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Gerard O’ConnellMarch 09, 2017
Kerry Alys Robinson and Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, speak during the Voices of Faith gathering March 8 at the Vatican. The event, held on International Women's Day, had the theme "Stirring the Waters-Making the Impossible Possible." (CNS photo/Massimiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo)Kerry Alys Robinson and Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, speak during the Voices of Faith gathering March 8 at the Vatican. The event, held on International Women's Day, had the theme "Stirring the Waters-Making the Impossible Possible." (CNS photo/Massimiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo)

The essential role of women in the work for peace and social justice was the message Sister Simone Campbell brought to the fourth annual celebration of International Women’s Day at the Vatican on March 8, jointly organized by Voices of Faith and the Jesuit Refugee Service.

A Sister of Social Service and executive director of Network, a U.S. Catholic social justice lobby, Sister Campbell praised Pope Francis' efforts to bring the plight of the poor and the marginalized to the attention of the church.

"We rejoice in 'Laudato Si''; that [says] care for the earth and care for the poor come from the same reality of exploitation of both and that until we learn to end the exploitation, we will not care for those at the margins, we will not care for our earth,” she said.

Highlighting four virtues young women need to make their voices heard, Sister Campbell said that joy and a holy curiosity to "listen, ask questions and learn from others" were important.

She also encouraged women to engage in "sacred gossip," explaining the need to share the stories they have learned from others so that those stories "can multiply" in others.

Today, she said, she is seeking to “take the Gospel to Capitol Hill on health care” and emphasized that “the only way forward is that we work together.”

Father Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Jesuits, delivered the keynote address at the conference, calling for the development not only of “a profound theology of women,” as Pope Francis said, but also of “an ecclesiology…that includes women.”

“If we are honest,” he told some 100 Catholic women activists from all continents attending the conference, “we acknowledge that the fullness of women’s participation in the church has not yet arrived.”

Father Sosa: “If we are honest, we acknowledge that the fullness of women’s participation in the church has not yet arrived.”

Father Sosa argued that a deeper appreciation of a theology and ecclesiology of women can “change the image, the concept and the structures of the church” and enable it “to become the People of God, as was proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council.” Indeed, he said, “women’s creativity can open new ways of being a Christian community of disciples, men and women together, witnesses and preachers of the Good News.”

Other presenters included four women refugees, among them Dr. Mirelle Twaygira. As a child she had escaped from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and had, thanks to her grandfather, found refuge in Malawi. There she was educated and was later given a scholarship to study medicine in Beijing. She now works as a doctor assisting refugees in Malawi.

Two sisters, Nagham and Shadan, also spoke. After escaping the war in Syria, they made the hazardous crossing by boat from Turkey to Greece and now live in Belgium where they help fellow refugees.

The fourth testimony came from Marguerite Barankitse, a Tutsi from Burundi who saved Hutu children during the terrible interethnic killings there, and for this was threatened by both sides. She continues her faith-inspired work helping others.

“Stirring the Waters — Making the Impossible Possible” was the title of this year’s conference, which focused on ways women can work for peace through nonviolence. In the second part of the event, Kerry Alys Robinson, executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, moderated a three-person international panel that discussed “Building Effective Leadership for Peace.”

“You have to be courageous when you see injustice, you have to stir the waters.”

Flavia Agnes, a Catholic activist and women’s rights lawyer from Mumbai, India, and co-founder of the Majlis Legal Centre, told how after experiencing violence in her own marriage she decided to work to break “the cycle of violence” affecting women. She studied and became a lawyer and has since dedicated her life to helping women and girls who suffer violence in various forms, inside and outside their home. “You have to be courageous when you see injustice, you have to stir the waters,” said this woman who has helped 50,000 women and girls.

Dr. Scilla Elworthy from the United Kingdom, recalled that after her disappointing experience at the 1982 U.N. conference on nuclear arms, she decided to do something to promote peace. She went on to open a dialogue with those who make decisions regarding nuclear arms (including government and military officials and arms producers).

She founded the Oxford Research Group that for 30 years now has been building bridges for global security. She told the conference that she is really encouraged by the fact that today many young people, deeply concerned at what is happening in the world, are coming to ask her what they can do to change things.

All three panelists emphasized the urgent need for the church to change and to fully include women in decision-making roles.

In his address, Father Sosa focused on three concepts: resilience, cooperation and inclusion. He highlighted the resilience and courage of women in situations of conflict whom he had met while working for 10 years on the Venezuela-Colombia border. He was especially impressed by how they networked together in the face of adversity.


He next emphasized the vital need for collaboration between women and men in working for justice in a world where one in every 113 people is an asylum seeker or displaced person. “Many of us are looking at the world through the prism of xenophobia and narrow-mindedness these days, a prism which seems to feed on discord and marginalization,” he said.

Father Sosa recalled that political commentator Cokie Roberts, writing in America, had underlined the need for women to be involved in the public sphere. Ms. Roberts, the daughter of two former members of the U.S. Congress, put the matter succinctly: “Congress needs more women."

Father Sosa cited St. Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” And, he added: “We have more than started. We will not stop.”

