Feature

MASS OF CONSECRATION FOR DALIA ZAKHARY

By JOAN PATTEN, AO     6/4/2024

DEAR SISTERS AND Brothers in Christ,

With great joy, the Diocese of Orange announces the Solemn Consecration of Dalia Zakhary to a Life of Virginity Lived in the World by the hand of Bishop Kevin Vann, to take place at Christ Cathedral on Saturday, June 15. Your presence is especially requested to underline the esteem for which the Church holds this ancient vocation. A section of pews on the main floor of the cathedral will be reserved for religious communities.

Below is additional information about the vocation of consecrated virginity in the world and an exclusive interview with Dalia.

JOAN PATTEN, DELEGATE FOR CONSECRATED LIFE IN THE DIOCESE OF ORANGE, AND DALIA ZAKHARY ON THE CHRIST CATHEDRAL CAMPUS IN MAY 2024. PHOTO BY RENNE ENRIQUEZ/DIOCESE OF ORANGE

 

WHAT IS A CONSECRATED VIRGIN? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM RELIGIOUS LIFE AND OTHER FORMS OF CONSECRATED LIFE?

According to the Code of Canon Law, consecrated virgins are women “consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are mystically betrothed to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.” (CIC, can. 604 § 1.) Through her mystical espousal to Christ, she is a living image of the Bride, the Church, and shares in His redemptive mission in the world by offering prayer, penance, charitable service and apostolic activities according to her capacities and gifts.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists five different forms of consecrated life in the church: religious life, secular institutes, consecrated virgins, eremitic life and societies of apostolic life. Each of these forms serves as a particular spiritual sign, building up the life of the Church and ministering in various ways.

Religious sisters consecrate their lives to God by radically embracing the evangelical counsels through the public profession of vows in a religious institute. Religious sisters become members of their respective institutes and assume the institute’s common life, duties and charism for the good of the Church. The title “Sister,” religious habits, veils, or other visible signs of their religious consecration give witness to the religious sisters’ vows but also signal a separation from the world. The union with Christ that religious live out in their vocation on earth points to the future reality of all the faithful’s total union with God in Heaven.

Members of secular institutes consecrate their lives to God by professing the evangelical counsels. Their vows are received by the designated moderators of their particular institute. They live their consecration by remaining in the world, inserted among the laity and often work in secular environments. They share in the Church’s mission of evangelization by being Christian witnesses in the world, striving to sanctify the world from within.

To maintain their secular character, members of secular institutes do not wear religious signs or religious habits. They either live on their own or in small fraternal communities.

Women who consecrate their life of virginity through the rite of consecration by the diocesan bishop are consecrated virgins. Out of love for Christ and His Church, they pledge in the rite of consecration to live in a permanent state of virginity while living in the world among God’s people. Their permanent consecration serves as a sign of Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church, and makes them available to serve their brothers and sisters.

Consecrated virgins are also responsible for their financial well-being, housing and retirement. Consecrated virgins living in the world do not change their name with their consecration or use the title “Sister” or “Mother” to distinguish themselves from others.

Consecrated virgins living in the world do not wear a religious habit. In the rite of consecration, she receives a veil and a ring as signs of her espousal to Christ and dedication to His Church. Like a woman who enters into marriage, she does not wear the veil outside of the rite, but she wears the ring for the rest of her life, marking her as a bride of Christ. Consecrated virgins live out her vocation individually, but she may associate or even live with other consecrated virgins if suitable. They are responsible for their life of prayer, penance and apostolate, according to their gifts and abilities.

WHAT IS THE MISSION OF THE CONSECRATED VIRGIN?

The rite of consecration makes the consecrated virgin a sacred person, and her vocation makes the marriage covenant between Christ and His Bride the Church more visible. She resides in a diocese and participates in the redemptive mission of the Church by supporting the pastoral ministry of the local bishop and the Church through her attentive prayer and apostolic activity. Consecrated virgins are called to live ordinary lives like the Holy Family in Nazareth. They appear as ordinary people, going about their daily work, but they live in union with God and for the service of the Church.

WHO CAN BECOME A CONSECRATED VIRGIN?

Nuns and women living in the world can become consecrated virgins if they have never been married or in open violation of chastity. For women living in the world, they must display maturity and good character that displays a stable life of chastity offered in the Church for the service of others. Consecrated virgins living in the world can only be admitted to consecration by a diocesan bishop after an appropriate time of discernment and formation.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A CONSECRATED VIRGIN?

