FEATURE: “An Equal Future in a COVID-19 World: Champions of Change Choosing to Challenge”

For International Women’s Day, Australian Embassy to Holy See Hosts Prominent Vatican Officials

Australian Embassy to Vatican Hosts Webinar for International Women's Day - Courtesy of @AusAmbHolySee
Australian Embassy to Vatican Hosts Webinar for International Women's Day - Courtesy of @AusAmbHolySee

On the occasion of the 110th anniversary of International Women’s Day, the Australian Embassy to the Holy See hosted a webinar titled: “An equal future in a COVID-19 world: Champions of Change Choosing to Challenge” held Monday March 8, 2021.

Welcomed by Ambassador Chiara Porro, the guest speakers included Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops; Dr Francesca Di Giovanni, Undersecretary for the Multilateral Sector in the Section for Relations with States of the Vatican Secretariat of State; Bishop Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Sr Alessandra Smerilli, Coordinator of the Economy Task-Force of the Vatican COVID-19 Commission.

The event, made available in English and Italian, also welcomed remarks by French Sister Nathalie Becquart, who Pope Francis appointed as one of two Under-Secretaries to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. This role has voting rights which effectively makes Sr. Nathalie the first woman to ever vote in a Synod.

Appreciation for Big Steps & Looking Ahead

Ambassador Porro opened the event, where she reiterated Pope Francis’ lamentation against indifference in the midst of injustices. She praised the recent ways in which Pope Francis has appointed competent women in roles of leadership.

Specifically, she cited Dr. Di Giovanni being named undersecretary role in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, making her the first woman to hold a managerial role in the Secretariat; Barbara Jatta, as Director of the Vatican Museums; the number of women being recently appointed to the Council of the Economy; the first woman Promoter of Justice in the Vatican’s Court of Appeals; and Sr. Nathalie’s unprecedented appointment, with its right to vote, at the Synod.

The Australian Ambassador emphasized the importance of continuing this trend of recognition and learning from each other’s best practices. She shared, for example, how her own country’s encouraging women’s growth and recognition has been worthwhile, citing that at least 40 percent of Australian ambassadors or heads of mission are woman, and how this support has been meaningful in her own work.

Remembering Australia’s Female Pioneers

Cardinal Grech first spoke, stressing how the event’s theme “really invites us to reflect on how a challenge can be an occasion for change.” He lamented: “The appointment of women, lay or religious, in the Roman Curia, still seems to be something ‘extraordinary.'”

However, he recalled and praised the “courage and strength” of two Australian women who would leave a lasting impact on society and the Church, namely St. Mary MacKillop of the Cross (1842-1909), Australia’s first saint who founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, and Rosemary Goldie, who opened new paths through their witness.

An Australian Catholic theologian, Goldie served as an auditor during the Second Vatican Council and was the first woman to serve in a Vatican leadership post. She was undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity from 1967 until 1976 and served under four popes.

Mutual Respect, Men & Women Moving Forward Together

Cardinal Grech welcomed Sr. Nathalie’s participation and input, who then spoke to those following the webinar about the need that women receive proper recognition, but even more, the need to work together, women and men. Women, for instance, she pointed out, need role models and mentors, which ought to be both women and men. Becquart emphasized the need for mutual respect between men and women, teamwork, and moving forward.

“This is a task for us together, for both men and women,” she said. “Pope Francis has opened a path by encouraging co-responsibility.” She encouraged everyone to become increasingly familiar with the ‘roadmaps’ of the Church of the Pope’s encyclicals Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti, as well as the Documents for the Synods on Young People and the Amazon, along with the Holy Father’s respective apostolic exhortations for each, Gaudete et Exsultate and Querida Amazonia.

She also recalled the Pope’s recent words about the strength and courage of the women in Iraq, who have suffered so much. Moreover, she lamented, as would Dr. Di Giovanni in her remarks, the always greater numbers of women who have been subjected to domestic violence, exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Urgent Necessity

Dr. Di Giovanni, not only the first woman, but also the first lay person to ever be appointed to her role, underscored “the urgent necessity to focus on so many women who are living situations of exclusion and violence.”

She also expressed appreciation for the increasing presence of women in the Vatican. Noting in the Church, she sees some of this reform as decisive, she urged: “Now all women and men are invited to go ahead on this path Pope Francis has indicated to us.”

To illustrate, she recalled Pope Francis’ Jan. 1, 2020 homily for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God where he repeated woman are givers and mediators of peace, as well as his March 8, 2019 words about the great contribution offered by woman. She also noted that in what she observes in the Vatican, she sees progress and noted Sr. Nathalie’s nomination “brought joy to many.”

To Enrich, Need to Concretely Reconsider Policies

Bishop Tighe addressed as a Vatican official how the formation of the Women’s Consultation Group within his dicastery of the Pontifical Council for Culture about five years ago has been an enriching element, which has led to an enrichment of their work, thanks to the reflections and contributions of these women, which needs to be taken seriously.

He called for a better appreciation and more seamless welcome of women into the Roman Curia, recommending that especially in light of having many in the Vatican who are there for life, it would be best to have at times more of a meritocracy, which would better recognize the proper place of qualified women.

The Vatican official expressed that a rethinking of human resources policies, perhaps to welcome how other international institutions work, could be a useful tool that would make a more just future reality in the Holy See, in order to have the Curia start to resemble and reflect better the global Church.

Re-evaluating ‘Leadership’ 

Sr. Smerilli, economist and professor, who in addition to her role leading the Vatican’s COVID 19 Commission’s Economic Task Force also held an important role with the ‘Economy of Francesco’, remarked smiling how she hopes more of this dialogue will continue before March 8, 2022.

“We are convinced that women can be protagonists of economic and social regeneration,” she highlighted, illustrating how women’s studies even prior to the pandemic, which at that time were given little attention, now have become recognized in essential tools on evaluating future economic models.

Women’s contributions in the public sphere and beyond, she stressed, can be a great enrichment. She also thanked Bishop Tighe for his candidness and concreteness in addressing the topic.

Sr. Smerilli, moreover, called for a new way of viewing leadership, asking if maybe leaders are not necessarily what is needed, since that implies automatically that there are followers.

Instead, she suggested the best substance of leading involves effective teamwork and being together at the service of a mission to complete.

Looking at the responsibility in this way, Sr. Smerilli suggested, gives a new meaning of power, one which involves “being able to do and effectuate something” and “coordinating, motivating and working together toward change.”

#ChooseToChallenge #WhiteRibbonAustralia #WomenInLeadership:AchievingAnEqualFutureInACOVID-19World #HeForShe, #ChampionsOfChange