International Women’s Day 2019 established its theme: “Balance for Better” as an effort towards gender balance worldwide and challenged us: “How will you help make a difference?” Magdalena Institute responded by offering the 5th Annual Women’s Encounter, an inspiring weekend, “Women in Dialogue”, March 8 to 10, 2019 which was attended by some 50 women and men from 15 countries. The combination of lively talks and engaging workshops allowed for a deeply transforming spiritual experience and a joyful time where new friends were made and existing friendships were strengthened.
Magdala’s ancient site provided a unique haven where participants learned to value and experience the good fruits of dialogue in their relationship with God and with one another. A lady expressed her appreciation: “Thank you for all you offer at Magdala to help us experience the synagogue, the Magdala Stone and the history that has been uncovered here. What a beautiful setting for our learning to dialogue!” Another stated: “The weekend at Magdala was truly a moment of grace for me and an experience I will carry with me along my walk of faith.”
Friday’s Preview of “Women in Dialogue” explored women’s expressions of devotion through Contemporary Art. Curator Laura Uccello showcased two original works, in pencil and gold leaf, by Yifat Bezalel, winner of the Rappaport Prize 2016 for a young Israeli artist, and the film “Vera” by Alys Tomlinson, named Sony World Photographer of the Year 2018.
Yifat’s work, “Do you love me?” aims to create a dialogue on motherhood and how our mothers provide us the tools to grow through sacrifice and joy while her work, “Last Form,” shows how divinity does not seek a magnificent physical temple but that we build a house within.
Tomlinson’s black and white film titled, “Vera”, shot in a lyrical, documentary style, takes us on a poetic journey, following the story of Sister Vera and her deep connection with the horses she looks after as part of her religious duty.
Fr Eamon Kelly, Vice Director of Magdala, noted that “Magdala seems made for Contemporary Religious Art. At this Crossroads of Jewish and Christian History… Duc in Altum allows ancient art forms to speak spiritually to the 21st century person, transcending faith boundaries.” A participant commented: “We were stunned by deep beauty that touched mind, heart and soul!”
The exhibition will remain open to the public until May 6th 2019.
Saturday’s Christian faith based retreat saw Celine Kelly, consecrated woman of Regnum Christi, lead the group in scriptural prayer through the archaeological site of ancient Magdala. People were deeply moved by the ritual of washing of each other’s hands standing next to the 1st century Mikva’oth: “Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51). Hearts were touched at the outdoor reflection on the beauty of nature and all joined in singing along to the familiar: “Sing to the Mountains, Sing to the Sea” which echoes Psalm 117 and Isaiah 6, with the backdrop of the stunning verdant Mount Arbel and the swelling Sea of Galilee.
Later, the participants enjoyed peaceful music and some quiet reflection in the Boat chapel. Finally, by groups, they enjoyed the Gospel stories come alive in the mosaic and Encounter chapels where they also engaged in activities which helped them to connect personally with the Lord.
A local man wrote: “I want to thank you. My two Arab friends who attended the retreat at Magdala did not and could not stop talking about their experience and their encounter with the Lord. They were so moved by every part of the program that they came back different and changed.”
Sunday, March 10 was dedicated to talks and workshops which brought our theme of “Women in Dialogue” into the sphere of everyday life.
Michelle Curran, Magdala´s guest speaker, shared insights from the heart on “Dialogue in Marriage,” commenting some very personal struggles and blessings. “Her honesty was refreshing,” noted one participant.
Marion Hellwig, the second presenter of the day, spoke of the importance of “Dialogue in the Workplace”, from her own faith-filled experience. She balanced the information she shared with her workshop on listening attentively to the other and learning to dialogue from the heart.
Orna Grinman, founder and director of Sign and Example, focused on the crucial topic of “Interfaith Dialogue” as she shared her experience with Arab and Jewish women, in an exercise of mutual appreciation and reconciliation, through the simple but powerful offering of roses.
We followed up with a workshop of reconciliation and healing which some found deeply consoling. One lady said: “Initially, I thought the activity would be a merely symbolic gesture, but as it progressed, I deeply felt that it was God who spoke to me and gave me that rose.” Another shared: “I had been waiting for this healing for a long time.”
The Encounter closed with a reflection: “Let your light shine”. Participants were given a candle to take home as a reminder that all the richness of the Women’s Encounter can be shared by illumining our homes and communities with our hearts on fire.
So much love was put into every detail, from daily prayer in the weeks leading up to the event, trusting in the Lord’s blessing, to the practical aspects of preparation and promotion and the beautiful food displays. We wish to thank all those who helped make it happen, our friends, our generous sponsors and especially our Magdala staff and volunteers for their tireless work of love. Healthy dialogue will hopefully lead to improved relationships at home, in the workplace and with people of diverse religious backgrounds.
Magdalena Institute invites you to another wonderful experience next year, March 6 – 8, 2020, at our 6th Annual Women’s Encounter: “Woman, Heart of the Family”. Stay tuned!