Responding to Pope Francis’ Call – “…More incisive female presence”
The changing colors of nature in the fall season reflect the process of letting go of life as it is in the Summer in order to give birth to new life in the coming Spring. Adding to this Fall spirit of transformation, on the weekend of October 7-9, about 260 people around the country gathered together in Ferdinand, IN, for the “Women of the Church” conference. Among the many participants were women religious from various congregations, priests and seminarians, and young lay men and women. A large group of seminarians was very active in the event by helping with transportation, food and dinner. The conference was held in response to Pope Francis’ call for “a more incisive female presence” in the Catholic Church.
Strength of the Past. Hope for Tomorrow
The conference theme was “Strength of the Past. Hope for Tomorrow” and was sponsored by the Benedictine Sisters of Ferdinand and St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, IN. The conference started with songs and an inspiring reflection by Kerry Robinson, the Executive Director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. She used the Scripture passage from the Letter to the Philippians 1:3-11 to reflect on trust, hope, struggle, courage and justice. The opening ritual included also the sharing of a letter from Pope Francis to the whole gathering of conference attendees.
The keynote speakers shared the impact and contributions of women to the Church and society in the past, at the present time, and expressed hope for the future. Speaking on “Working for a Better World: God, Neighbor, Self,” was Dr. Carolyn Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. Talking on “Catholic Women and Leadership” was Dr. Kathleen Sprows, Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. The final keynote speaker, Dominican Sister of Peace Mary Catherine Hilkert, OP, and Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, offered a moving presentation entitled “Go and Tell: The Testimony of Women and the Faith of the Church.”
Living Authentically in Light of the Gospel
As I listened to the presentations, I realized that a common thread among these women of the church was how they lived authentically in light of the Gospel. This authentic way of living became the foundation for their actions. Their actions reflected their intellect, wisdom, and courage as they preached the Good News with confidence, trust, and joy. Despite the struggles, challenges, and rejections encountered from some church leaders or society, these women continue to preach the Gospel message. Their influences and spirit continue to spread throughout the world and church bringing hope, transmitting wisdom and offering inspiration for future generations.
The actions of these women leaders and other women in the Church are exactly what the Pope re-affirmed in his letter, when he said, “What would the church be like without you? Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel!” Women of the Church have always shown determination to live out Gospel values and will continue to do so into the future.