The Venezuelan-born Father Sosa, who is close to the pope, explained that “by bringing Vatican II to life and incorporating the poor into our church,” Francis “is giving women’s voices more opportunity to speak and be counted.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Luis Gutierrez
7 years 3 months ago

Good to hear about this meeting, but it sounds like condescending window dressing as long as ordination to the priesthood is not even mentioned. The Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not essentially patriarchal. The Theology of the Body can be readily extended to support the ordination of women. Please consider the following, on the sacramentality of the human body, male and female:

The Body is a Sacrament of the Person

I would be grateful to get guidance on how to pursue this matter further.

Franklin Uroda
7 years 3 months ago

Okay, I'm a man. But the best people I've known are women, starting with my mother and the females in my family; the teaching Sisters; my wife, etc. When women have crazy ideas like "abortion for all" or polygamy, lesbianism is okay, etc., I don't much back them up. I respect the long tradition of the Catholic Church and the teachings of the Popes-ancient and recent-but like I said, the best people I've known in my life have been women. Some priests have been great, but the overwhelming "Imitations of Jesus" have been women.

Jim Lein
7 years 3 months ago

It's time, at least, for more inclusive language. As in the creed, where some of us stray from the approved text of "for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven" and say "for us and for our salvation God..." and instead of "and became man" we say "and became human." I say it quietly and blend in. In other parishes, I've heard some say it more obviously. One of the Psalms says something like "sons are a blessing." One recent translation I think the Benedictines use says "children are a blessing." This really opens up the word of God, especially to us parents of daughters. Why continue clumsy masculine language? It sounds really off, inappropriate and even demeaning when you hear women using it.

Lisa Weber
7 years 3 months ago

I find it strange that Sister Campbell wants to take the Gospel to Capitol Hill on the issue of health care when the bishops opposed the Affordable Care Act because of its provisions for contraception. We do need a dialogue about an ecclesiology that includes women. Jesus indicates that women are to be included in governance of the church community. He also indicates how they are to be included. If we look at the Gospel stories more closely, we will know how to proceed.

Leonard Villa
7 years 3 months ago

My reaction to this was: this is so tired and worn out. Much of this sounds like an echo-chambers for secular feminism, pc, the agenda of the secular world. The real crisis of men and boys in the Church and Western society is being ignored which is result of the noxious secular feminism and pc that pervades the culture, the corridors of many church bureaucracies, and academe. It's more of the same: trying to make the Church and Catholicism sing to the tunes of political correctness which proclaims that equality means men and women are identical. In This is the agenda of the anti-church in its roots gnostic.

Martin Meehan
7 years 3 months ago

As a male I am alarmed to read that I am in crisis and that my needs are being ignored. Having a higher income than a woman in a comparable job, having more opportunity for advancement than woman in the job field, being represented by an overwhelming male Congress and executive office, and seeing almost only males in powerful roles in my church.......I thought I had it all.

G Peterson
7 years 3 months ago

Martin I am glad to hear that things are good for you. Praise the Lord! But without denigrating the gifts of women and without ignoring the ways in which the Church often fails to let women speak and lead, if we are to be honest we must acknowledge that many boys and men are systematically excluded from full participation in the world today.

Speaking primarily of North America, because I live here, I see the following: young women outnumber young men in high school graduation and college graduation nearly 60-40; energetic, experiential learning styles are disfavored by K-12 educators, resulting in disproportionate punishment and denigration of boys in school; we dishonor vocational training, the trades and physical labor; there are many special STEM programs just for girls while boys are disproportionately viewed as fit for special education classes and pharmaceutical behavioral control; while there is much talk about women not earning as much as men, those statistics are deliberately constructed to ignore how many hours are worked by men vs. women -- even President Obama's Council on Women and Girls found that women on average now make more per hour than men and Claudia Goldin of the Harvard University Economics Department concluded in her research that in comparable jobs women make at least 95% of what men make; as for a male Congress and executive (or Parliament and PM) those men do not seem to care about under-educated, over-incarcerated boys and young men or unemployed or underemployed men, or men's health care -- there are more campaign donations and more press to be had in addressing women's issues; year in and year out 75% of suicides are men but it is forbidden to have male-focused suicide prevention programs; a disproportionate number of substance abusers are men but male-focused substance abuse prevention and intervention programs are frowned upon; black men are disproportionately likely to be the victims of gun violence, but the Black Lives Matter movement was seized by "intersectionalists" who insisted that BLM's goals and approaches must be viewed through the eyes of radical black feminists; when President Obama launched My Brother's Keeper the criticism poured down that the program needed to be re-directed away from addressing the needs of boys and young men of color, and so it was; prostate cancer has nearly an identical incidence as breast cancer but receives a small fraction of the funding for breast cancer research; more than 50 years after the introduction of the birth control pill for women there is no safe, effective, reversible method of birth control for men (condoms by the way fail 17% of the time in ordinary, as-directed, use); early fatherhood and the paternity-payments system that jails men who do not make child support payments on time forces many young men of color to drop out of high school to take minimum-wage jobs just to stay out of jail.

Surely, Martin, we can care for our brothers as much as we love our sisters?

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