Women as witnesses to the joy of the gospel

At their recent colloquium, the Council for Australian Catholic Women asked delegates how to make more space for women in decision-making, leadership and lay pastoral ministry.

Over eighty women from twenty-one dioceses attended the event in Sydney in September. Delegates explored the contributions, advances and issues faced by women today, and discussed how to progress in key areas of Family, Church and Society.

Keynote speakers, each one a specialist in one of the key areas, led the group.

Associate Professor Maria Harries AM, Adjunct Professor at Curtin University and a member of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council spoke about Women and the Family, and identified declining numbers of clergy and religious as an opportunity for women to lead and nourish the feminine in the Church.

"We are not here to preserve the Church as it was, but to help it grow," she reminded the group in her address.

Dynamic scripture scholar, Dr Michele Connelly, explored the gospel. Drawing comparisons between several stories and what it's like to be a woman in today's Australian Church.

"Michelle encouraged us to stand up. To tell the truth about our experiences and not to be afraid, says Andrea Dean, Acting Director for the National Office for the Participation of Women.

"She was particularly passionate about not letting the opportunity to participate and tell our stories at the upcoming synod pass us by."

Dr Megan Brock's presentation considered the way society shapes gender roles and the view of women through the work of French thinker, Foucault. Dr Brock invited delegates to question who benefits within the discourse about women, and who is oppressed.

"The colloquium was an opportunity to encourage women to step up and empower each other," says Andrea. "We reflected on the fact there is a male way of doing things within the Church, and that only by supporting and mentoring each other can we show real leadership and bring about change."

"There was a tremendous sense of engagement amongst the group. It was great to see a powerful experience of community grow amongst such a diverse group of women."

CCI provided financial support to the Council for Australian Catholic Women (CACW), to assist in supporting delegate Sisi Soosanayakam, from the Geraldton Diocese, to attend the Colloquium.

Sisi is an active member of her parish and also undertakes extraordinary ministry service. She describes the experience of attending the colloquium as "amazing", drawing comparisons to gender training she attended at Church in India. The event left her feeling inspired and motivated.

"The Council for Australian Catholic Women gave us passionate and knowledgeable speakers to discuss real facts regarding the roles of women in the family, the Church and Society," she says.

"Currently due to the predominant male view and clerical terms widely accepted by the Church women do not have the opportunity to take on leadership roles. The colloquium encouraged the idea of equal opportunity. Of giving women incisive roles in decision-making, as opposed to letting them remain the unheard voice of reason."

"Women's acceptance starts with individuals, parishes and dioceses. We must make a change, take charge and participate to increase our presence in the Catholic Church."

The colloquium happens once every three years so the CACW is considering how best to maintain the energy this year's event generated. They hope to encourage even more support for women at the diocesan level.

"Some diocese have already established local diocesan councils for women," says Andrea. "We'd like to see at least one contact in each diocese in the future and hope to use digital communications to better connect women in remote areas."

The Council for Australian Catholic Women advises the Bishops Commission and works to ensure the dignity of women is honoured, and their gifts are given space to flourish for the sake of the Catholic Church's life and mission. For more information visit www.opw.catholic.org.au

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