The Joys of Holy Friendship are Celebrated at the Maine Catholic Women's Conference

Through song, storytelling, and Scripture, women who gathered for the 10th Maine Catholic Women’s Conference learned how to find and foster life-giving, holy friendships, while gaining understanding of the difference they can make to their lives and the lives of those around them.

“We are called to walk with one another,” said ValLimar Jansen, the keynote speaker. “Jesus always put people together. He never sent them out one by one, alone. He sent them out two by two. We walk in community. God is a community. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so even as the Triune God, God walks in community with us.”

“From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus gathered people together. John the Baptist was the ‘voice in the wilderness.’ He preached by himself. Jesus, on the other hand, begins his ministry calling disciples to walk with him, to follow him. The Church was to be grounded in a community of believers,” said Bishop Robert Deeley, who celebrated the closing Mass of the conference.

One hundred seventy women attended the women’s conference, which was held Saturday, May 6, at the Holiday Inn By the Bay in Portland.

Since its inception more than a decade ago, the women’s conference has been known for its dynamic presenters, and this year was no exception. Jansen, who is from southern California, has toured nationally and internationally as an inspirational speaker and singer. She is a recording artist and composer, as well as having worked as a college professor.

"They’re always good speakers. They always invite good ones, but this one is the best," said Lynde Persirla, from St. John Paul II Parish in Scarborough.

"To be able to sing with ValLimar was a huge honor and a blessing. I'm really enjoying her spiritual energy. She’s really helping to bring us all together in praise," said Wendy Towle, from St. Anne Church in Gorham, past of St. Anthony of Padua Parish.

Jansen, who is a mother and grandmother, has been singing sacred music since she was just five years old. She said she always incorporates music into her presentations because of the energy it brings.

“I believe that there is something beautiful about music,” Jansen said. “In everything I do, I use music because it means the brain is firing up, and it also gets the body moving, because usually when we sing, there is a little bit of sympathetic movement that goes with the rhythm of the song. We’ve been sitting for two years [due to the pandemic], so let’s move,” she said.

And that is what Jansen had the women doing during the conference. The attendees were frequently encouraged to rise from their seats to join in singing and to greet those nearby, showing appreciation for old friends, introducing themselves to new ones, and recognizing the face of Christ in all of them.

Jansen told the women that holy friendship means accompanying someone on their journey and helping to lead them to Christ.

“Good accompaniment is not to help your friends solve their problems, but it’s doing your best to be a really great listener and to allow God to use you to lead people into closer relationship with him. I really believe that is what we’re supposed to be doing. You’re leading me closer to God just by your presence in my life, and I am going to lead you closer to God by your presence in my life. We lead one another. So, it’s not that we have the answer, but we say, ‘Come on, let’s keep following Jesus and see.' If we can follow Jesus closely, the answer will reveal itself.”

Jansen said a holy friendship includes five components: association, community, loyalty, compassion, and affection.

“It means spending a lot of time together, listening to one another, and this is the part that is challenging, remembering: remembering what you heard, remembering details because sometimes we’re just listening and waiting for the person to hurry up and stop talking so we can talk. What I’ve started to do with people I accompany and who accompany me in my journey is I take notes. I can’t keep all of that in my head, so I keep notes because it means something to the people you’re accompanying when you remember details,” she said.

Jansen noted that one enriching part of accompaniment is sharing meals together, most especially the Eucharist but also in our homes, the domestic church. She said we are transformed when we dine together and have the opportunity to talk and listen.

“The art of accompaniment means spending hours listening to one another, spending time eating with one another. Jesus was all about having a meal, wasn’t he?” she said. “There is something that happens when we break bread together, when we sit down and have a meal together, and of course, our greatest meal experience is the source and summit.”

She said once we experience the true presence of Christ at Mass and consume his True Presence, we are meant to bring that presence to others.

“We are to be his presence, the real presence of the Lord. We’re sent forth by the presence of Christ to be the presence of Christ to all the people and animals, to everything and to everybody,” she said.

It was a message the bishop echoed in his homily.

“All of us share a common need to work together to bring the Gospel to life, to reflect in our lives the meaning we have found in Jesus. At the heart of the mission of the follower of Jesus is the call to serve one another. The Spirit of Jesus brings us beyond our own attachment to self and gathers us into a community that is the Church and asks us to care for each other and those we encounter in our world,” the bishop said.

The women who attended the conference came from more than 70 cities and towns from across Maine, as well as Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Many said they look forward to coming each year, while for others, it was a first-time experience.

“I always love the women’s conference. It’s always a great time to connect with others, to grow in the faith, and to grow more friendships,” said Dancile Nshimirimana, from Prince of Peace Parish in Lewiston.

“It’s a good gathering for Catholic women, and you make some new friends,” said Persirla.

“I love the openness of everything, and the presenter is fantastic,” said Mary Lou Corriveau, who traveled 200 miles from Millinocket to attend, despite recovering from hip surgery. “I said what better way to get out again and get into the groove and begin new friendships and everything, so I came today.”

“My purpose in being here today is to shine my light but also to learn how to become closer to Christ and to make some new friends. The friendliness of the group is very welcoming and warm,” said Celia Vistica, from the Parish of the Holy Savior in Rumford. “It feels like an incredible gift to be alive and to be on the planet at this time and to be a follower of Jesus Christ.”

“I’ve wanted to come for years, and years, and years, and I’ve never done it, and one of the women’s groups at our parish, Walking with Purpose, started talking about coming to this, so I said, ‘Well, I’ll give it a try.’ So, I did. I signed up and I’m really pleasantly surprised. I really enjoy this. It brought tears to my eyes. Being with all of these women is just amazing,” said Anne Cleveland, from St. Brendan the Navigator Parish in Camden. “It’s kind of like a sisterhood. I’m seeing the power of women and friendship and how important friendship is and supporting each other.”

That importance and value of holy friendship is something other women who attended said they came to appreciate as well and will carry with them in the future.

“I’m going to bring it back to my group of friends and share with them how grateful I am to have them in my life,” said Towle. “I’m thinking about them, and I’m praying for them, and I really want to go back and share with them what a blessing it is to have them in my life.”

The women's conference also included an introduction to Walking with Moms in Need, a program in which parish members are invited to assist pregnant and parenting women who find themselves in difficult circumstances.

There was also the opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation and to spend time before the Lord in eucharistic adoration throughout the conference.


Women's conference crowd
ValLimar Jansen
Women smiling
Lisa Daigle
Tracy Guerrette
Drum player
Penny Wolfe
Lynde Persirla
Anne Cleveland
Women with raised hands
Wide view
Woman with baby
wide view
Women hugging
Women hugging
ValLimar Jansen
Woman with raised hand
Dancile Nshimirimana
Wide angle
Karen Morin
Woman speaking about Walking with Moms in Need
Bishop Robert Deeley
Woman at Mass
Lori Dahlhoff
Bishop Robert Deeley
Women hugging
ValLimar Jansen
Bishop Robert Deeley and ValLimar Jansen