GIVEN 2016 Recap - Part 1

Reunited and it feels so good! Tara and I went to Washington D.C. for GIVEN 2016!  Three-hundred Catholic women representing every state were selected to attend the GIVEN 2016 Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum from June 7-12, 2016, in Washington D.C. The forum was hosted by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR). Its purpose was to ignite the feminine genius in the young women of the Church by encouraging them to receive the gift they are, realize the gifts they’ve been given, and respond by giving their gifts to others in a unique way that has been placed on their hearts. Tara and I thought of the Scatter + Sow Initiative and applied with an Action Plan Proposal for a Catholic Creative Retreat for women.

Tara arrived in Washington D.C. by train from New York City and I arrived by car and then plane from Ontario, Canada. We were reunited at Catholic University of America where the forum was being held. Tara, showed up fresh from a bundle of wedding planning and I was equipped with my 32 week pregnant belly and thigh-high compression stockings in an attempt to keep my feet from becoming marshmallows. We were swept with the humid heat into the registration area and received a warm welcome from glowing religious sisters and other young women attendees. We were given our room keys, program binder, and goodie bags and were off to our dorm rooms to rest up a bit before the opening Mass.

As Sister Mary Gabriel Devlin, S.V. said in her opening address, “We wanted to cram a lifetime of formation into six days!”  As I flipped through the binder and munched on an Omega-3 pack, I could tell the GIVEN team had planned the week with beautiful care and intentionality. The week was full of high end keynote speakers, power sessions, training sessions, prayer time and workshops, working groups, intentional lunches, and signature evening events. One of the Sisters of Life explained to us that when they were praying about what God wanted for His daughters for the GIVEN Forum, His response was,

“LAVISH.  Lavish them. Don’t hold anything back from my daughters.”

The opening Mass in the crypt chapel of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception set the tone for the beauty and gifts we would encounter and receive for the rest of the week. As we began singing the opening hymn, I instantly felt God’s presence resounding through the angelic singing voices of so many women. It is not very often you hear that many women singing and praising in unison, echoing with such acoustics. The image of God opening His arms to us entered my heart.  It was as if He was saying to us, “Come, my daughters.  I have brought you here. Come into my arms.” He was gathering us close and we were praising Him with our hearts and voices as sisters. This sisterhood was a sweet thread of fresh air throughout the week. I felt cared for and loved by not only the religious sisters, but the other GIVEN attendees as well. There was a contagious joy emanating beyond anything we could fathom.  

Throughout the week, we absorbed so much goodness. I was impressed by how genuine the speakers were, sharing their feminine hearts with us. They weren’t up there for show or to be fake. They were there to share how God designed women and how we can navigate and interact with a world desperate for the gifts women have been given. We heard talks on a wide variety of topics from some extremely admirable women in the Church. Topics included: unleashing the feminine genius, suffering, living motherhood, reclaiming and receiving the gifts of God, business etiquette, environment, economics, medicine, finding the balance in life, theology of woman, and the New Evangelization. We were also blessed to have training sessions for practical leadership applications of listening skills, learning our temperament, and communicating with others about the Catholic faith.

The Holy Spirit was definitely at work during the GIVEN Forum. As Sister Bethany Madonna, our heartfelt, humorous emcee and fellow redhead, exclaimed when the fire alarm went off one day, “There is a Holy Spirit FIRE up in here!”  Dr. Mary Healy said, “Jesus presses His finger right where our wounds are and frees us.” Each woman received different graces from the week, unique to her heart. As we were being lavished by the gift of the forum from the Sisters, we were being given what we needed in order to be sent out into the church and the world after the forum with strength, inspiration, skills, and renewed hearts.

Sister Bethany described a little girl going up to receive a blessing in the Holy Communion line.  When the Priest reached out his hand over her to give the blessing, she opened her little arms, threw back her head in surrender, and twirled around in circles letting her dress spin with her.  This is what the women at the GIVEN Forum felt like as we were being lavished by God’s gift to us.  

After receiving such a gift, Erika Bachiochi explained in her keynote address, that we should rig our ship with the sails being our gifts and talents. The ship is meant to be led by the wind. As women, we are extremely valuable to the Church and if we do what we can to set our sails, God will lead us. Dr. Carolyn Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, shared her journey with us and explained the simplicity in which God can work. She spent time in prayer, envisioning her time in the church as sitting at the kitchen table with God. She brought her cup of coffee with her because that’s what you do at a kitchen table! Dr. Carolyn shared that she had never looked for a leadership position. She was just very busy at what she was doing and the opportunities presented themselves.  

The GIVEN Forum refreshed us as women, reminded us of our value, and encouraged us to go forth and share ourselves, to breathe out what we had soaked in. Dr. Elvira Parravicini encouraged us to “Look for what is beautiful to you and start building on that.  There are others around that are similar.” Tara and I plan to continue to unfold the Scatter + Sow Initiative in order to share God’s beauty through creativity and relationship. More information on our Catholic Creative Retreat for women to come!           

“The Church needs you to put your holy ears to the ground and hear the cries that rise from the depths of the Body of Christ.” - Sister Mary Gabriel Devlin, S.V.

GIVEN 2016 Talks online!  Check them out!