By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

Women in the New Evangelization (WINE) are working with women and women’s organizations across the country to bring “feminine genius” to churches and communities. They will host their inaugural conference Saturday, July 27 at Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant.

“The inspiration for WINE came from a lot of prayer,” said founder Kelly Wahlquist. “And I had called together a group of women because Pope Francis had given an interview and said he wanted a deeper, more profound theology of women. And, intrigued, I wanted to know more about what that meant.”

She and 17 other women, all leaders of ministries and apostolates across the country, gathered for a weekend of prayer.

Wahlquist said, similar to the way the Lord told St. Francis of Assisi, “Rebuild my church,” she felt the Lord say to her spirit, “Heal my body. The body of Christ is battered, bruised and broken and I need you and the women working in the beautiful gifts I have given to you – the gifts St. John Paul II called ‘the feminine genius’ to be receptive, generous and maternal and heal the wounds that are out there.”

While the acronym WINE may sound fun, it is not about alcohol, Wahlquist said, but is based on John 2:5, Mary’s last words recorded in Scriptures when she tells the servants at the wedding feast at Cana: “Do whatever he (Jesus) tells you.”

“So WINE is about doing the will of God. But we contend that as women we are radically relational. And so it’s easier to do that well when you’re surrounded by your sisters in Christ who are supporting you, nurturing you, encouraging you, praying for you. They’re lifting you up when you are feeling down and rejoicing with you when you are elevated, when good things are happening in your life,” she said.

Wahlquist, Teresa Tomeo, syndicated talk show host, and Gloria Purvis, member of the National Black Congress’ Leadership Commission on Social Justice, will be the featured speakers at the event.

Karen Seehy, Louisiana’s WINE “specialist,” said, “Wine takes on the shape of the container. You can add wine to whatever it is you are doing and it will enhance your Bible study, your women’s group, etc.” Seehy specializes in events, membership, volunteer outreach and publication of the quarterly “WINE cluster” newsletter.

Wahlquist and Seehy said WINE reaches its peak “flavor” through the women of all stages of life who participate in the ministry, from young mothers to the divorced to seniors who have never been married.

Having a big gathering of women at conferences with the support of the bishop, such as the one that will take place at Holy Rosary, is a “mountaintop experience,” according to Seehy.

“It’s something powerful to have your transfiguration moments and have all these groups of women and give it all to Christ,” said Seehy. “And I think that’s what (the Diocese of) Baton Rouge has been hungering for.”

But between the big events, there are book clubs, Bible studies and small groups, or “wine clusters” to keep women engaged and the grapevine thriving, according to Letitia Peyton, leader of a Cajun WINE group.

And these small communities help build the bond among women so they can use their gifts to help build better families, churches and societies, Peyton said.

“Something can happen that is beautiful here, and there is new life that comes out” Peyton said. “With our families under attack, and families going through so much difficulty at this moment and what the culture is doing to our families, we build up women and families with WINE.”

Noting the success of the Men of the Immaculata in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Wahlquist, Seehy and Peyton emphasized WINE is complementary to Men of the Immaculata and they support their work.

Mark Hermann, chairman of the Men of the Immaculata, said, “Men of the Immaculata and WINE both provide that personal encounter with Jesus and Mary by experiencing the sacraments, together with other men and women respectively.  The brotherhood and sisterhood at these complementary events build a community of witnesses to strengthen and support us in our walk.

“The Men of the Immaculata are excited to be praying for and helping support the women of WINE this coming July, just as the women have been praying for the Men of the Immaculata through intercessory prayer. Men and women joined together in communion with Jesus Christ and our Blessed Mother is God’s call for the Catholic family.”

To register for the conference and for more information about WINE, visit catholic vineyard.com.