Military sisters in Christ

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Keeping a family growing in the faith can feel like an uphill battle for many. Even more so among military mothers and wives who have to deal with frequent moves and dangerous deployments. In these situations, faith is a vital ally, but it is not always an easy one to keep.

For the past 60 years, the Military Council of Catholic Women Worldwide has worked to provide both active duty military and retirees with a unique sisterhood. The group, which started in Germany, includes women with the mission to keep the light of Christ burning in the hearts of the military. They do this by supporting seminarians for the Archdiocese of Military Services and also through their biennial conferences.

"The military is always telling us to be ready and resilient," said Elizabeth Tomlin, president of MCCW. "But if you are not spiritually ready and resilient you are going to fail."

The idea behind the conference is that attendees will use it as an evangelization catalyst. The goal is for women to experience spiritual growth and take what they learn back to their military chapels and installations.

More than 250 women attended this year's conference at the Hilton Crystal City in Arlington. The four-day conference offered many dynamic speakers, including Dr. Edward Sri, who gave the keynote address April 22. Sri is a theologian and author from Littleton, Colo., and a founding leader of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

During his address, Sri emphasized that simply "watering" the family's spiritual garden is not enough in today's culture. He frequently hears from parents who raised their kids in the faith only to discover that their children have abandoned it by the time they left college.

"In our day and age it is not enough to just give water," said Sri. "We have to be attentive to the weeds in the ground." These weeds, according to Sri, are society's understanding of love, morality, God and the church.

During Friday's breakout sessions, attendees were able to choose from topics ranging from marriage challenges, dealing with fallen-away young adults and responding to affronts by "Bible-Christians."

One of the sessions was titled, "The bizarre dialect of your husbands and sons," by Joshua Danis, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville who leads marriage prep and enrichment classes in the Cincinnati Archdiocese. During the talk he spoke about the unique ways many men tend to think about the faith and what women can do to inspire them.

"All the men in our lives are in different places, but God has the same goal for all of them," said Danis. One of the common differences between men and women that Danis highlighted was how men approach Scripture. Many men take a more mechanical approach. They want to figure out how it works and specifically how Scripture fits into God's ultimate plan for them.

In addition to the talks and networking opportunities, attendees were encouraged to take time out for their own spiritual growth. One of Tomlin's favorite things about the conference is seeing women go to confession, some of them for the first time in years. "They are different women after that," she said.

Rebecca Pastore from Marine Corps Base Quantico attended the conference, baby in tow.

"I'm very pleased. I feel like I am being fed," said Pastore. "I am constantly giving of myself, so I am here to be engaged so I can impart that on to my children."

Like many other military women, Pastore will be moving soon, and as of now there is no chapel group where she is going. She is looking forward to using what she has learned at the conference to start a group and spread the Good News when she gets there.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016