On Saturday, 8 March, the Vatican celebrated International Woman’s Day by giving voice to some of the “hidden” women of the world.
An initiative of Voices of Faith, the event featured the personal stories of nearly a dozen women from various walks of life; among them were educators, contemplative sisters, a lawyer, and a mother of nine children.
“We were looking for stories which were personal and touching about women,” said Chantal Götz, executive director of the Fidel Götz Foundation (FGF), sponsor of VoF. She told ZENIT “the priority was to have invisible women to make them more visible, not someone who has already [received] an award, who is famous, or maybe was promoting herself.”
Götz said that the inspiration for this event, which was broadcast live via the internet from the Vatican’s San Carlo Cinema, came from a desire to share the stories of the many women she encounters in her work.
“We have a lot of hidden women,” she said, “but we also have a lot of courageous women, and those are the ones I am looking for.”
The choice of locale for the event, Götz explained, was also symbolic. “I had in mind this cinema because it is a symbol of communication,” she said. “It’s a symbol of the heart of the Vatican. With the stories of the heart of these women it’s somehow fit all together.”
One of the stories was shared by Katrine Camelleri, a lawyer and assistant director of Malta’s Jesuit Refugee Service. During her talk, Camelleri spoke about the “walls” she comes up against in her work, and “what the implications of these walls are for the people who come up against them.” Citing the Lampedusa tragedy as an example, she explained how many of those killed in the shipwreck would have qualified for visas, but had not been able to obtain them on account of bureaucracy.
The aim of her talk, she told ZENIT, was “to explain why I do this work, and what keeps me going in this job, which can be quite difficult… but also, maybe, to raise a bit of awareness about the realities that I see on a daily basis.”
“In our modern world we have created a lot of ways of connecting virtually,” she said, “but we have stopped communicating in many ways… We have stopped reaching out to people. We really encounter people a lot less. In attitude, we need to make the step, reach out, meet with people. That’s what’s important. We need to have an interest in the other, and care about what’s happening to the other.”
“Like with everything else, it starts from within, so it’s about an internal attitude. I think this is where we have to start from.”
Another testimony came from Sr. Azizet Kidane, an Eritrean nun with the Comboni Missionary Sisters, who works with victims of human trafficking. A volunteer for Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, she spoke candidly of the encounters she has had with victims of trafficking and torture, graphically highlighting the suffering many of them have endured.
Speaking with ZENIT, Sr. Azizet called for women to strive for equality, thereby embracing the complementarity between men and women. “When we are complimentary,” she said, “we will produce more, we will give fruits, and we will make a lot of difference to our world, and to ourselves, the Church, to communities, and to our world.”
She also called on women to move beyond the pain they have experienced in their lives. “We need really to come up and see the future bright,” she said.
“I really want all women to reconcile with their memories, to reconcile with their past, and to be women of courage and hope.”
While the primary aim of the gathering was to bring to the forefront women who are contributing to society, Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary for the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (which co-sponsored the event), noted how the contributors did not “so much speak of their experience as women but as people of the Church, people who contribute to the ministry and to the life of the Church, and some, anyways, who happen to be women.”
“These are people who are talking about taking the Gospel, and taking particularly the social justice dimensions of the Gospel, into places where the lack of social justice intrinsically is connected to the lack of respect for women,” he said. The speakers “were not ideological, but essentially driven by a desire to help, not just women but to help society. We’re seeing ways and examples of things that can be done.”
Andrea Hatter Bramson, president of the Loyola Foundation, which partners with the FGF, said the diverse stories created something akin to a “spider web.” “These things don’t look like they touch until they actually follow the lines and realize there is a relationship between those who defend their country and those who seek refuge from a country,” she said.
The various testimonies demonstrated “the relationship between those who suffer the indignities of human trafficking through slavery, and those who seek refuge, and those who are defenders, and those who also find, in their contemplative life, how all of these things – through their energy and through their prayer – can be changed and can be better.”
One of those attending the event was Kerry Robinson, executive director of the US-based National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. “We need to pay attention to the stories of others,” she told ZENIT, noting that the stories of women are often not placed at the forefront. “If we ignore that rich tapestry, we are all impoverished. In a preferential way – not just today, but every day moving forward – I think it is incumbent upon us as members of the Church to identify and lift up those voices of the Church, of women in particular, that we don’t frequently hear.”
“It’s not that any of the participants here want to trumpet themselves,” Robinson continued, “but the stories that they have to tell enrich our faith. All of us, women and men.”