Women of Faith, Women of Action Conference

***Article about the women's conference here in Fort Myers that I recently spoke at and provided the music for. This was the third annual conference, and it drew the largest crowd of women thus far. I was honored to return for a second time to minister to the women, share my original music, and speak from my heart about our beautiful Mother Mary. I was honored to share the stage with Colleen Carroll Campbell from EWTN and Brenda Sharman from Pure Fashion.

Annual Women's Conference
Opening Minds and Hearts

“Eye-opening.” “Inspiring.” “Necessary.” Those were just some of the ways attendees described the third annual Diocese of Venice Catholic Women’s Conference that drew the largest crowd to date.

The Feb. 26 conference highlighted national speakers such as Colleen Carroll Campbell, author of The New Faithful and host of her own radio and television show “Faith & Culture”; and Brenda Sharman, model and founding director of Pure Fashion, a character formation program that enhances not only a young woman's external appearance, but also emphasizes her interior beauty and a balanced self-confidence.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane welcomed the women and did the opening prayer and celebrated the closing Mass. He remained throughout the conference to speak with the women on a one-on-one basis.

“Women are not born to shop, they are born to love,” said Campbell before a packed auditorium at Bishop Verot High School. She noted how from a very early age, little girls are indoctrinated to believe that their worth comes from their appearance or appeal, but the truth of authentic femininity comes from a woman’s unique ability to bring about and nurture life – both physical and spiritual life as demonstrated by married, single, and religious women.

Campbell described it as the “Feminine Genius,” a term she borrowed from the late Pope John Paul II, who coined the term in his writings about women’s issues. In his 1995 letter to women, the late pope, who was greatly influenced by Edith Stein, called for a new Christian feminism, in which women reclaim and celebrate their unique differences, specifically the unique ability to “nurture the divine life in another soul,” Campbell said. “It’s our inclination toward radical openness to the human person that is central to womanhood. It’s our ability to focus on the concrete and the personal, to see the dignity of the person – it’s an ability that can convert humanity.”  

Unfortunately, the idea that women need to avoid getting married or having families, need to find professional careers and need to be promiscuous in order to demonstrate equality with men has failed to bring about women liberation. It is for that reason that the call for a new Christian feminism also includes rejecting models that tear down men, compete with men or advocate being the same as men. None of those models have honored the truth that women are created equal to men but still maintain their own unique differences that are equally as important as those of men.

“Authentic femininity isn’t about what we wear, how we look or what we do; it’s about what inspires our deepest passion and Who is at the center of our hearts,” Campbell said. “We are not perfect but we have the grace to bear Christ in the world. We claim our freedom by surrendering ourselves to Jesus Christ. If we do, He will sustain us as nothing else can.”

Brenda Sharman knows this truth firsthand.

She began modeling in her teen years and soon found great success in the fashion industry. She learned many things about enhancing her physical appearance, but missing was any understanding of virtue. She was exposed to what she calls the “Me-attitudes” that include advice to live by such as “blessed are the hot and sexy,” “blessed are the rich and famous,” and “blessed are those who have it and flaunt it.”

“The world doesn’t support the Gospel messages. I’ve never seen a magazine with ’10 ways to be meek and lowly.’ Look at the ads geared to your daughters,” Sharman said.

Using a multimedia presentation, Sharman demonstrated this by comparing what a 1970’s teen magazine highlighted, mainly fashion advice vs. what a teen magazine today focuses on, namely sex and how to attract and please men.  She also showed a video clip called the Photoshop Effect from diet.com investigates, in which an industry insider reveals how 99.9 percent of photos in any magazine is retouched to make the model appear flawless, thinner and ultimately portraying an unachievable, unrealistic perfection that is sold to girls as reality.

Sharman also pointed to the American Psychological Association Task Force on Sexualization of Girls’ 2010 report, which not only shows how far-reaching sexualization of girls is found in the culture, but also how the negative affects are equally far-reaching and include an increase in low-self esteem, eating disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, and violence against women.

But as Sharman came to understand in her own life after discovering Christ and converting to Catholicism, true happiness is found in following the Beatitudes, not the “me-attitudes” and real beauty is found in loving.

“Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one of the most beautiful women and I can guarantee that she never had Botox,” she said. “That’s the kind of beauty God wants us to cultivate.”

And it’s the message that Sharman shares with teen girls and their moms around the globe through Pure Fashion. She also encourages women to use their spending power to send a message to advertisers and retailers, and encourages Catholic women to teach the girls in their lives about the strong Catholic women saints in the Church, who continue to serve as authentic feminine models.

The conference also included talks by Father Miguel Gonzalez of the Orlando Diocese, the master of ceremonies of the event for the past three years, who spoke to the women on how to keep the light of Christ burning strong in their hearts so that they can continue to be that light to others, and from Gabriela Frei, who made a repeat appearance sharing her music talent and how the Blessed Mother is the ideal feminine role model whose “fiat has been very important to me in my ministry and my music,” she said.

Confessions were also available throughout the day, a day that empowered, informed and refreshed according to Belinda Gagner of St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers.

The speakers “really made you think and encouraged me to be a role model, not a bystander – to have a transformation and walk the talk,” she said. “I would recommend this conference to others.”

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