Reflection on Council of Australia Catholic Women Colloquium 2019
The very title of the conference was provocative.
What would be the outcome of 200 Catholic women and a few men gathered at a conference in Adelaide for two days change, endorse, affirm and challenge in the Catholic Church?
Most importantly, it was a gathering that gave participants and those who they represented, an opportunity to express themselves amongst other committed women Catholics on the future of the Church.
Meeting the women, it was notable that these women were passionate and committed to the Church and in private and public conversations with them in groups and individually, there was an underlining disappointment of their role in the Church.
This conference was an opportunity for women to promote the power and purpose of being in Church ministry in whatever way women have been called. The keynotes provided a platform and a launch for deep discussion on the presenters’ thinking and experience.
In particular, Dr Michele Connolly’s presentation on Inclusivity and Synodality highlighted the path and the presence of women from the New Testament. The presentation presented challenging insights into how women were portrayed in the historical context of the New Testament. Following this presentation, there was the challenge to consider whether the role of women portrayed in the New Testament is same or different in this 21st century?
Debra Zanella, Keynote on Mission, Mercy and Pope Francis, challenged the gathering through her experience of working with the vulnerable to reflect and consider how, as a faithful community, we respond to those who are vulnerable within our communities.
Her personal stories and experience brought to the group the faces and reality of those who are marginalised. Many of the women present were also able to share how they express their passion for others by reaching out in serviceable works to those who are marginalised. It was inspirational to be amongst women who are actively supporting those who are at the margins.
Frequently in the discussion groups there was talk of reform so that women could take a more active and decision-making role within the Church. For some, there was a sense that women were the marginalised of the Church. This wasn’t everyone’s experience.
So where to from here? How do women have their voice heard and responded to?
Ultimately, my feeling following the conference was a cry from this group for greater inclusivity. A parallel feeling was a hope that the Plenary Council of 2020 will hear these voices and in synodality, we will walk together in a new path that is inclusive and embracive of all.
The imagery of the pouring of the waters that we each brought from our own home to share at this conference highlighted the diversity of the participants and once we poured our water into the common bowl, we were as one.
That is the power of the conference. Unity, commitment, deep love of Jesus brings hope to a new future.
Sue Walsh is the Deputy Director of Schools and Director Learning of the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.