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Empowering women who dare to read the Bible - Catholic women join online ministry
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Jenna Guizar is a busy woman.
Tempe, AZ (CNA) - When she's not spending time with her husband and three daughters or being a full time respiratory therapist at a local hospital in Tempe, Ariz., she's the Creative Director for "Blessed Is She," an online women's ministry for Catholic women.
Guizar was running a personal blog a few years ago, mostly for close friends and family, when she noticed that the Protestants had somewhat cornered the market on online bible studies and correspinding communities.
"I found that it was lacking in the Catholic world," Guizar told CNA. "That idea of doing bible studies together as a group or even studying the word together, and online resources for people to study the word on their phone or on their tablets or on the Internet."
The desire to create community based on studying scripture from a Catholic perspective was what drove Guizar to found "Blessed Is She", a women's ministry that has community and devotions based on the daily readings at its heart.
When Guizar set out to find "Blessed Is She", she wasn't sure exactly where the project would go. She reached out to dozens of blogging Catholic women, hoping some of them would be interesting in contributing their talents for writing devotions.
She was surprised by how many women were eager to jump on board with what was still an emerging concept.
"I basically started with a team of about 20 women right off the bat who were willing to say 'Yeah, I feel a tugging on my heart for this too, so let's do it,'" she said.
"And so I think a huge reason for the success of 'Blessed Is She' is that team atmosphere of women who are promoting it and really believe it."
The bread and butter of the "blessed is She ministry" is the daily readings and accompanying devotions delivered each day to subscribers' email inboxes. Besides Guizar, there's contend editor Nell O'Leary and graphic designer Erica Tighe, making sure everything gets done and looks good.
The goal: to bring the Word of God to life for the women on the other side of the screen.
"We want to be able to really dive into the word and tell women and all Catholics really that it's important to look at these daily readings and to look at the word of God and see how it greatly impacts your life today," she said.
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"It's not just the words that were said 2,000+ years ago, but it's something that you can look at and be able to open your eyes to how it greatly affects you now."
Guizar and her team also started branching out on social media - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest - to help foster that sense of community and to impact women wherever they might be.
As a blogger, Guizar said she realized how many women - young and old, married and single - felt isolated and would turn to blogs and other online sources for community.
"I think women feel isolated a lot of the time, they feel alone, not only people in remote areas who are actually living in isolation but even in metropolitan cities where they feel like it's hard to meet other Catholics," she said.
"And I realized that in the online world, people would say, 'I'm blogging and I've finally found this community that I've been searching for,'" she said.
"So I wanted it to be a space where there you could feel comfortable being yourself and you know that the person across from you or the person looking at their screen across from you on the internet thousands and thousands of miles away believes in the same things that you do and has the same goals that you do, which is ultimately to get to heaven," she said.
Since it's founding, the ministry has really taken off - Guizar's team now includes 40+ writers, with more than 9,000 subscribers to the daily e-mail and tens of thousands of visitors to the website every day.
The explosion of the ministry has made possible some in-person meet-ups as well - Blessed is She now has regional facebook groups where women can connect to other women in their area, and plan get togethers or "Blessed Brunches", a potluck brunch where women can meet in person, pray together and form a deeper community.
"If you're a woman who likes to avoid social media then we want to meet you in real life; if you're someone who can only be on social media because you're in a remote part of the country then you can have that female community and that female presence in your life to be able to walk with you on your journey in faith," Guizar said.
The Blessed is She team has also seen the impact the ministry has had on women through various testimonies that come to them through e-mail and social media.
"One of my favorite testimonies was a woman who was vacillating about coming into the Church and who had kind of started RCIA, but once she found BIS and got plugged into the community she saw that there were other people living out this faith and she wasn't alone on the journey," Guizar said. "She's now baptized and a Catholic convert."
This past Lent, Blessed is She rolled out a Lenten workbook - part journal, part Lenten checklist - that sold out again and again in print, though an online version is still available.
"It just was really amazing to see this sort of confirmation in these women saying I want this and I need this for my prayer life because it's confirming that I'm not alone in wanting and needing that for myself," Guizar said.
Blessed is She also hosted its first-ever retreat during Lent in Tempe, Ariz., with talks for women from all walks of life and worship led by Ike Ndolo and Rachel Lebeau.
In the future, Guizar hopes to create an app for the ministry, to create more online materials for small-group bible studies, and to possibly help launch a men's edition.
For now, she said she's grateful to be a part of something that is helping so many women grow in their relationship with Christ.
"I'm really grateful to be given this opportunity to serve and I try to maintain my gratitude, even when it's tough and even when it's a lot of work, that I am a humble servant to what BIS is doing for women and for me."
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