Appropriate time is needed to discern and prepare for this vocation. The Church guides this preparation through the instruction that the bishop and his delegate consult and follow when guiding women who aspire to be consecrated virgins. One to two years are suggested for a preparatory period for aspirants so they may take time to understand the vocation and allow themselves to be known by the bishop and his delegate or those appointed to this formation. At the end of this period, the aspirant may request that the bishop admit her to the formation program before consecration. This formation program typically is two to three years. During this time, the candidate continues to deepen her calling by meeting with the bishop and those assigned to her formation. The formation team will accompany the candidate and offer her a comprehensive plan to incorporate her areas of needed growth and life in the local church. At the end of this formation period, the candidate may approach the bishop with a request for admission to consecration.

WHAT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE DIOCESAN BISHOP FOR CONSECRATED VIRGINS?

The diocesan bishop is responsible for welcoming this vocation as a gift from the Holy Spirit and encouraging this vocation in his diocese. He is the one who determines if a woman should be accepted as a candidate for consecrated virginity in his diocese, and after an appropriate period of formation, he decides if she should be admitted to consecration.

As chief pastor of his diocese, the bishop consecrates the consecrated virgin and presents her to the diocese as a sign of the Church as the Bride of Christ. After the rite of consecration, the bishop has the ongoing duty of pastoral care for consecrated virgins in his diocese. He will have annual meetings with the consecrated virgins about their life of consecration and service in the Church.

HOW DOES A WOMAN BEGIN THE PROCESS OF DISCERNMENT FOR THIS VOCATION?

She must submit a letter of introduction and request to the local bishop of a diocese and work with him and those whom he delegates for the formation of consecrated virgins.

WHO IS THE CANDIDATE FOR CONSECRATED VIRGINITY IN THE DIOCESE OF ORANGE?

Dalia Zakhary! She approached Bishop Vann with the request to discern consecrated virginity within the Diocese of Orange in 2019. Let’s get to know her and understand how she was called to this extraordinary vocation.
 Parish: Christ Cathedral
 Place of Birth: Cairo, Egypt
 Something that shaped me: I was raised in a Coptic Orthodox family, where I received all the sacraments that shaped my heart in Jesus’ love. In 2007, I was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church to follow God’s call in missionary life.
 Favorite Bible Verse: It depends on my need. If I am searching for something, I go to the verse, “The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open.” (Rev. 3:7)

If I need help with something, I consider the verse, “I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From whence shall come my help? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121:1-2) In confronting my sins, I consider, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mt. 8:2)
 Fun Fact: Even though I have a car, I find taking the bus and being with people very relaxing.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST HEAR A CALL TO CONSECRATED LIFE?

When I was 15 years old, I lived in Egypt. There is an Egyptian tradition that families with teenage daughters start gathering things for their daughters’ marriages. My sister kept her things, knowing she would marry one day, but I used to give my things away because something in me told me the vocation to marriage was not the way for me.

HOW DID YOU KNOW GOD WAS CALLING YOU TO THIS VOCATION?

I heard God’s call by listening to Him in prayer, knocking at many doors, asking, searching and trying. God has revealed His will for me not all at once but one step at a time. I think this happens because God wants us to walk in faith and hold firm to Him. I know God put a thirst in my heart to belong to Him and serve others. I tried to fulfill it in many ways but was still thirsty. I tried to serve in the Church as a catchiest and later volunteered to serve the poor, but I was not fulfilled, and my heart was restless. When I read about the vocation to consecrated virginity in John Paul II’s “Vita Consecrata,” the document on Consecrated Life in the Church, something clicked and I knew God was calling me to this vocation.

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY OF A CONSECRATED VIRGIN LOOK LIKE?
Each consecrated virgin has her schedule according to her work and responsibilities. Her main focus is to keep Christ, her spouse, in her mind and heart throughout her day. Her life of prayer includes attending daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration, spiritual reading and uniting themselves to the prayer of the Church through Lauds and Vespers in the Liturgy of the Hours. She is also responsible for her own financial needs and therefore is employed in suitable work according to her abilities. She serves her local church by participating in ministries at her local parish or other areas of need.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST GRATEFUL FOR ABOUT YOUR VOCATION AS A CONSECRATED VIRGIN?
I am grateful for God’s mercy. God never gave up on me and kept calling me. I am also grateful that God listens to my heart’s desires and He has given to me in His own time and in His ways all that I wish. I am grateful for the Church and God’s people who supported me in my journey.

HOW DOES THIS CALL GIVE YOU JOY?
My joy is to be Jesus’ spouse. Belonging to Him is the core of my joy.

WHAT IS THE BISHOP’S ROLE IN YOUR VOCATION?
Bishop Kevin Vann received me as a father receives a beloved daughter. He showed me the beauty of God’s mercy by welcoming my vocation and supporting my discernment and formation by giving me his  time and spiritual guidance. He is my spiritual father. With such humility and deep love for the Church, he opens the door for me and others; may God reward him. As one of his sheep, I am assured of his care, direction and prayers. This is my message to all: Don’t be afraid to dream big with God; He will fulfill your heart’s desire.