WOMEN'S ORDINATION WORLDWIDE
FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
NOW IS THE TIME: A CELEBRATION OF WOMEN'S CALL TO A RENEWED PRIESTHOOD IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
JUNE 29 - JULY 1, 2001
WOW 2001 Dublin: Some personal reflections in guise of appraisal
by Soline Vatinel
July 30, 2001
It is now one month since the Conference took place. What remains with me is a lasting sense of joy and of gratitude, because we were deeply blessed. I said at the close of the conference that, as organisers, it had exceeded our wildest dreams and I still believe it. In fact even more so now. This is because the conference was meant to be a celebration and it truly was: the photos show so many happy faces!
Many, before the conference, were wondering what was there to celebrate? The experience of women with a calling to the priesthood had been one filled with so much pain. The church climate had been so hostile and the rejection so crushing that many had lost hope. How could we gather to CELEBRATE women's call to a renewed priesthood? Wouldn't MOURNING be more appropriate? Wasn't meeting a waste of time, another futile exercise in venting one's pain and anger? It could only lead to greater frustration.... Etc. And bitter, angry and dejected people are not much fun to be around, to tell the truth! ...
Perhaps the real challenge was contained in that invitation to celebrate. Recently a journalist, reflecting on the conference and its aftermath, said to me: " You have started a revolution in the Church! Time will tell, but what is certain is that to celebrate is truly a revolutionary activity .It stems from the Joy of the Risen Christ, a Joy that nothing and nobody can take away from us .A sign that love is stronger than death.
I would just like to relate a few of the comments made to me by some of the participants and which I think are significant.
One woman, a religious sister who is a hospital chaplain and who has a vocation to the priesthood, sent a lovely bouquet of flowers to thank us for organizing the conference. She explained what it had meant to her: " When I first came on Friday, I was afraid who might see me there. By Sunday, I didn't care any more, I was no longer afraid. "
Another woman said to me: " there was a meeting called for all the women who have a vocation to the priesthood and who were willing to acknowledge it publicly. The amazing thing is that when I got there I found the room was actually too small, so many were there, from so many different countries."
And another one, an Irish grand mother in her late seventies sent a thank you card with the words: "I think every woman left the conference with her head held high."
I believe that the great gift of the conference is that it banished fear. Fear, as we are so often reminded by Jesus in the Gospel, is the enemy of love. Unfortunately fear has been dominating our Church as coercion and punishment have been the rule. At the conference, courage shone brightly: I am thinking particularly of the courage of Sr Joan Chittister, her prioress ad sisters, and also Sr Myra Poole, who had been threatened with severe penalties if they attended. But also the courage of many others, less public, but very real. No longer victims of injustice and exclusion, we found our strength and our dignity.
So the silence was broken, the deadly silence born of fear. " What you have heard in the depth of your heart, proclaim on the rooftops.". A voice was given to the priestly call of women; in fact it was given many voices, in many different languages...
And it banished the shame and the stigma: For too long women with a vocation to the priesthood had had to hide it, to carry it as a guilty secret. Now it could be brought into the open, affirmed as a godly gift and rejoiced over!
Coming together from the Four Corners of the earth also broke down the sense of isolation, and the helplessness which goes with it. Women with a calling to the priesthood have so often been made to feel that they are the only one, that there is no support, that they have an individual problem ...At the conference all this was replaced by a wonderful sense of solidarity: Solidarity among women, but also very importantly solidarity among Christians of different denominations and between men and women.
For me the conference was a wonderful experience of being church, of being the Body of Christ. And there was a sense that while we had experienced all the pain of a crucifixion, we were now tasting the new life of the Resurrection.
The fruit of this new life are hope and energy, the DYNAMOS of the Spirit: this comes out repeatedly from all the messages we have been receiving since the conference. So many of the participants have gone back with fresh hearts for the journey ahead, emboldened and strengthened .The resolutions for action decided upon at the conference are already being implemented. The good news of the conference is spreading far and wide, bringing hope that change is possible. In fact that change IS already taking place.
NOW IS THE TIME was the rallying call of the conference. Ardent prayer and a discerning reading of the signs of the times had revealed to us that indeed now was the Kairos, the appointed time. We were summoned by the Risen Christ to gather in faith, love and hope. We were richly rewarded by the presence of our ever faithful God. And our mourning turned into dancing ... MAGNIFICAT!
As I have been reflecting and praying since the conference, two images have come to me to try and grasp the meaning of what we have experienced. One is that of Birth. This image came very strongly to me at the close of the conference and was echoed by another committee member. After a miracle pregnancy, several threatened miscarriages and painful labour pangs we had delivered new life! And then another image has been coming to me equally strongly: that of Pentecost. The presence of the Spirit was so tangible at the conference it left us in awe. We, who organised the conference, know that we did not make it happen. All our hard work was nothing in comparison with the gift we received.
A New Church being born? Deo Gratias.
- Soline Vatinel