Gathering to focus on healing; Columbia: The theme of a conference tomorrow on divorce and bereavement recovery will be growth and moving forward.


When those who are separated, divorced, widowed and remarried attend a conference on divorce and bereavement recovery this weekend in Columbia, the focus will be upbeat and will center on healing, growth and moving forward.

"Jubilee Journey -- Reconcile and Rejoice" is aimed at helping people who have been through such difficult experiences to reconcile with themselves, others and God.

The theme of the 10th annual East Coast conference of the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics, which will be held at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center tomorrow, coincides with the Roman Catholic Church's celebration of 2000 as a jubilee year for reconciliation.

In the Old Testament, the Jewish Jubilee was to be observed every 50 years as a year of forgiveness of debts and a celebration of trust in God's ability to provide.

Reconciliation and trust can be especially difficult for separated or divorced Catholics. The Rev. Vincent O'Brien, one of the conference's founders and seminar leaders, notes that "because the Catholic Church has such a strong teaching on the permanence of marriage as reflected in the Gospels, when a marriage breaks down it can be especially painful for us."

The conference connects to the Easter season theme of resurrection or rebirth, emphasizing the positive aspects of change. The conference's symbol, a human figure within a rising sun, represents new beginnings.

"We need to see that divorce is not always a failure but sometimes a success," says Maureen O'Shea, a conference organizer and director of religious education at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center. "We reconcile with the past when we come to terms with 'what do I do to move forward in clarity now?' When we can reconcile, then we can rejoice. There is much to live for. God is with us."

Those attending the conference will choose four workshops from among 21. They will cover such topics as forgiveness, prayer, exploring remarriage, creating a lasting relationship, living as a single, trust, intimacy, coping with stress, discovering your personality type, healing and ministering to others.

The beginning prayer service and ending Mass will focus on praising God.

"We realized that people going through a divorce or bereavement need support not only to grieve their loss but also to move forward with their lives, knowing that God is in their journey with them. People need inspiration, knowledge and support," O'Brien said.

O'Shea said the conference offers the opportunity "to meet people in the same boat. You need support, and you need to give others support so that you can move forward. The whole premise is to get support."

The conference mixes psychology with religion.

"We are all of one piece, a holistic growth," O'Shea said. "You need to be in spiritual, emotional, psychological and bodily health at once. They all work together."

O'Brien said, "The Lord is found in anything truly human. People often come feeling lonely, isolated and misunderstood, until the conference opens up a new avenue for them."

Those who attend the conference are encouraged to continue seeking support when it is over through such groups as Separated and Divorced Catholics, the Single-Again Ministry and Friends of Mercy. A folder with follow-up resources is given to each person who attends.

Myra Fecteau, a divorced mother of three "wonderful, successful people," said the conference has helped her "to bring wholeness to myself and to be a more giving person to others, better with my family. There is such joy in finding that you can live a very wonderful life every day and not be part of a stigma for being divorced."

This year's keynote address will be delivered by the Rev. Joe Breighner, a child of separation, host of the weekly syndicated radio show "The Country Road" and columnist for the Baltimore Catholic Review.

This year's event is expected to attract 200 to 300 people.

Jubilee Journey

"Jubilee Journey" begins at 8: 30 a.m. tomorrow and ends with a liturgy at 4 p.m. The cost is $35. Walk-in registration at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center will be accepted tomorrow. The conference is open to men and women of all faiths, including those who want to better understand the needs and problems of the separated, divorced and widowed. Information: 410-724-0073.

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