In a culture that lauds feminist ideology, many lay and women religious chose to respond to St. John Paul II’s definition of “feminine genius” this year instead. In early June, a new women’s conference was held in Washington, D.C. with the title GIVEN, a word that, according to Sr. Mary Gabriel, SV, defines more than just the gifts we have. “We loved the name GIVEN, not only because we seek to be women who are given to God and to others, but also because we have first received. Sometimes we forget the abundance from which we can draw in order to give, and this conference sought to bring all of us back to that wellspring.”
Held over the course of five days, which were full of morning prayers, Adoration, Mass, keynotes, power and training sessions, as well as meals, GIVEN invited young women who held at least a Bachelor’s degree to participate in the work of the New Evangelization during this Year of Consecrated Life.
Sr. Mary Gabriel explains, “The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) was given a grant from the Hilton Foundation for this year and asked its members how they would like to respond. The result was several initiatives, including a new film on religious life, ‘For Love Alone,’ a national convent open house day, an intellectual symposium on prophecy, a generous religious presence at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and this final initiative, GIVEN: the Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum.”
Young women between the ages of twenty and thirty from all over the country applied for a full scholarship to attend GIVEN, including travel expenses to and from the conference. Sr. Mary Gabriel adds, “Each attendee completed a rigorous application and submitted it last February.” Each potential attendee also included her personal “Action Plan” that she intended to implement in her local parish, diocese, or larger community within a year of attending the conference.
GIVEN opened up the eyes of many young lay women to religious life, as well, exposing them in a positive and uplifting way to the mission of religious sisters. “So many Catholics don’t realize that religious sisters are here for them, praying for them. So many don’t know the spiritual impact of that accomplishment and presence, yet it is real and powerful. The GIVEN attendees knew this firsthand,” Sr. Mary Gabriel elaborates.
At this Spirit-filled event, all of the women who attended were rejuvenated in their personal walk with Jesus, and many experienced an awakening or reawakening of their souls to the specific mission to which they are called. Over thirty speakers witnessed to the heart of what most modern women struggle with today as they exemplified the authenticity of true femininity while explaining to attendees “how to tackle the battles of everyday life.”
Most women in modern society are bombarded with the secular message that worldly success is paramount to revealing the interior beauty that Jesus desires for us to radiate to the world. Perhaps the “world” only includes fidelity to our primary vocations of married or religious life, and for some women, it may involve an expanded outreach through some particular gift that needs to be fostered and used well for the sake of advancing God’s Kingdom. The women who attended GIVEN were affirmed in their individual talents, while also acknowledging the goodness of remaining faithful to marriage, family, and religious life. It is our faithfulness to God, not our wealth or notoriety, that matters most, and GIVEN reiterated this message throughout the talks and workshops it offered.
Ultimately, the goal of this conference was to reach not only the attendees, but also the greater community. “Our first hope is that these women, and then all those they will connect with from here, will know the personal love of the Lord for them as women. Women have the capacity to love life back into hearts and cultures, and this is what we pray and hope these women will do with their love,” shares Sr. Mary Gabriel.
In a broken and fallen world, the light and love of Jesus is certainly noteworthy. What GIVEN accomplished in only five days is astounding. This wasn’t just a fun social gathering. Instead, women who attended received powerful and practical tools so that they could put into action their goals, dreams, and ideas. Because it was a Christ-centered conference, they also were able to discern the ways God is calling them to participate in the New Evangelization through offering themselves as gifts to others through love. This, of course, is a radically different perspective of leadership training than what secular venues offer, because GIVEN encouraged women to hear the voice of Christ within the many opportunities for receiving the sacraments and time for solitude and reflection.
GIVEN was made possible through a one-time Hilton Foundation grant, which means that holding an annual event may not be likely or possible. Sr. Mary Gabriel is hopeful, however. “If GIVEN is something young women would like to see more of, I encourage people to contact local Church leaders and spread the word. With enough interest and the necessary sponsorship, GIVEN could continue at national and local levels.”
Downloads of all talks will be available on GIVEN’s website at givenforum.org. You can also follow the implementation of each attendee’s action plan through GIVEN’s Facebook page or on Twitter by using the hashtag #GIVEN2016.