Fort Myers | More than 800 women put aside their troubles and challenges for about six hours and took the time to focus on their relationship with Lord, with the help of fellowship, inspiring speakers, Adoration and Mass.
Christine Gergen of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers described the 2018 Diocese of Venice Women’s Conference as one of the most impactful things she has done in her life, particularly to build up her faith.
“I didn’t know how much I needed this conference until the end of the day,” said the mother of three. “I felt exhausted and refreshed at the same time, but in a very good way. I really have a whole new perspective on how the Lord needs to be a bigger part of every aspect of my life. I am a renewed Catholic woman ready to face any challenge.”
The conference was held Feb. 3, at Bishop Verot Catholic High School, Fort Myers, and throughout the day the speakers challenged the women to reexamine their relationship with the Lord. Speakers Kimberly Hahn, Sonja Corbitt, and Rosario Rodriguez each touched on topics that women of faith face.
“I felt they each spoke to me personally,” said Ann Jordan of St. Leo the Great Parish in Bonita Springs. “They seem to know how I regularly struggle with my faith. I try very hard to be a good Catholic woman but have honestly let my relationship with Jesus become secondary. What a wonderful opportunity it was to be here and learn so much while surrounded by so many women who face the same challenges.”
Hahn spoke about how to build a strong relationship with the Lord. To achieve this, one must do more than go to Church each Sunday, or say morning or daily prayers. It is about giving oneself over to the Lord completely.
“And I mean completely,” Hahn stressed. “When you do this, you grow into a relationship that is mutually beneficial. You are his daughter. You are the protector of his children. He is the one who gives you the tools to do this.”
Corbitt, a self-professed southern belle from Tennessee, spoke about the grace of listening to the Lord. Using the Blessed Virgin Mary as the perfect example, she explained how during the Annunciation Mary didn’t just hear (or read) the word, she understood how to interpret it by considering her own relationships, circumstances, and habits. She encouraged the women gathered to use the Blessed Mother to guide each of them in interpreting the word they hear and read through the landscape of their lives.
Rodriguez’s powerful and impactful talk centered on her own story of miraculously surviving two violent crimes and her journey of discovering healing and peace in forgiving her assailants. She found worth in her brokenness, and joy in suffering. As a teen, she was attacked by a would-be rapist/murderer and by screaming out the “Hail Mary” he suddenly left. She struggled with the aftermath of the traumatic event in her life, turning in on herself and away from everyone, including the Lord. It was through the grace of God that she met with people, including a priest, to find forgiveness, not only to others, but from her attackers finding a renewed joy for life.
Having overcome that, she had a new perspective on her life, but this was tragically interrupted several years later when a young woman grabbed her purse and then shot and critically wounded her. Miraculously, Rodriguez survived and once again realized afterwards that she could forgive her attacker without struggle because “I knew in my heart that I had to forgive.”
During the event, participants were challenged about different aspects of their faith while at the same time celebrated how they play a central role in the Universal Church. To help relieve some of the burdens many might be carrying deep in their soul, and during the day there was an opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which many partook.
Eucharistic Adoration opened the day and continued in the school Chapel throughout. The day concluded with the Mass, celebrated by priests of the Diocese. Father Murchadh O’Madigan, Administrator of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Myers, delivered the homily. Bishop Frank J. Dewane was unable to attend the Conference due to an out-of-town U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commitment.