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‘Receive the gifts you are,’ forum keynoter tells young Catholic women

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WASHINGTON — Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life opened the first day of the GIVEN Institute's annual Catholic Young Women's Leadership Forum with a keynote titled "Casting the Vision," a reflection of her work in GIVEN and a reference to the concept of the entire forum.

The first day was centered on introductions and providing a meaningful start to a short journey toward the understanding of the importance of femininity in the Catholic faith, while simultaneously realizing it is a gift from God.

Sister Madonna spoke about the three themes encompassing the June 9-13 gathering, held at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

"Receive the gifts you are" was the first theme. She explained that many women, including some who may have been at the forum, don't realize God invites them into his arms. To receive one's gifts from God, everyone must be accepting of his presence in our lives.

The second theme was to "realize the gifts you've been given."

"God actualizes our gifts, we have to acknowledge them, and the only way to do so is through God," Sister Madonna said.

To convey this theme, Sister Madonna quoted St. Francis of Assisi: In a time of confusion about his own faith, he asked: "Who are you, Lord, and who am I?"

She told those present to similarly ask God what he has in his hands for all individuals. He invites and loves each person first by actualizing their unique gifts, but will wait for love and acknowledgment in return, she said.

The final theme was to "respond with the gift only you can give." Each person's gifts are distinctive and personalized, and God's plan includes unique vocations for all. Some are meant to do more than others, but to fulfill the vocation, fortitude is required, Sister Madonna said, using the example of white and red martyrs: White martyrs stand for God without shedding blood, while red martyrs shed blood.

Most Catholics are called to white martyrdom, which does not demean its importance, she explained. Facing hardship to reach God is an essential part of all faith journeys. Each woman is called to express her unique gifts for the sake of the Lord, she said.

The annual forum is meant to build a path toward personal initiative and faith for women at all stages of their religious journeys. This year’s attendees included 130 women between the ages of 21 and 30 from 35 states, as well as Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore and Kenya.

The forum also included 60 religious sisters from 20 congregations, representing a wide variety of apostolates and charisms in the church. The 30 laywomen serving as mentors included mothers, business women, teachers, health care providers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, coaches, artists, engineers — many of whom are parish and community leaders.

When asked what GIVEN meant to her, Cynthia Psencik, a mentor from the Archdiocese of New York, said: "To be able to be present in a crucial time in the life of young women, where they're questioning where they are, where is God calling them ... being that assuring and affirming presence."

Susie Lopez, a first-time participant from Houston, said she found the speakers’ messages helpful. "Sister Bethany spoke about the particularity of each woman and her gifts," Lopez said. "It is something that so often, we as women, try to compare (each other). ... Her calling that out, particularly for me, is a strong thing that I think we all could lean into."

Added Sister Mary Elizabeth of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist: "She says we can embrace who we are. Each one of us is unique, and to really just bask, for lack of a better word, in the love of God that each one of us is unique, is important."

Find out more

More information about the GIVEN Institute and the forum can be found at https://giveninstitute.com/given-forum-2021.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021