Vatican forum calls for church, world to heed women's voices

By Junno Arocho Esteves

CITY (CNS) — Women and men from around the globe gathered for an event inside Vatican
City that celebrated and encouraged the need for women’s voices to be heard in
the church and in the world.

annual Voices of Faith conference was held March 8, coinciding with the
celebration of International Women’s Day.

to its website, the Voices of Faith event “provides what has been a notably
absent — the voices of Catholic women and their capacity to exercise authority
within and outside the church and faith that emerges not from abstract
theological ideals but in confronting the reality of the poor.”

event featured several guest speakers, including Dr. Mireille Twayigira, a survivor of the Rwandan
genocide, and twin sisters Nagham and Shadan, whose last name was not given; the two are refugees
from Homs, Syria, who work with Jesuit Refugee Services helping others forced
to flee violence in their homeland.

Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, superior
general of the Society of Jesus, said in the opening address for the conference, that women
and men of faith need to stand together in today’s difficult political and
social climate.

he said, gives the audacity “to seek the impossible, as nothing is
impossible for God.”

participation of women is also necessary in positions of leadership, especially
in areas of conflict such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Colombia, he said.

it is “hard to imagine peace, can we have the audacity to dream to bring
peace to these countries?” he asked.

the examples of the need for the voice of women in the political spectrum,
Father Sosa cited German Chancellor Angela Merkel who “has been the most
courageous and visionary leader in Europe.”

had the compassion to look at those who were in need and the vision to see that
they would make a contribution to Germany and Europe,” he said.

also cited the example of Ellen
Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, for bringing peace and
reconciliation “to her war-torn country in a way that for most men would
be impossible.”

Pope Francis has voiced his support for broader participation of women’s voices
in the decisions of the Catholic Church, Father Sosa acknowledged “that
the fullness of women’s participation in the church has not yet arrived.”

have to work harder to develop a profound theology of women,” he said.
However, their “inclusion — which will bring the gift of resilience and
collaboration — remains stymied.”

the presenters at an afternoon panel discussion was Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service
and executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization
that sponsored the “Nuns on the Bus” tour in the United States.

Sister Campbell explained it was
“essential for women to work for peace” and social justice,
particularly for the poor and the marginalized, and she praised Pope Francis’ efforts to bring
their plight to the forefront of Catholic social teaching.

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. And that is what moves me in such a deep way,” she said.

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” was important.

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.

Sister Campbell
also called on women to pray so that they discover what their role is within
the body of Christ.

a moment of prayer, Sister
Campbell said she “realized that my role is to be stomach acid in the body
of Christ.”

is because I’m called to nourish, to break down food, release energy. But I can
be toxic in large quantities so I need to be contained. But if we each do our
part, then the body is whole and it all gets done. So, I urge you to do your
part,” she said.

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Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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