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Catholic Young Women Launch Self-led Initiatives across U.S. after forum

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Catholic Young Women Launch Self-led Initiatives across U.S. after forum

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Attending a
Catholic young women’s leadership forum taught Michelle Nunez, 23, that “our
vocation as women is to be receptive to God’s gifts.”

What Nunez learned about the
“feminine genius,” a term used by St. John Paul II to describe the gifts of
women, helps her, a year later, in her volunteer work with immigrants at the Humanitarian
Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.

Nunez and 300 young women
representing dioceses from all 50 states are using their specific gifts to
carry out their “action plans” following the June 2016 Given Forum at The
Catholic University of America. An initiative of the Council of Major Superiors
of Women Religious, the forum brought young Catholic women together for a
weeklong immersion in “faith formation, leadership training and networking.”

wanted each (of the attendees) to receive these truths: You are a gift; you have
received specific gifts of nature and grace; the church and the world await
your unique expression of the feminine genius,” said Sister Bethany Madonna, a
Sister of Life and co-chair of the event.

Part of the application process
required women to submit “action plans,” new initiatives inspired by their own
gifts, interests and leadership skills, which would be implemented in the months
following the conference.

As her “action plan,” Nunez,
from Houston, originally planned “to create a nonprofit, holistic agency to
work with Hispanic women, to have different courses to take care of their mind,
body, spirit.” But after hearing Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries
of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley,
at the conference, Nunez said, “I just knew I needed to work with her.”

After graduating in December
2016 from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, she traveled to the
Humanitarian Respite Center to volunteer alongside Sister Pimentel.

The center assists immigrants
from Central America, who are seeking asylum and traveling to meet family
members in the United States. “ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
releases them from the detention center where they are process for about three
days. We pick them up from the bus station … give them clothes, they shower” and
wait for their buses to meet family members in other parts of the country.

Nunez sees her volunteer work as
a ministry of listening. “While they’re waiting there, I sit down with them and
talk to them,” Nunez said. She hopes to be “a voice for the voiceless” to
“share a little bit of their stories with other people here in the U.S.” Ultimately
this will bring her closer to the “bigger picture,” her nonprofit.

In forming her action plan,
Casey Bustamante, 30, saw a need for a “gathering of young adults, active military
and spouses.” Bustamante, associate director of young adult ministry with the U.S.
Archdiocese for the Military Services, is organizing the first conference for young
adults who are military ministry leaders June 16-18 in Northbrook, Illinois.

After the Given Forum, Bustamante
considered the ways the conference itself could be a model for developing the
military conference. She wanted to incorporate some of the training and tools
she had received, such as a session on how to best engage with the press and
media, led by Catholic Voices USA, whose mission is to articulate the church’s
teaching in the public square.

“Some of the feedback that I’ve
received from young adults is that it’s a challenge to talk about the hot-button
issues with their peers and among other military members because our society
values are changing, and the military culture is not separate from that,” she

Bustamante invited Catholic
Voices USA to lead a session to encourage the servicemen to freely discuss
Catholic issues.

Another attendee, Corynne
Staresinic, 22, from Cincinnati, created a website called The Catholic Woman
that features weekly letters and quarterly videos submitted by “women of all
ages, backgrounds and vocations” to “illustrate the many faces and voices of
Catholic women.”

Staresinic, who graduated in May
2016 from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, said the idea for the
project began after she read St. John Paul II’s “Letter to Women” during her
senior year. “That was the big game-changing moment in my life,” Staresinic
told Catholic News Service. The pope’s letter, along with the diverse stories
of the female speakers at the conference provided the model for The Catholic
Woman’s letters.

Prior to the March 8 website launch
website, Staresinic looked to “Humans of New York,” a series of photos and
captions that offers a glimpse into the lives of New Yorkers, and watched
interviews of the creator, Brandon Stanton, to see “how he is able to get
insightful and deep answers from people on the streets.” She also read the book
“In the Company of Women,” a collection of interviews with women entrepreneurs
and artists, for guidance on creating a letter-writing guide for website

The goal of the website, says
Staresinic, is to “move away from reductive stereotypes
of Catholic women and instead speak of them as the unique persons they are.”

Katrina Even, 25, and Dani Bell,
27, of Kansas City, Missouri, connected on Facebook prior to attending the
forum, and after meeting in Washington, decided to team together. In conversations
while waiting in the airport back home, Even told CNS that their plan was born.
The two felt a “strong pull to share what we had learned with the women in our
area” and organize a local Given forum.

On Feb. 11, 200 women attended Given
KC, a one-day event for women ages 18-35 from the Diocese of Kansas City-St
Joseph, Missouri and the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas. With the support
of Bishop James V. Johnston of Kansas-City-St. Joseph and Archbishop Joseph F.
Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Even and Bell planned the day’s talks,
workshops and a panel to focus on the “feminine genius.”

Like the original Given Forum,
Given-KC continues to plant seeds in the lives of its participants. Carrying
out her action plan, said Even, “gave me this confidence that I do have gifts
to share and the Holy Spirit does work through me. … It has helped me discern
other things in my life.”

As her action plan, Samantha
Povlock, 25, brought her passion for the intersection of feminism and Catholicism
together to create FemCatholic, a website to promote “women’s voices in the
church and in the world.”

Part of the site features a
“Dear Edith” column, inspired by St. Edith Stein, who Povlock refers to as “the
feminist saint” because of Stein’s essays on women. The column is a platform
where women can submit questions and other women can respond.

“I wanted a place where women
could reconcile the teachings of the church with their real life experience,”
said the Chicago-based working mom.

The concept of the Given forum
encouraged Povlock as she worked on her plan, particularly the reminder to
focus on “the gifts that you have been given specifically.”

“Who am I? And what plan is God
inviting me to pursue?”

Such positive results that
emerged from the original Given Forum give rise to the possibility that another
similar, national event may convene in the future.

fruits of Given 2016 have been superabundant in the lives of the attendees and
for the life of the church,” Sister Bethany Madonna said, “and we are currently
exploring the possibilities of making Given a recurring event.”

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