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Women with plenty to tell the Vatican

VATICAN (SE): The Vatican sponsored its first Women Consultation Group to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8. The first gathering was made up of 37 women from a variety of fields including medicine, journalism, theology and politics, among others.

Stefania Brancaccio Coelmo told Rome Reports that the pope must listen to their voices if he is going to really renew the ecology of gender relations. “The pope has asked for it and we are here with our point of view to renew the world.”

Iranian theologian, Shahrazad Houshmand, added, “We cannot deny that there is still a culture of discrimination. It is true that Europe has made great strides, but since there is still violence targeting gender in Italy at a statistically high level today, it means that we still live in a culture where women are believed to be at the service of men.”

While she admitted that the pope has always insisted on the importance of respecting women and according them the same dignity as men, she said that the people around him and in wider society have a long way to go.

Actor, Nancy Brilly, said that she does not have an experience of being considered an equal in the same way as other actors have been.

“I wish there was a neutral definition, because often when presenting an actress, the first thing said of her is, ‘The beautiful lady who enters or the beautiful girl.’ No, that’s not the most important thing. It is also true, but after there is a depth, which I consider much more interesting,” she commented.

The group is expected to meet three times a year to discuss topics related to women within the male culture of the Church, religion, work and youth culture.

The group agreed that young people are important in the equation, as they do have the ability to change culture and the world.

The group has been brought together by Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, to add a woman’s voice to the all-male Pontifical Council for Culture.

“These women have the mission of judging, analysing our activity, and above all, making suggestions,” Cardinal Ravasi said at a press conference held in Rome on March 6.

“The dicastery is concerned with very delicate issues which, when studied by them, it becomes evident just how important the feminine perspective is,” the cardinal said.

He listed robotics to rare degenerative illnesses in children, but also stressed the important role women play in interreligious dialogue and conversation between believers and non-believers, saying they offer advice that is less mechanical than what men churn out.

The group is also of mixed faith, with Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and Jewish representatives from Italy, the United States of America, Ireland, Iran, Chile and Turkey.

They are also a mixed group professionally with full time mothers and working mothers, as well as politicians and corporate high-fliers, in addition to religious women and the president of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations, Maria Giovanna Ruggeri.

“I think that it is important that the real life of women is included in the consultation, which includes entrepreneurs, actors, philosophers, university professors,” she said. “But also the daily life of women in a small village in Africa or Asia has to be included. It is something many might have heard of, but it is a reality they don’t know first-hand,” Crux quoted her as saying.

She added that although the role women play in the Church is not officially recognised, if they left it is hard to know what would remain.

“But I believe Pope Francis is urging the Church to listen to women more… The challenge is that Pope Francis has to be heard too!” she said.

The World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations has a spot at the United Nations (UN) and takes part in discussions on women’s role in society.

Although Ruggeri conceded that there is a push in the UN to take control of life, she insisted that life is a gift that has to be respected, explaining that while it is complicated, it is also important that the voice of the many women around the world who don’t think like that is heard.

Emma Madigan, the ambassador from Ireland to the Vatican, said that she believes this move by the Vatican is courageous, 

Houshmand spoke about the central role that Mary plays both in Christian and Islamic scriptures, defining the consultation as both a natural, yet delayed birth and as a revolutionary act.

She denied that the group is feminist or exclusivist, but does think that the voice of women can do marvellous good.

Interestingly, the first journal of the consultation was not women’s issues, but youth, economy and masculine culture.

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