05 December 2021, The Tablet

Let the Church be enriched by the diverse gifts of all of humanity

by Stephanie MacGillivray

Let the Church be enriched by the diverse gifts of all of humanity

Young women play an active role in the Church but their leadership must be made more visible today to inspire and give hope to those leaders of tomorrow, writes Stephanie MacGillivray

“Women, so often discriminated against and excluded from positions of responsibility, are seen in the Gospels to play a leading role in the history of revelation.”

These words, taken from the opening lines of Pope Francis’ message for World Day of the Poor 2021, are a message of recognition, appreciation and hope for young women in the Church today.

My experiences as a young Catholic woman working for the Church have been full of surprises, challenges, joy and gratitude for the opportunities I have been given that have allowed me to grow spiritually and professionally. Perhaps the most fulfilling experience has been the gradual and ongoing process of coming to understand and deeply appreciate the Church’s many beautiful teachings about women’s leadership, equality and participation, and their important role in and contributions to society and the Church.

In his encounters with women, Jesus affords them a space in which to participate in society through listening and dialogue (Luke 10:38-42), service (Mark 14:3-9) and leadership (Mark 16:1-11).

However, the role and place of women in society has not always reflected their equal God-given dignity. Historically limiting social structures have often prevented women from enjoying equal opportunities to participate in and contribute to society. Therefore, when we speak of women’s leadership, it is as part of the understanding of women as being equal and in fraternal relation to men as leaders, and the recognition that this is not yet a lived reality.

We know that cultural change and transformation is not easy to orchestrate or sustain; however, at the heart of ensuring that it can be effective and long-lasting, words must be accompanied by concrete actions. Indeed, Pope Francis seems to be pioneering this approach as we see the notable presence of the mention of women in the Pope’s words being matched by his promotion of women to leadership positions within the Church and its organisations.

The mission in my work as the Officer Promoting Women’s Leadership for Caritas Internationalis is to animate and mobilise the Caritas confederation to make the same active commitment to women’s leadership, equality and participation at all levels in the communities in which we serve.

The presence and representation of women from the grass roots right up to governance levels in the Church is crucial for promoting a culture of inclusivity and diversity, and nurturing a society that is enriched with the gifts of all of humanity.

People often joke about the slow pace of change within a 2,000-year-old organisation. However, my experiences as a young Catholic woman have shown me the significant roles that lay people, women, and young people are playing in the Church today. In particular, working with Caritas gives me a privileged position to witness how women all over the world are acting as leaders within their communities, despite often being worse affected by poverty and other barriers to equality. This leadership must be made visible so that women are afforded more opportunities to lead today, and so that the next generation of women leaders can be given hope, inspiration and ambition for tomorrow.

Not only is there room for young women in the Church; there is a fundamental need for them to play an active role in the Church and the world, and a palpable sense that the time is right for a genuine embrace of the spirituality that women bring to the full expression of the image of God.

Stephanie MacGillivray is the Officer Promoting Women’s Leadership for Caritas Internationalis in Rome.

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