Catholic Charities representatives from around the United States recently visited Buffalo to participate in workshops, panel discussions and volunteer opportunities as part of the 2018 Catholic Charities USA Annual Gathering.
"We gather together to share our best practices techniques, to learn about social policy concerns and how to respond to them," Sister Mary McCarrick, OSF, director of Catholic Charities of Buffalo, said of the conference, which was held Sept. 12 to 14 at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
More than 500 people attended the conference for Catholic Charities professionals, volunteers and partners to advance their work, brainstorm about poverty reduction and celebrate their shared identity. This year's theme was "Share the Journey," which called attention to immigrants and refugees.
"We celebrate this year all the value that refugees and immigrants and migrants bring to this country," Catholic Charities of Buffalo CEO Dennis Walczyk said.
This is the first year in Catholic Charities USA's 108-year history that Catholic Charities of Buffalo has hosted the conference. The local group put in a bid two years ago to serve as host. After Buffalo's bid was accepted, the national team traveled to Buffalo for a site visit. They reviewed hotels, the convention center and other venues. Once those decisions were made, the local and national teams met monthly to discuss plans.
"We couldn't have done this without the commitment and hard work of our team," Walczyk said. "We had a core group of about 10 people that oversaw the whole process."
Sister Mary was inspired by a panel discussion titled "Stories Along the Journey" offered by Father Flor María Rigoni, CS, a Scalabrinian priest who is director of the Migrant Center of Tapachula, Mexico, which provides humanitarian support to refugees and migrants. Sister Mary said that Father Rigoni told attendees to think of themselves as fireflies combining their singular light to greatly lighten the darkness in the world.
Sister Mary expressed excitement about the conference.
"I hope to be re-energized in the commitment; to encourage one another in continuing the good work of Matthew: 25, caring for the least," Sister Mary said.
Jacklyn Ireland of Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore, took part in a simulation at the conference where participants had to figure out how they were going to live for four weeks on a limited income.
"That was quite interesting and good for me," she said. "This is not my first one, and each year I learn something a little bit different."
Tyrone Ford from Catholic Charities Archdiocese of St. Louis appreciated the "Share the Journey" theme.
"Not just serving the people, not just providing them with something innate, but understanding what they are actually going through," Ford said. "Helping them feel like they are not alone in this world. That's really what the message was about this year."
Service projects also were offered to attendees. These opportunities gave volunteers a chance to give back to the community they were visiting. Two service projects were offered at Catholic Charities in Lackawanna, where volunteers assembled packages consisting of toiletries and cleaning supplies. The packages will be given to people in need.
"Many people in many cities need help, so whenever we're here for this conference, I always take the opportunity to come out and serve," Ford said. "I always want to come out to other cities and provide this effort."
It wasn't all workshops and volunteering. Some attendees had the opportunity to visit Niagara Falls and take a trip on the Maid of the Mist. Also, a party was held at Riverworks.
Ireland had chicken wings at Anchor Bar and enjoyed jazz music at PAUSA Art House,
"I might even think of coming back, but not in the winter," she said.
Ford said he loves Buffalo, but he had a different opinion on chicken wings,
"I'm not a chicken wing fan. I did try some jerk chicken that was great," he said.
Walczyk looks forward to the conference every year.
"Even though we are organized differently and we do things and services differently, there's this thread that connects us all together," he said.