Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The 2019 GIVEN Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum, which met last week, convened more than 100 professional Catholic women in Washington, DC, to discuss faith, vocation, dignity, and leadership.
The June 12-16 forum was conducted by the newly-launched GIVEN Institute, and aimed to equip young Catholic women with the tools, mentorship, and advice needed to become leaders in the modern world while remaining true to their faith.
“We live in fast-moving and distracted world, so it’s easy to lose one’s grounding in the truth or even to never learn that there is a Truth, and one that sets us free,” Anne Marie Warner, director of operations for the GIVEN Institute, told CNA.
The GIVEN Forum seeks to remind attendees that not only is there a truth, but that women have unique, God-given gifts that they can use to better serve their communities.
Participants were invited after a rigorous application process that examined both their engagement with the Church and their aptitude for leadership. Additionally, applicants had to submit an “Action Plan Proposal.”
“The Action Plan is each woman’s unique initiative to activate her God-given gifts in a way that will benefit others in her community, or in the Church or the world,”said Warner. The plan is “It is a specific concrete project that (the attendee) will accomplish during the year following the GIVEN Forum,” she added.
Warner was an attendee of the first GIVEN Forum, in 2016. She said she was “very inspired” by the diversity of the speakers at the event, and that it was “so encouraging to see the many ways that women are called to live out their femininity in the Church and in the world.”
Warner told CNA that she hopes each of the 120 attendees of this year’s forum will return home from the forum knowing that “her dreams matter, and that she has a place to be received and accompanied as she seeks to implement these for the good of others.”
Another goal of the conference, Warner said, is to recognize the place in the Church for the whole person.
“The Church is a place where (forum attendees) can be received in their strengths and in their weaknesses, a home where they are loved not for what they do, but for who they are; a family in which their unique heart is essential and cherished.”
In addition to the Action Plan, forum attendees are also mentored by older Catholic women. Warner believes this relationship is beneficial for both the mentor and the mentee, and “allows a collaboration between those whose lives are being formed in adulthood and those who have wisdom and love to share.”
“Our hope is that, through this relationship, the gift of both will be magnified and the gift of women in the Church will be magnified and, in turn, the gift of the Church to the world will be magnified,” she said.
Attendees of the GIVEN Form shared their experiences with CNA.
Lily Alvarez traveled from Los Angeles to attend the forum. Alvarez, a native of Mexico, works for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. She said she was encouraged to apply for this year’s forum by friends who attended the first incarnation of the event in 2016.
“GIVEN has opened my eyes to see that God wants me to be intentional in the way I live my femininity, through conversations, people and testimonies I’ve heard here,” she said.
For Alvarez, one of the highlights of the forum was the opportunity to meet religious sisters. The first GIVEN Forum was intended to be a one-time event sponsored by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), who later expanded the event into the GIVEN Institute non-profit organization. Due to this relationship, there were many religious sisters at the forum, representing many religious orders.
“I’ve never had the chance to have deep conversations, play or even spend a day with (religious sisters),” Alvarez told CNA. “It’s been quite inspirational to see how professional, joyful and motherly they are.”
Alvarez described GIVEN as a “transformational conference,” that changed the way she viewed the dignity of women and offered “a fresh angle full of opportunities” as well as “a space of true friendship and deep understanding of God’s encounter with us.” She told CNA that she is eager to see what she and her fellow attendees are able to accomplish in the next year.
“I think now the world is lucky to have 120 new leaders of true femininity ready to make a change in the culture about the place of women in society,” she said.
Another attendee, Molly Sheahan, expressed a similar sentiment. Sheahan, a California native who is now a graduate student in Washington, DC, told CNA that she applied for the GIVEN Forum seeking to “gain practical skills for leadership and advice for future action and advocacy in the Church and in the world.”
Sheahan said she particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet other forum attendees, women “who shared their passion and dreams for their Church, (and) their hope and fire to evangelize.” She told CNA that she received “a newfound courage and fire” from hearing the speakers, and she has been inspired to further share the things she has learned.
“Although my faith is strong, having a new community of women this week has given me a spiritual boost,” said Sheahan. “I feel called on to prayer in a new way now.”