By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Janice Charbonnet walked the road of skepticism about the Catholic Church for many years and particularly questioned its viewpoint of women.  

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Janice Charbonnet

 

But, she said, Jesus walked alongside her on a path of discovery as she studied church documents that pointed to its support of women and later traveled the country evangelizing young people through National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries.  

Charbonnet shared her story of faith renewal at a recent meeting of Magnificat ministry for Catholic Women.  

Charbonnet grew up in “a beautiful Catholic family” in Canada. She attended Mount St. Vincent’s University in Nova Scotia, which had a large women’s student population. She studied public relations but feminist thoughts and theories heavily influenced the campus, where she was first introduced to women’s movements.  

This led her to question the Catholic Church and its view of women.  

But, according to Charbonnet, Jesus remained her constant companion and performed many healings in her life. 

After graduation, Charbonnet worked in various positions across Canada, ending with a position as public relations coordinator for a politician who held a cabinet position. She said outwardly her life had all the trappings of success, but she was restless.  

She said in 1996 God called her to quit her job and serve as a missionary with NET, traveling for the next year with a team of young adults across the country leading evangelization retreats for teenagers. 

“Once I made the decision to give my life to God and follow his plan, all the anxiety was gone,” said Charbonnet. 

Being on the road with other young adults presented challenges, through which she learned about sacrificing, apologizing and forgiving. But she found the year to be a gift in which she found “supernatural happiness.”

She said while she thought her team was evangelizing youth, they “turned it around” on her by evangelizing the team members with their keen insight on spiritual issues. She learned youth are looking for “credible witnesses” who live out the Gospel message in their lives. 

She highlighted how Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said young people are holy evangelists. 

It was also during her time with NET that she met her husband, Jean. They joined the NET ministries staff until they moved to Mandeville in 2008. They now minister to married couples and she serves on the women’s team of Catholic Charismatic Renewal of New Orleans.  

Through her faith journey, Charbonnet also found clarity in her mission as a Catholic woman.

Charbonnet’s work for the Canadian government had included researching government policies and how they affected women, etc. She met with a variety of women’s groups. </span id=”17″>

“Through this I was learning the ‘word on the street’ about how the Catholic Church was treating women,” Charbonnet said. “The complaint was that the church was marginalizing women and not appreciating their gifts by not giving them key positions of authority, etc.” 

Though Charbonnet said she had given her life to the Lord in her early 20s and had experienced the beauty of the sacraments, Scriptures and other traditions of the church, “the sticking point” for her was women’s issues. 

One day Charbonnet was on her knees in a church when she poured out her heart to the Lord about her misgivings and was met with silence. 

With tears in her eyes, Charbonnet said God later led her to discover St. John Paul II’s “Letter to Women,” in which he highlighted the dignity of women and the “feminine genius.” 

“He used such beautiful language than anyone could ever hope for,” said Charbonnet. 

The document washed away her preconceived notions about what the church taught about women. The document describes that during the liturgy, Jesus stands as the bridegroom and the church, the congregation, represents the bride and receives his love and life-giving salvation. The document holds up women as models for being receivers of God’s love, Charbonnet said.

Her journey has led her to have a special heart and ministry for youth and women. She encourages people who God calls to ministry to not only see their value in God’s eyes, but to be open to what he is asking them to do. 

“Give the Lord a chance, he will pay you back,” said Charbonnet. “God is always working. What may seem like a sacrifice at first, God can use and multiply and we grow so much more quickly.”