Catholic Women of Zion conference and rally participants prayerfully raise their hands as music is played by the Joyful Praise Band. Christina Leslie photos
Catholic Women of Zion conference and rally participants prayerfully raise their hands as music is played by the Joyful Praise Band. Christina Leslie photos

“The Body of Christ is bruised, battered and broken,” author and evangelist Kelly Wahlquist told an assembly of women in St. Dorothea Parish Center. “You have gifts, you are spiritual mothers. We can go deeper in our relationship with Christ.”

About 75 women from around the Diocese and beyond gathered to explore their relationship with the Lord and fellowship with one another by means of prayer, worship and laughter at the annual Catholic Women of Zion conference and rally held Sept. 14 in the Eatontown parish. This year’s theme, “Called, Blessed and Sent,” marks the organization’s 30th year since its founding by Mary Ann Collett and Father John Campoli to nurture women in their expression of faith.

Energized by the tuneful worship from the Joyful Praise Band, women were on their feet, raising their hands in praise while others waved bright flags in rhythm. Women shared witness statements with the common theme that, regardless of the challenges they faced in their lives, the Lord came to lead them to a greater peace.

One such witness was keynote speaker Wahlquist, a wife, mother of three, Catholic author and Minnesota native. The dynamic, upbeat woman currently serves as assistant director of the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute and is a contributing writer for Catholicmom.com. Her new book, “Created to Relate: God’s Design for Peace and Joy,” urges women to use their God-given gifts to build relationships.

“God has a plan of sheer goodness for your life,” Wahlquist said to the women before her. “He uses everything to draw you to him.”

Wahlquist admitted she had fallen away from the faith in college and became a member of the “matched, hatched and dispatched” Catholics: active in the Church when she was married, had children and faced funerals.

Enrolling in the Jeff Cavins Bible study in her parish proved pivotal in deepening her faith, she said.

“God gives us what we need rather than what we want,” she continued wryly, describing how a religious conference showed her God’s plan for her life. Within two years, the former nurse was leading such conferences, working with Cavins as his assistant, then taking up the roles of author and evangelizer.

“You have to tap the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and recognize the gifts in other people,” Wahlquist advised. “Gifts given to you for others are charisms. When you let yourselves become the vessel of the Holy Spirit, it both drains and energizes you.”

She encouraged the women to invite others into a relationship with the Lord through her Women in New Evangelization movement (WINE), which proposes women’s groups and parishes nurture the faith while equipping and mobilizing women as intentional disciples of Christ.

“That’s why I started WINE: we can go deeper in our relationship with Christ,” Wahlquist said. “The beauty of WINE is to elevate good things, tried, trusted and true. Every moment, God wants you to be close to him.”

“Remember Mary’s words in the Bible were ‘Do whatever he tells you,’” Wahlquist concluded. “We are all on the journey together, from blessing to blessing.”

Participants expressed joy at Wahlquist’s words and reaffirmed the strength of women celebrating, praying and evangelizing as a group.

Hilda DeJean, a member of the Joyful Praise Band and St. Veronica Parish, Howell, said, “It’s amazing that what the speakers are discussing, it feels like they are talking directly to me. It fills me with hope.”

“Kelly [Wahlquist] was so inspiring,” exclaimed Stephanie Harakal of St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Farmingdale. “I loved her story, what she told us.” Sharing that she became involved in CWOZ to aid other women to Christ, Harakal became the webmaster of the group and serves in that role in her parish.

Diane D’Agostine drove to the Monmouth County parish from the Newark Archdiocese. A member of St. Antoninus Parish, Newark, she said, “I am a charismatic. This mission (CWOZ) has opened me up to know what Jesus wants to do. It’s very anointing.”

“This is women supporting women in faith,” noted CWOZ rally committee member Eileen Lombardo of St. Pius X Parish, Forked River. “As we get older, there’s a million reasons not to do things. This is inspiring; it’s amazing the way the Lord works. Sharing our journey with everyone makes it easier.”