PHILADELPHIA, July 31 (UPI) -- The United States Association of Consecrated Virgins is meeting in and around Philadelphia this week, hoping to draw bishops, priests, spiritual directors and virgin candidates from around the world to discuss the niche Catholic vocation.
The 2014 Convocation of Consecrated Virgins began on July 28 in Malvern, Pa., and goes until August 1.
Potential consecrated virgins participate in a traditional, albeit physically groomless, wedding ceremony -- performed by a priest and often with the "brides" wearing white gowns. Consecrated virgins pledge their lives to Christ as their "husband," by saying, "I offer this gift of the virginity that Christ has given to me, I offer it back."
"She no longer belongs to herself when she's consecrated," Marie Beccaloni, a 29-year-old consecrated virgin from Chicago explained the Philadelphia Inquirer. "She belongs to Christ."
"'Are you married?' - it's a common question," 58-year-old virgin Judith Stegman said.
"I say, 'Well, I have a ring. I'm a consecrated virgin in the Catholic Church, and that means I'm married to Christ.'"
The vocation is rare, with only 215 consecrated virgins in the United States and roughly 3,000 worldwide. Though recognized by the church, usually expected to attend daily mass and installed at specific parishes, consecrated virgins are not financially supported by the church unless they hold a parish or archdiocese job.
Linda Ann Long, 70, of St. Paul, Minn., worked as a cardiologist until retiring, and told the Philadelphia Daily News that she has no regrets about her life without sex.
"I can tell you that I've seen all sorts of conditions of men in my 44 years of medical practice. And surveying their bodies ... God has been most gracious to me."
The U.S. Assoc. of Consecrated Virgins has smart, funny members from docs to CPAs and they range in age f/29-79. pic.twitter.com/AjSU3wkEax— Stephanie Farr (@FarFarrAway) July 30, 2014