Philadelphia, Pa., Jul 22, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA).- The Catholic group Courage International hosted its 30th annual Courage and EnCourage conference last week, which aimed to offer men and women with same-sex attraction inspiration from the organization’s founder, the late Father John Harvey.
“This year we had the opportunity to remember the legacy of Father Harvey who is our founding director,” said Ann Schneible, communications director for Courage International.
“This is really important, especially for our new members who joined since he stepped down from the position in 2008,” she told CNA.
More than 300 people attended the conference, which was hosted on July 12-15 at Villanova University in Philadelphia, Pa., where Harvey was born. The event also recognized what would have been the priest’s 100th birthday on April 14. He died in 2010.
Among the conference speakers were Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Johnnette Benkovic, host of the EWTN series Women of Grace. Schneible said many of the speakers personally knew Harvey, giving witness to the priest’s gentleness, patience, and humor.
The conference also featured a panel of Courage and EnCourage members and chaplains, who shared their personal experiences of Harvey.
Schneible said the event’s theme, “faithful to the mission,” was inspired by a quote from Father Harvey.
“He said he wanted to be remembered as having been ‘faithful to a mission.’ He wasn’t just serving people out of obedience; he really had a heart for this ministry, especially for the people….He really ministered to the whole human person – heart, mind, and soul.”
Born in 1918, Harvey joined the novitiate of the Oblates of St Francis de Sales 18 years later. With master’s degrees in psychology and philosophy, he was ordained a priest in 1944. He began Courage in 1980 at the request of Cardinal Terence Cooke, a former Archbishop of New York.
“We had a chance to learn about his life and the stories from other members, who shared their experiences with them. So we got to see this man be brought to life for those who didn’t know him. This person who had overseen this wonderful ministry,” she said.
Schneible also pointed to the community experience the conference offered to people with same-sex attraction. Courage’s core values, she said, are “all community based.”
“Our members, they have this shared experience. ….Everyone has a unique story. What really binds them, maybe beyond their experience of same-sex-attraction, is their commitment to the Church,” she said.
“That’s why the name of this ministry is Courage. They have this courageous commitment to living the Church’s teaching authentically on [chastity]. And, that brings a bond with it.”
The first Courage meeting was held in 1980, and the initial group developed the five foundational goals of Courage – chastity, prayer and dedication, fellowship, support, and good role models.
Courage International offers support for people with same-sex attraction who have chosen to pursue a chaste lifestyle. EnCourage supports family members and friends of people with same-sex attraction, teaching them how to encounter their loved ones with compassion.
“What’s really special about this yearly event is that it’s really an opportunity to let our members come together. They see old friends, they get to pick new friends, and it really has the feeling of a family reunion,” said Schneible.