On March 8, dozens packed into the Vatican's tiny San Carlo Cinema for what was hailed as a “unique storytelling event” on the dramatic narratives of women who give their lives in service to the Church.
Throughout the afternoon, 10 different women from around the world stepped onto the darkened stage to tell about their life and work.
Despite the vast difference in their experiences – ranging from working with drug addicts and homeless in Rome's city center to serving the marginalized in rural Nigeria – each woman expressed her joy in serving Christ in his Church.
“There needs to be a venue for sharing the inspiring stories and life-giving stories of women and people around the world that don’t have that opportunity. I hope this helps,” emcee Andrea Hattler Bramson, President of the Loyola Foundation, told CNA on March 8.
The Voices of Faith initiative was begun by Chantal Gotz, executive director of the Catholic philanthropic Fidel Götz Foundation, and project manager Giovanna Abbiati, in the hope of promoting “extraordinary talent, courage and positive social contributions of Catholic women around the world.” The Pontifical Council for Social Communications provided the venue for Saturday’s event.
As lay and religious women shared their stories, the those in the audience were often moved to tears.
Alessandra Melidoz of New Horizons, an outreach to those caught in drug addiction, prostitution and other serious difficulties, spoke about the organization’s founder, Chiara Amirante.
Amirante found herself outside of Rome’s Termini train station, a neighborhood filled with crime. Graffitied onto a wall was the phrase, “despite your indifference, we exist.”
For Amirante, recounted Melidoz, this was a turning point. The foundress began to visit with the homeless there, “to listen to their stories.” She discovered that the young people “had not been loved, or were loved too little, so their hearts are hard.”
“Their pain is so huge that they need drugs and alcohol,” said Melidoz. “They can’t manage the emptiness that they find within themselves.”
“They are not missing bread, but affection. We take them by the hand, we pray with them,” she shared. “What we can do is bring them before Jesus and show them what changed our lives.”
Through the outreach of those at New Horizons, those caught in difficult circumstances learn that “there is Somebody who loves them through us.”
Sr. Caritas Chinwen offered the audience a glimpse of the joy of her faith as she stepped onto the stage dressed in the colorful habit of her community. The energetic sister of the Emmanuel Family Institute sang a song in celebration of motherhood in her native language.
Despite their work with the extremely impoverished and marginalized people in Nigeria, “we are joyful” she proclaimed.
“Today is my first time speaking in public. It's my first time coming out from Nigeria. I’ve not been out from Nigeria...I’m very very happy. It’s a privilege,” she told CNA.
Other voices offered a challenge to those at the Cinema.
Soft-spoken Augustinian Sister Abir Hanna invited attendees to consider the beauty of contemplative prayer, using the “daring image” of the uterus – a “tiny organ” that is “hidden, but irreplaceable.” Like the womb of the mother, the Church is a “space for encounter,” she explained.
Describing her spiritual mission, Sr. Hanna said, “I too am called to be a womb and a vessel,” a “place of mission…not just intercession, but gestation,” bringing souls to new life in Christ.
Another contemplative, Sister Cristiana Dobner, challenged participants at the end of her poetic presentation, “Does our face express His face? This is the question.”
Sabrina Moranti, mother of nine, shared her testimony of faith, recounting how at age 25 she was disillusioned with God and the church, but went to confession because her then-boyfriend, now husband, encouraged her to go before attending mass one day.
As she spoke to the elderly priest in the confessional, he began to weep. Moranti was touched by his tears and felt the overwhelming presence of God. After that, she felt called to follow God faithfully, despite the challenges that came with family life.
“Mothers today are frightened, and rightly so,” she admitted, “but the fact that God was patient and loving with me allows me to be so with my children,” she explained, noting the great opportunity to respond to God that comes with motherhood.
“The story of the human being is born when the mother says 'yes' to God,” she explained.
The Voices of Faith storytelling event on March 8 was the group’s first initiative, though organizers are hopeful for future opportunities.