ROME — Approximately 100 women from around the world gathered in Rome Oct. 10-12 to discuss the “feminine genius” described by Blessed Pope John Paul II 25 years ago.
The study seminar was hosted by the women’s section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and focused on the theme “God Entrusts the Human Being to the Woman.”
Experts in various disciplines, ranging from medicine and law to academia and art, arrived from 24 different countries to reflect on John Paul II’s writings on women, particularly his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women).
Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, celebrated the opening Mass of the seminar, saying, “It is in this context of serious anthropological crisis where humankind wants to ‘go it alone,’ and the criteria of humanity have become uncertain and extremely confusing and fluid, that we Christians are called to defend the nature and dignity of the human person, women and men.”
“As Christians in today’s world, we are called in a special way to safeguard humanity. By means of this seminar that starts today, we wish to assume this responsibility,” he continued. “In other words, we wish to safeguard what it is to be a human being, to be human beings who are God’s creatures, women and men.”
Helen Alvaré, professor of law at George Mason University and founder of Women Speak for Themselves, spoke on how ideas about women have developed since the publication of “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” in 1988 and how the Church might respond to those changes.
“We have had a more or less ‘natural experiment’ over the last several decades, allowing us to observe what happens when a substantial number of women can choose how they wish to spend their lives,” she explained.
The “preliminary results” show that “women still wish for the most part to marry and to have children” and that “women are happy to exercise their talents outside the home as well as in it.” Moreover, “when they are mothers, most women prefer to work part-time or in cycles responsive to their children’s needs.”
“Furthermore,” Alvaré went on, “modern empirical data is confirming the beneficial effects, not only of attending to the importance of stable relationships in personal lives, but of participating in labor imbued with meaning as human service.”
Women “work in the classic ‘caring-professions’ — teacher, nurse, social worker, etc. — and are now adding to that list lawyers, doctors and politicians.”
Women’s Mission of Service
What might this mean for the Church?
“Women seem naturally suited to communicate Pope Francis’ stunning calls to re-energize the Church’s mission to serve the dispossessed of this world,” she proposed.
“Women’s natural gifts … as well as their centuries of experience of work directly with the marginalized … make them natural leaders and communicators in all of these areas,” concluded Alvaré.
Her words were immediately verified by women from around the globe, who began a lively discussion on how to better serve those individuals and families of the world who struggle with situations such as poverty or abuse.
Priscilla Kuye, the first and only female president of the Nigerian Bar Association, noted the need to encourage families to give girls, as well as boys, an education — a practice that is not often embraced in the more rural parts of her home country.
Jocelyne Khoueiry, co-founder of the Catholic feminine movement “La Libanaise-Femme du 31 Mai,” spoke of her involvement in the John Paul II Center of Social and Cultural Services in Jounieh, Lebanon. The center was begun not only to help alleviate poverty, but to address the “psycho-social” needs of individuals, couples and families wounded by many years of war and political unrest.
Many others joined the conversation with questions or contributions about their own experiences.
The seminar featured many different presentations and panel discussions on topics such as “What is the outcome of the sexual revolution 40 years on?” and “Legal protection of life and family.” The three-day seminar concluded with a meeting with Pope Francis on Saturday.
Seminar papers will be posted on the council’s website, www.laici.va.