholic community during the commemorations.

Archbishop Kurtz said the 1964 Civil Rights Act “championed human dignity and provided legal protections that began to transform communities around the country.”

The archbishop voiced gratitude for “the vital contributions of the faith community” in the Civil Rights Movement. He especially mentioned “the special and untiring contributions” of civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated in 1968.

“Propelled by their values and beliefs, members of different faiths and denominations, including Catholics, insisted that racial justice in the United States was an imperative, no longer to be ignored,” Archbishop Kurtz continued. “Inspired by Holy Scripture, fortified by prayer and spiritual music, and sustained by a love for Christ, a number of Christians worked with and for the poor and marginalized, notably in the segregated South.”

Archbishop Kurtz said that the Catholic bishops “repeatedly spoke against racism” in statements in 1943, 1958 and 1963. Many bishops worked to desegregate Catholic schools, hospitals and other institutions, “clearly signaling by their words and actions that racial discrimination has no place in the Church or in society.”

The U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 1979 document “Pastoral Letter on Racism” declared that racism is “a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.”

Archbishop Kurtz said that the Church must “continue to insist on the dignity of all persons and the very real opportunity available to each of us, to have a personal encounter with Christ and to be instruments of his healing, love, and truth.”

He said that the Gospel requires “ongoing personal and social transformation.”

“Respecting the dignity of each person is paramount as we seek to spread the beauty of God’s truth throughout our world,” he continued.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act in itself “did not eradicate the legacy of slavery, racial discrimination and injustice,” the archbishop cautioned.

“In fact, there are reminders across our nation today that the embers of racial discrimination still smolder. This evil infects institutions, laws, and systems, and it harms our brothers and sisters.”

“We must therefore continue to work against the destructive influence of racism on families, religious and civil communities, employment, the prison system, housing, hunger, educational achievement, and mental health,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2014 / 06:45 pm (CNA).- Support of religious freedom for all those being persecuted was reiterated at a conference in the nation’s capital following outcry over comments made by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Joseph Cella, spokesman for In Defense of Christians, told CNA that Cruz’s statement “actually united the parties, enhanced the dialogue, and further strengthened their resolve to protect Christians and others who are persecuted for their faith throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.”

After his controversial keynote address at the recent In Defense of Christians summit in Washington, D.C., Sen. Cruz called the reception he received by some in the audience “a virulent display of hatred and bigotry.”

Cruz spoke Sept. 10 at the event, which was being held to discuss the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. The event was attended by 1200 people including patriarchs and bishops of over a dozen Christian churches from countries throughout the Middle East.

Cruz began his speech by stating that “tonight we are all united in defense of people of faith who are standing together against those who would persecute and murder those who dare disagree with their religious teachings.”

He went on to draw a parallel between the present plight of Middle Eastern Christians and the Jews who fled “extermination” to settle in the state of Israel in 1948. He stated that “today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state.” That statement received negative reactions from some members of the audience.

Cruz then told the audience that “those who hate Israel hate America. And those who hate Jews hate Christians.” He added that “if you hate the Jewish people, you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ” and “if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.” After repeated outcries from some in the audience, he left the stage.

Many in the audience were “Christian citizens of states that maintain uneasy truces with Israel,” wrote Michael La Civita of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, explaining why Cruz met some opposition when he said that “Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state.”

Cruz’s remarks “either demonstrate he does not understand the realities of the Middle East or that he chose to exploit them to energize his political base as he contemplates a run for president in 2016,” La Civita said.

Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, who participated in the D.C. summit, also challenged the accusations leveled by Cruz.

“Having spoken at this IDC Summit on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq and Syria, I take personal exception to sweeping statements made about those in attendance as espousing ‘bigotry and hatred…against Jews and Israel’,” he said Sept. 12.

Bishop Angaelos decried “divisive and inflammatory language” about the summit, which he said featured a “large gathering” of those in “very real pain,” with relatives who were victims of persecution.

“In light of the current very real challenges, this is not a time for such divisive and inflammatory language that demonizes communities and causes rifts between them when their collaboration is most needed,” he stated.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor-at-large of National Review Online, pointed out that the summit materials state that IDC seeks to “protect the human rights” of “all religious groups.”

“In this sense, ‘Christian’ refers not only those who confess the Christian faith, but also Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Bhuddist, Baha’I, and even the freedom to confess no religious belief at all,” the summit’s handout stated.

Bishop Angaelos also emphasized this point the day after Cruz’s speech.

“As Christians, I think we were misrepresented last night. No one here hates, but many here are feeling pain,” he said to the audience.  

“We are in defense of Christians. In defense of Jews. In defense of Muslims. In defense of those who have no faith,” he added of those persecuted for their beliefs. “That is the message of this summit, that is the message of those attending, and that is the message of Christianity. Not a contrived message that brings us out as hateful people here.”