Jennifer Neville, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Sister Marie Veritas, a Sister of Life, one of the keynote speakers at the diocesan Women’s Conference, shares some religious material with Cheri Britt, a parishioner at St. Bede, Williamsburg. (Photos/Jennifer Neville)

At a simple camp in upstate New York that the Sisters of Life use for their own retreats and formation days, a cat seems to have joined the order. The cat follows the sisters everywhere, even at prayer where he puts his paws on the window screen in the chapel and meows.

One day the cat followed two sisters to a fishing pond. As the sisters got into the canoe, the cat jumped in as well. The sisters put the cat back on the shore. This happened a few more times before the sisters were able to push their canoe away from the shore.

As they were paddling, they heard the cat meowing behind them. They turned around, and they saw the cat swimming after them. At last they put the cat into the canoe.

This analogy is similar to how Jesus is persistent in seeking to be with us, Sister Marie Veritas, a member of the Sisters of Life, told the nearly 400 women who gathered for a day of fellowship, prayer, and learning at the fifth annual diocesan-wide Catholic Women’s Conference in Richmond, Saturday, Nov. 4.

Keynote speakers Sister Marie and Lisa Hendey made their presentations in English, while Vivi Iglesias and Sister Maria Kateri, a member of the Sisters of Life, addressed the Spanish-speaking participants in another area of the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

Hendey, an international speaker, is founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of children’s literature and adult books. Also, as a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs.

Iglesias works for Catholic Relief Services, where she provides a CRS presence for dioceses in Florida to advance CRS awareness and how the church of United States responds in solidarity with the world.

The Sisters of Life, a contemplative/active religious community of women, was founded in 1991 by New York Cardinal John O’Connor to protect and enhance the sacredness of all human life. The religious community is based in New York City with mission convents in Toronto; Washington, DC; Denver; Philadelphia; and Connecticut.

The order’s 110 sisters serve women who are pregnant and in crisis, welcome pregnant women to live with them in their convent in Manhattan, host weekend retreats at their retreat houses in Connecticut, Colorado and Toronto, and through their Hope and Healing After Abortion mission walk with women who have suffered after abortion.

In addition to the presentations of the keynote speakers, the event included an opportunity for reconciliation, generational breakout sessions and a vendor expo. It concluded with a Mass.

Collectively, Sister Marie and Hendey used theologians’ teachings, synopses of saints’ lives, Biblical and personal stories and personal reflections to demonstrate how one can have a personal relationship with God.

Sister Maria and Iglesias used similar tactics as they also addressed the conference theme of “true presence” to the Hispanic audience.

Hendey said that many individuals are struggling in relationships with other people, including those with a friend, spouse or children. She advised women to stop and recognize the grace of the person she is with so she can be truly present with her.

Sister Marie said, “One of the greatest gifts we can give to another is to look at the other and to be present to them as God looks at us and is present to us with love.”

Proclaiming that we are called to have a personal relationship with Christ, Hendey acknowledged that many struggle to have that relationship.

“Our world is filled with messiness, frustration, busyness, but you need to remember that Jesus is present in that messiness,” Hendey said.

The presentations revealed that to have true presence with the Lord, one must pray, receive the sacraments and read the Bible. Sister Marie added that leisure and delight also can help one become closer to God. She recommended using leisure to immerse oneself in God’s beauty by doing something one loves such as spending time with family, reading, jogging or walking.

Sister Marie said to recognize God made people in his own image and each person is unique. Delight in that uniqueness of others and in one’s own uniqueness, she said.

“There is no one like you. There never has been and never will be,” Sister Marie said. “He knows and loves everything about you — your dislikes, your likes, your favorite foods, your secret hopes and dreams, the way your hair does that funny thing in the morning — he loves it.”

“Christ loves us as we are,” she said.

Hendey said individuals need to seek the presence of God around them every day, and when they are filled with that presence, they need to give God’s love to other people — even those who drive them “bonkers.”

“Our true presence encounter with Christ is what we take beyond the church walls,” Hendey said. “Each person has a role in sharing the Good News of the Gospel.”

To illustrate faith in action, Hendey said a couple she knows fosters children. While the children are in their foster home, the couple tries to make it a home of “forever families,” even if that forever is only for a few days. Their goal is to help reconcile the children with their mothers.

“We need to realize we all need to go out and be a presence of light and joy,” she continued. “If every woman embraced the power of her encounter with Jesus Christ and shared that love of Jesus Christ with those around us, we would radically transform our world.”