At the 63rd conference of the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, participants lifted their hearts in prayer and hands in applause to welcome their guest speaker, Archbishop José Gomez, who installed new ACCW officers during the Nov. 8 event at the Wilshire Grand Hotel Los Angeles.Referring to the conference theme, “Sursum Corda, Lift Up Your Hearts,” in his opening prayer, Msgr. Jim Gehl, ACCW archdiocesan moderator and pastor of St. Euphrasia Church in Granada Hills, asked the Lord to lift hearts and energize the 550 women, family members and friends assembled for the conference, many wearing new blue neck scarves with the white ACCW logo of “Our Lady of the Angels.”

In his opening remarks, Archbishop Gomez shared that he was initially apprehensive when he first heard he would be leading the largest archdiocese in the U.S. Since his arrival here, however, he said he has witnessed the beauty of all the people in the archdiocese and their strong faith.

 “This is not what people [from other parts of the country] are expecting from Los Angeles,” said Archbishop Gomez. “They are expecting movie stars and the Los Angeles Lakers and all that shiny stuff that we are supposed to be, but I think what is most important for all of us is the fact that we are men and women of faith.”

He emphasized that the ACCW has an important role to play in the new evangelization as “our culture needs to hear the good news of a true, authentic ‘feminism’ --- one rooted in our beautiful Catholic tradition.

“My hope is that all of us can work together, as friends of Jesus, to share our faith in him and to build his Kingdom, as a city of love and truth,” said Archbishop Gomez. “Because to be friends with Jesus Christ, to do the work of the new evangelization, we need to be a ‘Eucharistic people.’ That means being a people who live --- by the Eucharist and for the Eucharist --- with our hearts lifted up to the Lord.”

He added that he is looking forward to the new translation of the Mass, effective the first Sunday of Advent, saying it will help parishioners rediscover the experience of reverence and the celebration of the sacred mysteries.

“This new translation offers us a special moment of grace,” said the archbishop. “We have a new opportunity to really reflect on the meaning of our worship --- on what happens in the Mass; on what we do when we celebrate the Eucharist, and why.

“In the Mass, we join our personal sacrifices to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We unite ourselves to his own offering of his Body and Blood on the altar and on the cross. We ‘lift up our hearts’ and present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God --- offering him all our prayers and work, all our trials and sufferings.

“This is the meaning of the Mass, my sisters and brothers,” he explained. “We are called to make our lives a ‘Eucharist,’ a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, just as Jesus Christ made himself a living sacrifice on the cross.”

As an example of the kind of courageous Eucharistic spirituality he had been discussing, he ended his talk with the story of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian wife, mother and pediatrician who died in 1962. While two months pregnant with her fourth child, she was diagnosed with an ovarian tumor. 

Faced with the choice of aborting her unborn child to remove the tumor or undergoing an operation to remove the tumor while trying to preserve the pregnancy, Molla opted for surgery to save the baby, even though she knew it opened her to many risks, including the possibility of her death. One week after she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Molla died from medical complications at the age of 39.

“In the life and death of St. Gianna Molla, we see the beauty of radical discipleship,” said the archbishop. “We see the beauty of a life offered as a total gift; the beauty of a life offered completely to God and for others.

“This is how we are called to live, as Eucharistic people. We are called to live our lives beautifully, to present our lives as living sacrifices to God, to lift up our hearts and to offer everything we do as a spiritual sacrifice of praise.”

During the Mass, concelebrated with 17 clergy, including Santa Barbara Region Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry and several ACCW district moderators, Archbishop Gomez spoke about the importance of having an attitude of service in our Christian lives.

“It would be easy to say ‘I love God’ and do nothing for anybody else,” the archbishop said in his homily. “The challenge for us, the way that we go to heaven, is loving God and others. We are called, each one of us, to work with the grace God gives us.

“We have to allow our lives to be used in God’s service --- that’s what we all try to do,” he continued. “But, this Eucharist should be a moment for us once again to ask for the grace of real charity [to] love God and one another.”

At the end of the liturgy, Archbishop Gomez installed ACCW’s new officers: Elizabeth Fan, president; Jan Kubani, first vice president; Helena Smyth, second vice president; Eva Walters, third vice president; June Myles, secretary; Patti Bowman, treasurer; Grace Rinaldi, parliamentarian; and Patricia Granja, past president.

Following the luncheon, ACCW past president Granja “passed the gavel” to incoming president Fan, saying, “With this gavel comes a lot of responsibility, but it has great blessings that you, as the head of our organization, will see the dreams of all the women in the archdiocese and you will be the one to help them realize them.”

Fan told The Tidings her goal is to have women get wholeheartedly involved with the archdiocese, evangelizing and promoting devotion to Mary and dedication to God. “It’s a challenge, but with the Holy Spirit in our corner, it should be workable,” said Fan.

Margaret Hand, who drove from Apple Valley to attend the conference and has been active in the ACCW since the 1970s, said the spiritual support from the group has been uplifting throughout her life. “I come every year because ACCW offers personal, spiritual growth to us women,” said Hand.

Grace Cihanowyz, longtime ACCW conference attendee and parishioner at Our Lady of Grace parish in Encino who came with a parish group of ten, said she looks forward to coming every year. “I learn a lot of things,” said Cihanowyz. “It’s good for my spirit. It’s good to be in this kind of environment.”

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