A conference in Rome this week explored how women might play a decisive role in conflict resolution, while Cardinal Peter Turkson told participants that the next secretary of the pontifical council that he heads could be a woman.
Jewish, Muslim and Christian women scholars spoke on the theme “Women’s Leadership in Conflict Resolution: Faith Perspectives” at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum).
Donna Orsuto, a Catholic professor of spirituality at the Pontifical Gregorian University, spoke of the leadership of Christian women in conflict resolution through “hidden” grassroots efforts. She gave the examples of a Ugandan religious sister who negotiated with the Lord’s Resistance Army, of Liberian women who reintegrated an ostracised a group of child soldiers into their community, and of former Irish president Mary McAleese, whose “domestic diplomacy” prepared the road for the Belfast Agreement.
Professor Orsuto said Christian women’s efforts towards peace are generally characterised by fellowship, patient listening, courage, prayer and the Christian obligation to cultivate peace.
Irene Kajon, a Jewish philosophy professor at Sapienza University, offered an exegesis of the Bible’s two creation narratives and Exodus 14, which she said demonstrate that women “have the privilege of confiding more strongly in God’s word, have greater faith and are more ready to act in new and original ways than men.”
Ilham Allah Chiara Ferrero, secretary general of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, spoke of how the “concept of jihad has been completely distorted” by certain Islamic groups and how “ideological propaganda” has be produced to relegate Muslim women to domestic roles.
“The greatest betrayal of Islamic sources has been that of covering up the importance of education” for girls and boys, even “at the time of the Prophet,” she said.
During the question-and-answer period, Cardinal Turkson said he expects “a new springtime” regarding women in the Catholic Church, though “decoupled” from the issue of ordination.
He said speaking with Pope Francis, he had received the “green light” to consider hiring a woman as the next secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The cardinal said the councils for the laity and the family could be headed by a married couple.
“Pope Francis has signalled a new pathway,” he said. Past pontificates also tried to make changes, but things in the Church move slowly, he said.
Above: Cardinal Turkson. Photo: CNS