How do women of faith reconcile their beliefs with their involvement in society? This question was at the heart of an interfaith conference titled “Women and Public Engagement: a Faith Perspective,” hosted Thursday at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.
The conference featured four interventions by Islamic, Jewish, Hindi, and Catholic women scholars, each speaking on the role of women in family and society as understood within the context of their respective faiths.
These speakers were Dr. Siti Musdah Mulia, a research professor of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, who highlighted the rights of women within the Islamic tradition, specifically in Indonesia; Mrs. Bhartiben Tailor, president of the Hindu Forum of Europe (first woman to be elected to this position) and Member of the European Council of Religious Leaders, who spoke on woman’s rights in the context of the Hindu tradition; and Dr. Tova Hartman, professor of Gender Studies and Education at Bar Ilan University of Ramat Gan, and co-founder of Shma Koleinu, who shared her interpretation of the role of women within Orthodox Judaism.
Jane Adolphe, associate professor of Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida, who works also for the Vatican Secretariat of State, spoke about woman’s liberty in society from the Catholic perspective. The aim of her intervention, she told ZENIT, was to speak about women’s role within the Church by drawing from her own personal experiences, highlighting “the dignity of the vocation of women in the teachings of the Church, because there are so few people who understand where the Church is coming from on this issue.”
Adolphe focused, in particular, on what “Pope John Paul II has said about women, and their ability to humanize all sectors of society.” She explained how women “are entrusted with the good of the person in a special way, and that’s tied to their ability to bear children; so, there’s this special love for the person, and spiritual human values.”
She noted how there are trends within modern society which are hostile to the idea of the family: such trends challenge, for instance, the indissolubility of the marriage contract, arguing that the elements of that contract can be changed at will. “I want to emphasize that the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic faith builds upon that understanding of natural marriage, and that’s really angled through some of the elements of that, and that women of faith have a special role in promoting an authentic understanding of marriage because of what’s going on in society, where it’s really detrimental to children.”
Tying the discussion in with the Year of Faith, Adolphe sought to address the idea of women and faith within the context of “evangelization, proclamation, and dialogue.”
“The Church has some beautiful teachings and statements of those that are really working in this area in interreligious dialogue on a daily basis,” she said. “The key point for me is that it’s respect for the inherent dignity for each person in one’s search for the truth.”
In bringing women of different faiths together for this conference, Adolphe said: “There’s a mutual, reciprocal exchange of information and friendship, and getting to know one another – but the core is to seek the truth. And the seeds of the truth in everyone’s different traditions, cultures and religions. And that’s what we’re doing here. I go in and after talking about those principles I hope to say: ‘These are the principles, but I’ve actually seen these in action.'”
In sharing her own personal experience, having grown up in a Catholic family where her parents, who have been married for 60 years, had seven children, she said: “I want to show in a practical level what I lived, and then I want to talk a little bit about dialogue in society, and how those principles I’ve learned in the family, and from Catholic teaching, I’ve infused into my work.
“At the core of my work has been the promotion of universal human dignity. At the core of human rights, it’s a really key point for dialogue.”