Catholic women urged to serve church and world as ‘a common voice’

Categories: Nation/World

 Oct.11, 2013, edition
By Laura Dodson
Catholic News Service

Catholic women must “join together in a common voice” and be “an instrument for unified action” in service to the Catholic Church and the world, said the president of the National Council of Catholic Women.

“There are 34 million Catholic women in the United States today,” said Rebecca Woodhull in an address to the NCCW annual convention in Fort Lauderdale. “We are one by virtue of our baptism.”

“We must ‘Be the Voice of Catholic Women: Confidence, Hope and Joy’ — the theme for this convention — and fulfill our mission to ‘support, empower and educate women to better serve the church and the world,’ ” she said.

In attendance were Bishop James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., who is NCCW’s episcopal liaison, and Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, who celebrated the closing Mass.

“Who you are and what you do plays a great role for our Catholic Church,” said Bishop Johnston. “You are the preservers and defenders of the tables — the family table that is threatened by the currents of life today and the Lord’s table — (and of) the life of the family of Christ especially when we gather together for Sunday Mass.”

The work of NCCW focuses on three major areas — spirituality, leadership and service — and a jam-packed convention program addressed those areas with keynote speeches and working sessions.

Living out the love

“My work is rooted in a deep love for Jesus and Our Lady,” said Edward Sri, vice president of mission and outreach and professor of theology and Scripture at Augustine Institute in Denver. “It is beautiful to see the women of NCCW living out their love across the nation.”

Sri delivered the opening keynote address, focusing on the humanness of Mary, and also conducted a working session, “The Heart of a Woman: John Paul II’s Insights on Women, Their Marriages and Their Relationships.”

Using personal anecdotes and analogies, Sri made the theological practical.

“It’s scary to step out,” Sri said, “I remember my youngest daughter clinging to a chair while attempting to take her first steps. I was there encouraging her, but she had to let go and step out. The Lord often calls us to step out into the unknown. The first mention we have of Mary in Luke’s Gospel is that she was ‘greatly troubled at what was said.’ Mary had a fundamental disposition to be in dialogue with God. She experienced fear, but was open and responded, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord.’ “

Kirsten Mele, a part-time school psychologist and president of the Council of Catholic Women at St. Olaf Parish in Bountiful, Utah, said afterward: “When I think of Mary, I don’t think of her as being human and having those emotions typical of human behavior, but how could she not?

“It’s good to know the different aspects, the perspectives of what Mary went through as a mother — there’s so much more,” added the married mother of three children ranging in age from 11-16.

Shirley Hermes also joined her local NCCW affiliate as a young mother immediately after a family relocation in 1971. She has served as president at the parish, deanery, vicariate and diocesan levels for the Archdiocese of Chicago and is now a widow with six children, 18 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

“We always put Mary on a pedestal,” Hermes said, “but Dr. Sri brought to us her humanness. We have to make those same hard decisions when we watch our loved ones die. Especially in this group, when you listen to the women’s stories, you realize that we’re just thoroughly modern Marys!”