Historic Women’s Conference Animates Reflection, Action for Culture of Encounter
by DID Staff
6 February 2023
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For the first time, the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue organized an interreligious conference about women in dialogue with a focus on listening to the insights and experiences of women themselves. The theme was “Women building a culture of encounter interreligiously.” The Dicastery worked in collaboration with the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations and the Pontifical Urbaniana University to organize the event. Held from 24-28 January, at the John Paul II Auditorium at the Urbaniana, the gathering consisted of 30 women from 23 countries and 12 different religious traditions, all of whom spoke during the 3-day conference. Others involved in interreligious dialogue, including ambassadors to the Holy See, students and professors of pontifical universities, and officials of the Holy See, were in attendance.
An Historic Occasion
In his welcome address, His Eminence Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, MCCJ, Prefect of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, noted that the dignity and the leadership of women has been highlighted during the pontificate of Pope Francis. He affirmed, “I believe these days of learning from women and their work will be invaluable for carrying out the mandate to create space for a feminine presence.”
Msgr. Indunil J. Kodithuwakku K., Secretary of the Dicastery, began the moderation of the opening session by calling for each to pray in silence for the success of the conference, noting its historic nature as the first interreligious women’s gathering of the Dicastery. He continued, “I now kindly call upon you to observe a moment of silence for all the victims of violence, especially women and girls. This moment of silence offers a time for us to stand together as one community.”
In his remarks welcoming the participants, Rev. Leonardo Sileo, Rector of the Pontifical Urbaniana University, thanked the women present for being bearers of the values and truths of their religious traditions, pointing out that it belongs to the mission of the University to form students as builders of a culture of encounter, to carry back to the five continents from which they come.
Dr. María Lía Zervino, President of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, collaborator in organizing the conference, noted in her opening address, “One of the specific feminine characteristics is the generative capacity of human relationships. It is natural for us to promote an atmosphere in which people can grow and an environment that favors the inclusion of others, in particular the weakest: a culture of encounter.”
Feminine aspects of religions and women saints and sages
On the first day of the conference, speakers belonging to Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism enlightened the participants concerning the role of women in their religions for building a culture of encounter.
On the second day, the topic of women saints and sages was engaged by speakers from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, Shinto (Oomoto), and Zoroastrianism.
The women, during their prepared talks and engagement with the audience, explored issues of female leadership, discrimination against women, religious teachings on the equality of women, complementarity of men and women, the inclusion of women as close followers of religious founders, and women consecrated to God or religious service.
Narratives of a Culture of Encounter
Throughout the three days, there were also panel discussions during which women shared their own experiences of building a culture of encounter. As well as the aforementioned religions, one panel also included a representative of African Traditional Religion. The women described their work in healthcare, political advocacy, interreligious dialogue, education, peacebuilding, and religious/cultural revival, among other activities.
Audience with Pope Francis
On January 26, Pope Francis received the group of women speakers in the Apostolic Palace for a private audience. He encouraged them: “Each one of your traditions, and each one of you, has wisdom to offer the world, in order to infuse it with a spirit of warmth, healing, and fraternity.” The Pope re-iterated the Catholic Church’s commitment to interreligious dialogue as means of working together for the common good of humanity.
The women speakers at the conference also engaged in small group discussions and networking among themselves, ate meals together, and participated in guided tours of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. The time spent together and the connections formed will contribute to future networking and collaboration with the guidance of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue.
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