by Mary Jo Anderson
Mary Jo Anderson, a member of the Voices editorial board, has appeared frequently on The Abundant Life, and will address the "Women of Grace" conference in October.
Catholic women seeking truly Catholic study programs have some choices - at last.
A neighbor called last week to invite me to attend a well-known Protestant Bible study for women. "It is all biblical -- nothing a Catholic would find objectionable. You know, we have lots of Catholics who come. We are doing a study on Moses. Please come", she said. For the third time in five years I politely declined her entreaty and mentally gave her credit for perseverance. I admire the Protestant zeal for evangelization.
In my parish there have been several sporadic offerings of Scripture study designed for women. More successfully our parish has developed and sponsored a catechetical program for women, held in homes, that is now in its third year. This project is itself the response of frustrated Catholic women who needed answers for family and friends when Catholic doctrine was questioned. The parish women reported that their social lives and extended families brought them in constant contact with non-Catholic Christians who were anxious to include them in various Protestant programs.
Many of our parish women who have participated in the study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church had formerly attended the same Protestant Bible-study program promoted by my neighbor. These women actually felt driven to study the Catechism in order to defend Catholic teaching that had been challenged by well-meaning Protestants. This program has been quite effective, generating excitement and fervor within our parish. (There will be more to report on this effort later.)
There is a need for sound Catholic programs that can provide scriptural and catechetical study specific to the role of contemporary Catholic women. While individual parishes may have excellent programs in place, unhappily, there is a dearth of orthodox programs available for use at the personal and parish level. Some that are currently being promoted (like MOMS) are seriously defective in many ways.
"Women of Grace" - a response
Johnette Benkovic, of EWTN's The Abundant Life, has responded to this situation by launching Women of Grace as a comprehensive plan for Catholic women that will offer study groups, videos, conferences and an Internet forum.
"We realized that our women viewers were hungry for an authentic Catholic life informed by the Scripture and the teachings of the Church", said Mrs. Benkovic. "Many of us have not really learned anything about our faith since we left school -- that is, if we went to a Catholic school. The time is ripe to help inform Catholic women about the immense riches of our faith", she said.
Thus, Mrs. Benkovic has commissioned the first in a series of six curricula designed to integrate Scripture and Pope John Paul II's Mulieris Dignitatem, on the Dignity and Vocation of Women. The first in the series, "Women of Grace", is based on her own book of that title. The study program will employ both the book and a workbook designed to elicit personal responses from participants.
"Our purpose is to affirm women in their dignity as daughters of God", said Mrs. Benkovic. The study groups would not only develop increased understanding of Catholic teaching, but also form a bond among women seeking to live heroic, Catholic lives. The women will be encouraged to rediscover the special grace of their womanhood and the specific mission God has entrusted to women.
The Women of Grace program is meant to assist women in understanding their feminine vocation in its theological, social and cultural dimensions.
The Women of Grace format is designed to be "user-friendly". The program will include a teaching video featuring Mrs. Benkovic that the hostess or parish director pops into a VCR. Afterward there is time for discussion. Participants also follow lessons each day of the week in a special workbook, returning on "group day" to share their insights. Use of approved materials, videos and resources promises women that what they are learning is from the heart of the Church.
Women of Grace programs may supply an answer for busy pastors looking for a reliable and effective parish study program for women. The tape-discussion-notebook format makes it easy to conduct meetings, whether in parish facilities for large groups or in a home for a smaller gathering.
In addition to the study groups, regional "Women of Grace" conferences are planned. The inaugural conference will be held in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on October 3, 2003, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Participants may join a model study group, meet others, and review Women of Grace materials, as well as hear interesting women speakers.
Catholic women in democratic countries are uniquely placed to transform their cultures. Taking full advantage of programs such as Women of Grace is one means of preparing to re-evangelize our world and build the Kingdom of God.
For more information please see www.womenofgrace.com or call 800-558-5452.
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