Ana Cristina Leitão

53 years old; language teacher; Lisbon
Institute of Our Lady of Schoenstatt

What experiences have shaped you as a woman?

From my mother I learned very clearly what it means to be a woman. She conveyed fundamental values ​​to me: faith, she opened up the meaning of life to me; she emphasized personal dignity, respect, strength, motherhood (physical and mental), making a home, striving for truth and acting in a sincere manner. As I grew up, I always felt I was valued in my own personality, in the knowledge that we do not grow alone and that our balance comes from complementation. Due to the fact that my parents belonged to the founding generation of Schoenstatt in Portugal, I and my five siblings grew up in Schoenstatt spirituality and in the world of its ideals and values. On 11 September 1980 we consecrated ourselves to Our Lady in the original shrine; in the covenant with her we always experienced her motherly presence in the course of our lives.

Where in your life have you experienced God?

In connection with a strong experience as a family in which the father and mother were the main focus, I was able to experience the presence of a God who is close to us, a God who is a Father and who cares for us. This has been my experience since I was a child. The living experience of the family and the home shrine gave me this closeness to the supernatural world and, moreover, the daily experience of great respect for the freedom of each individual, so that everyone could pray in front of our image of Mary (or not).

During the most difficult stages of our youthful development, I saw the faithfulness with which my parents prayed for each and every one of us, even if they could not always be with us. This precious experience stays alive in my everyday life and in my personal home shrine. The experience of a God who is father and mother, who loves us dearly and who respects our freedom and our decisions: this was the living experience that I was allowed to have with my own parents.

What do you see as the challenge for women today?

We are mainly called to be living witnesses of what characterizes us as women, to embody a mission that no one can take on in our place.
In a world that suffers from thirst and is scarred by loneliness, our task is to build bridges, to create bonds and connections between people. In the areas where we work and live, we stand up for human dignity and fraternity and radiate motherliness. We want to be mindful and strong, to convey peace and joy so that many can have a tangible experience of God, who is present and close to us and a mother who educates us, protects us and accompanies us in all life situations.

What would you like to change through your life in this world?

Every day we experience first-hand what it means to stand by our convictions and pay the price of standing alone because we are “swimming against the current”. In the power of the covenant of love we are sent as instruments into a world full of contradictions. As it struggles for longer life expectancy, it is killing life and destroying the planet. It is making technical progress, but it seems that it is creating more and more human “islands”, supporting wars and at the same time demanding peace. Because of our heart shrine, we can act differently, we can offer the graces of home, spiritual transformation and mission to all the people with whom we are connected in our working world, in the family, in social relationships and in our apostolic tasks.

While we consciously create living spaces, places of dialogue and meeting-places in which others can relax and grow, we live and fulfill the mission of 31 May. We are aware that the way in which we do this leads people to God – even unbelieving people who need living signs, places and hearts to build a more humane and fraternal world.

Personally, I can say that a much of my work and in the education and formation of young people and adults, be it on a professional or apostolic level, demands that I create spaces for encounter and help others to find ways. I am aware that they also challenge me to grow and to live in accordance with the values ​​that I believe in. In the joy and suffering of the cross, I experience myself as a child of our father, Father Kentenich, and I experience day by day what it means to take on his mission and give your life for it.