by Nadia Smith (Special to the Florida Catholic) – A day filled with spiritual renewal and opportunities to discover inner truth and beauty was a huge success for the Women of faith who attended the 4th¬†annual Diocese of Venice Women‚Äôs Conference.
The conference drew the largest crowd yet with more than 425 women from around the Diocese attending a day which featured the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, as well as dynamic speakers, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and plenty of opportunity for friendship.
The conference was held at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers on March 10. Bishop Dewane, who gave the opening prayer and remarks, spoke with individual women throughout the day, said he was impressed by the women, noting their enthusiasm and passion for their faith as an example to others.
Sixteen-year-old Rachael DiSilva of Incarnation Parish in Sarasota said the conference was not only engaging, but informative and inspiring. She hopes more teens will attend the conference next year because ‚Äúthe message is relevant for all of us.‚ÄĚ
First time attendee Sandra Worth of St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres described the conference as ‚Äúamazing‚ÄĚ and left with a resolve to take action. ‚ÄúThere is no more sitting on the sidelines,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs about getting out there and showing other women how we can use our femininity to bring others to the Lord with grace and dignity.‚ÄĚ
Johnette Benkovic, the EWTN host of¬†Living His Life Abundantly¬†and founder of the¬†Women of Grace¬†apostolate, reminded the attendees that each one of them was ‚Äúa chosen daughter of the Most High God.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúGod choose you before the world began to be Holy and blameless in His sight and to be full of love,‚ÄĚ she said referring to Ephesians 1:4. ‚ÄúYou are not a random act; you are a specific act by God so that you could have eternal life with Him in heaven.‚ÄĚ
The process of becoming holy is a slow one, ‚Äúthat takes place within us quietly, gently, tenderly and in hidden ways,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúWhen that happens we begin to see life not through the wisdom of the day and age, but through the very wisdom of God because ‚ÄėI do not live but for Christ that lives within me‚Äô.‚ÄĚ
With that wisdom, women can be the change so needed today and lead in the spiritual fight for souls, she said.
‚ÄúThe most diabolical scheme is to get woman to wage war against herself by telling her that her freedom will come only if she becomes more like a man, doesn‚Äôt cooperate with God and calls her fertility a disease,‚ÄĚ Benkovic said. ‚ÄúThis is what is happening today.‚ÄĚ
She pointed to the HHS mandate, which requires Catholic institutions to pay for contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization for women employees, as an example.
‚ÄúThere is nothing ‚Äėhealthy‚Äô about contraception, abortion and sterilization,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúThe healthcare professionals know it, the pundits know it, but they are using the excuse of ‚Äėwomen‚Äôs health‚Äô to usurp our religious freedom.‚ÄĚ
Exposing that lie and standing up for religious freedom is one concrete way women can take a stand, she said.
‚ÄúIf we Catholic women stand shoulder to shoulder we will take back the world,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúSo I ask you to engage and get every woman you know to engage because we know if we stand together as women of grace, as women of action, we will fight this and win.‚ÄĚ
Local musician Gabriela Frei shared her original songs and a message of gratitude and trust gleaned from her own sorrow of a miscarriage that resonated with the women.
‚ÄúThere is a beauty in our emptiness‚Ä¶ because it draws us to Jesus,‚ÄĚ Frei said. ‚ÄúWe come before him broken and in humility with nothing to give, but everything to gain.‚ÄĚ Frei later introduced her newborn son.
Father Leo Patalinghug, the master of ceremonies and host of¬†Grace Before Meals¬†and EWTN seriesSavoring our Faith, also addressed the women offering them ‚ÄúFr. Leo‚Äôs Beauty Tips‚ÄĚ in a laugh-out-loud presentation that highlighted how to be¬†truly¬†beautiful. He also spoke a day earlier for Catholic high school students in Sarasota and Fort Myers.
Drawing attention to the early Church Fathers‚Äô writings about Mary, Father Patalinghug pointed out that they said ‚Äúshe first conceived Jesus in her heart before she bore him in her womb.‚ÄĚ Obedience is the first step to being truly beautiful, according to Fr. Leo. It “sounds like you are being passive, but you are really being active” saying ‚Äėyes‚Äô to God, he said. When it comes to obedience “there is no difference between men and women.‚ÄĚ
Since beauty comes from the inside out, it is important to take measures that what one takes in, is good and beautiful.
‚ÄúYou become beautiful by an internal transformation of mind, heart and soul. Our Church is trying to feed us with the fruit of Mary‚Äôs womb ‚Äď¬†Jesus. Is the sacramental life of the Church integrated into our lives?‚ÄĚ
Father Patalinghug knows that all transformations take time. Recalling his own life, he told the women how his mother would put him in front of a puzzle to give her time to cook without distraction. It would not be long before he ran to her and said he was finished. Upon review, she noticed he had cut and pasted the pieces to make them fit. He didn‚Äôt have the patience to complete the puzzle correctly.
‚ÄúYou can imagine what it looked like ‚Äď¬†it was an ugly distortion of the beautiful picture the author of the puzzle had intended it to be. That is what we have done with God,‚ÄĚ Father Patalinghug said. ‚ÄúWe have no patience. God does not use a microwave, he uses a crock pot.‚ÄĚ