Speaking truth in love to the Church

Loyola grad reflects on participating in Voices Of Faith at the Vatican

By Nicole Perone, '13  |  Photos courtesy of Nicole Perone

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Just a few weeks ago, I stood on the roof of the Apostolic Palace, mere feet away from the balustrade and dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, near the roof where the chimney is placed for the rare papal conclave. As I surveyed the Roman skyline, sparkling in the dusk, and heard the chants of a Lenten evening service from the Basilica, I marveled at how far I’ve come from standing on the steps of Alumni Memorial Chapel, surveying the Quad in the same way.

My Loyola career, rife with fond memories of SuperFan basketball games, late nights in Campion Tower and Rahner Village with lifelong friends, and Humanities porch conversations, provided the foundation for my discernment toward a Master of Divinity at Yale University. Although I have spent three years in an ecumenical setting, I have never lost my Catholic identity nor been unafraid to share it, which has drawn me into impactful communities and mentoring relationships. That strong Catholic foundation infused with Ignatian spirituality has guided me every step of the way, including to the Vatican.

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On March 8—International Women’s Day—I participated in the Voices Of Faith event celebrating the work of women in the Church and world, held in the heart of the Vatican. After an afternoon which honored the global work of women, our panel spoke about the ways the Church serves well its female population, as well as some creative and concrete examples of how the Church could better engage women in leadership. To be the Millennial voice on a topic which is so dear to my heart, on such a large stage, was an opportunity most dream of and few experience, especially at 24.

IMG_4446Every moment felt surreal—being waved past the Swiss Guard, walking through the Vatican grounds, driving past Casa Santa Marta (Hi, Pope Francis!), and even connecting to the WiFi at the Pontifical Academy for Sciences. Participating in the activities surrounding the actual Voices Of Faith event also felt like a dream. Our panel visited Vatican Radio for an interview, in the same studio where St. Pope John Paul II did his first interview with them. We were in constant conversation with media from the Vatican and around the world, in dozens of languages and mediums. Whether posing for a photo shoot with the Vatican museum and gardens in the background, or searching for the right words in Italian for a statement (thanks for that Italian Studies minor, Loyola!), it felt like a mix of celebrity and honor.

The panel itself was a brilliant and passionate collection of women, ranging from the president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (who, as it were, was the keynote speaker for my 2013 Loyola Commencement) to the U.S. Peace Corps’ country director for Colombia, to a Yale Divinity School graduate student carrying the millennial banner (that would be me). Although we had met as a panel multiple times, sharing our stories and perspectives, the moment of broadcast was a chance to watch each other shine and really highlight how our shared faith calls us to speak truth in love to the Church.

After the glamour of the event wound down and I was left to enjoy Rome (returning five years after my Loyola study abroad experience!), I had time to reflect on what the event really meant.

Although Pope Francis and his curia were not able to be present, due to their annual Lenten retreat, I am certain in my heart that the Voices Of Faith event profoundly impacted the Church—perhaps not in the wrecking-ball way some might imagine.

IMG_4591I truly believe that my presence as a young, educated, and passionate woman—who, when she could achieve greatness in any field, chose a life of service to the Church—sends a message to the Church and world that young people and women matter and deserve a place at the table. My presence tells other Millennials that faith matters, the Church values us, and our voices deserve to be heard. My presence tells the women who have gone before me that the seeds they planted are bearing fruit. My presence speaks volumes beyond any words I could have prepared.

I have tried in my life to keep an attitude of gratitude in all that I do, with special attention to the road that leads me to each great milestone. My four years at Loyola are no exception; my parents often express how pleased they were with my experience, and I know well how formative it was for me. I often wonder: If I had not been so infused with Ignatian spirituality, would I be so oriented toward seeking the magis for the Church? Without guidance and mentorship from Fr. John Donahue, S.J., Fr. Tim Brown, S.J., and (former director of the Center for Community Service and Justice) Missy Gugerty, would I have known the possibilities of my vocation?

When people ask what I studied at Loyola—a theology major, with double minors in Italian Studies and Catholic Studies—they often chuckle and comment that those custom-made me for service to the Church. I’m inclined to agree.

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