When I was told by my novice director this past October that I would have the opportunity to attend the Giving Voice 20s and 30s retreat in January, I was filled with gratitude for the support of my congregation. I was also excited to finally connect faces with the names I had read on the Giving Voice e-newsletter and seen photos of in the Giving Voice Facebook group. I looked up to these young women during my own discernment of religious life, thinking to myself - Young women in religious life really DO exist!
This year was the largest 20s and 30s retreat thus far with 32 women gathering at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, AZ during MLK, Jr. weekend. It didn’t matter if this was a sister’s first Giving Voice retreat or their tenth, if a sister was a novice or temporarily professed -- every person was fully accepted into the group and in the end: we are all sisters to each other. This warm welcome and comfort allowed space for deep faith sharing and conversation throughout the weekend.
The theme for this year’s retreat was: “Cultivating Courageous Hope.” We were led by our fearless leaders, MT Krueger and Nicole Varnerin. During opening prayer, we each shared the symbol of hope that we brought with us. A common thread from our symbols was the dichotomy of pain and struggle with growth and transformation. My own symbol was a necklace pendant of a small coconut tree growing out of a dying coconut husk - a symbol that was significant for me in my long-term volunteer service experience. Despite the pain and the challenges of our everyday lives or the reality of diminishing religious life, there is hope and potential for something new. Together, our individual voices of hope and dreams, became stronger throughout the weekend.
I was inspired from listening to the stories of young women in religious life - their ministries, their formation experience, the joys and struggles of living with aging sisters. As a first-year novice, this was the first time I encountered many sisters around my age. These women have experienced their own discernment journeys (or, like me, just starting them) and each of them has a passion for religious life, affirming the life-giving opportunities and the incredible possibilities this vocation has to offer.
I came to this retreat not knowing who I would meet or what to expect. I left the retreat grateful for the new relationships that were formed. One person shared at the end of retreat: “We carry each other in our sorrows and in our joys.” Now, as we go back home to our communities, the challenge is to continue to “tend to the fire,” to hold onto our hopes and dreams with courageousness in the face of struggle and an evolving form of religious life. As I add my voice to the fire, my hope is that the fire will only grow stronger as young women in religious life continue to lift up their voices together in a chorus for the world to know who we are and how we want to set the world on fire.