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Catholic women share their struggles

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Last year, Emily Borman stumbled upon an anonymous column in the Sunday bulletin from St. John the Beloved Church in McLean. The column featured testimonials of women talking about how they lived and struggled with the church's teaching on natural family planning and women's vocation.

"When do we ever talk about this? When do we share our frustrations and blessings and support each other through this journey to Christ?" Borman remembered thinking.

After talking to the three mothers who started the column, she decided to start a forum for women to talk about their experiences with faith and sexuality at her own parish, Our Lady of Hope in Potomac Falls.

Then the idea got bigger and, in March, Borman launched "Conversation with Women," a new website for women to submit stories anonymously about their journey of faith.

The stories in the testimony-based website talk about sexuality, family planning, faith and a woman's vocation. They include a woman and her husband's road to reverse a vasectomy, the behind the scenes of a "big Catholic family" and a single woman's journey to live her vocation.

Borman hopes future submissions will include stories about following church teaching about divorce and remarrying, adoption, chastity and homosexuality, so women can continue the conversation offline.

"It is hard to talk to your friends about this kind of stuff," Borman said. "But people could start the conversation instead by asking: 'What do you think of this (article)?'"

Mary Clare Murray, one of the founders of the original column and the website's editor, said this story-sharing tool can be seen as part of a new evangelization about issues that are important to women.

The website "is a safe space where women can read about what other women, who might be like them, have struggled with and how they found God's mercy in their life and in their sexuality," Murray said.

For Wendy Wagner, a parishioner of St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg, submitting her story about her own experience trying to follow church teaching about not using artificial contraception and being open to having children was a way to help other women.

"I feel like there are a lot of women who were probably in the same boat I was in within their marriages," Wagner said. "I did it for them to feel like they were not alone in their struggles and to hear how other people got through it."
Wagner said that the website serves as inspiration for women who want to confront topics that are somewhat taboo in secular society.

"What society thinks is so old fashioned and so backward and so enslaving to women is actually just the opposite," Wagner said about her decision to not use contraception. "This website offers kind of a safe space for women to share their stories and not be attacked for being 'old fashioned' or 'not with the times.'"

Murray said that a central issue for Catholic women of any age is sexuality and the importance of chastity as single and married women.

She added that, although a priest can talk about the teachings of the church and a doctor can discuss things like family planning, hearing what other women went through is very important.

"I like that it is honest," said Amy McConville of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna. McConville added that the website fosters a spiritual link with other women.

With the website, women can get a "deeper understanding about the moral teachings of the church and the blessings that flow from them," said Murray, a mother of seven children and former teacher.

Different women can find support in different stories.

"The stories involve women of such different backgrounds, cradle Catholics, converts, single and married, older and younger," Murray said.

Jennessa Terraccino, who recently moved from Arlington to Boston and found the website through a friend, said that the website is useful because of the variety of experiences shared.

"When you are seeking conversion, either for you or somebody else, something has to speak to you in particular," Terraccino said.

At a time when following the church teaching about sexuality and marriage is considered countercultural, for example, it is easy to think one is alone, Terraccino added.

"I have talked to people who tell me that Catholics don't really practice their faith. And it's not always appropriate to start saying, 'Yes, I do,'" Borman said. "To have a website where people are telling you that yes they do practice their faith," is a great support.

As more people submit their stories, Murray said, the website will become an example of "sisterhood in Christ."

"When you read about the courage that some of these women have shown in their stories, it affirms you in your own faith," Borman said.

Negro can be reached on Twitter@MNegroACH.

Find out more
To read some of the women's stories, go to conversationwithwomen.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013