Reflection on Council of Australia Catholic Women Colloquium 2019
There is something special when 165 women gather together. The Spirit is present. It was present in the joys and sorrows, the griefs and challenges of the people of God as women shared their stories and experiences of leadership in the church at the Stirring the Waters Colloquium.
“Pope Francis has said “a deeper theology of women is needed” And all the time a deeper theology is starring us in the face. It does not require much digging, just look to Christ. Transcending the norms of his life and culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. As we look to Christ… it is natural to ask ourselves how much of this message had been heard and acted upon? Women are best qualified to answer the question.”
In theme of the colloquium we just need to allow the Spirit to stir.
As a person who is grateful for, and deeply appreciative of the presence of many women in my life, mentoring leadership and reflecting now on how I may do the same for others. Women seem to have an innate ability to empower others. So, it was great to see at Stirring the Waters young women leading and guiding – stepping up to leadership, guiding the conference proceedings and giving keynotes.
A poignant and positive note of the conference was when Dr. Sandy Cornish asked the women gathered to show their hands if they had a masters or doctorate in an area of faith or theology. The room filled with raised arms. The challenge to empower each one to bring their gift to the church. Wise older women with wisdom gifts and the capacity to challenge, listen and affirm.
Women are practical and so the lived experience of women is valued and appreciated. Workshops on women on the margins – Indigenous, migrant women and homeless women – touched my heart, and stirred a continued commitment to work for the dignity of all. Their strength and resilience to journey on inspiring us.
One of the many highlights of the conference for me was the presentation of Dr Michelle Connolly RSJ.
Michelle broke open Mark’s Gospel from the perspective of women. Who and where were they? Were they in fact even named, and why? What did or didn’t they say? What did they do? Who spoke for them, and why? What metaphors do they leave us with today?
A final practical challenge from Michelle as we walk the way towards the Plenary Council together was to not forget to use our eyes and our voice, our very presence in the church in this place and time. Mark’s Gospel seen in a new way.
I came away with the words of Mary McAleese’s 2018 Voices of Faith presentation echoing in my mind and heart. “Failure to include women as equals throughout the Church’s root and branch infrastructure, including its decision making has deprived the Church of fresh and innovative discernment. It has left the church flapping about awkwardly on one wing when God gave us two. We are entitled to hold our church leaders to account for this and we will insist on our right to do so.”
Every one of us from the Diocese of Parramatta shared that when we named what diocese we were from, invariably the reply was, “oh, you have a wonderful Bishop.”
In the language of the colloquium, I was hearing them say, one who allows the stirrings of the Spirit, and values the gifts and contribution of all as equals.
I can say that we all returned to Sydney committed to continuing to action the stirrings of the Spirit.
Sr Louise McKeogh FMA is the Social Justice Coordinator and Caritas Diocesan Director of the Diocese of Parramatta.