In her keynote address to the ‘Stirring the Waters: Australian Catholic Women Responding to the Spirit’ colloquium held in Adelaide on the weekend, Dr Michele Connolly RSJ said women had an important role to play in transforming the Church.
“The great temptation is to lose faith because we think nothing can change,” she told the 160 delegates.
“As people in the Church, we think to ourselves ‘it can’t change’. But unlike a political movement, we do not have to do this out of our own imagining. It is of the essence of faith to trust that God is working in this with us.
“Yes, we will work sometimes to our last shred of energy we have, but in the end we are sustained because the work of transforming the Church and transforming Australia rests on God’s own self. God, who has limitless reserves of love and compassion and mercy.
“If we embark on the synodal journey, we need to constantly learn each day where to push, where to trust my companions on the road and where to leave it to God.”
The colloquium brought together women from across the nation to be part of frank and open discussion, prayerful discernment and planning.
It encouraged wide-ranging discussions and held workshops looking at leadership and the involvement of women in the Church, the experiences of migrants and victims of domestic violence, the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, the voices of LGBTIQ Catholics and the need to care for creation.
Council of Australian Catholic Women chair Dr Trish Madigan OP said: “I think what we’ve witnessed at the colloquium is the commitment and passion that women have for the life of the Church and for their own life as women of the Church.
“They want to see transformation in the Church to recognise women’s gifts and ability and their identity as baptised Christians.”
One of the workshops held during the colloquium was led by National Centre of Pastoral Research director Trudy Dantis who outlined how the Catholic Church employs 220,000 people in various agencies across Australia, with more than 77 per cent of that workforce made up of women.
More than 70,000 women work in education and more than 60,000 in health and aged care, she said, with more than 8000 women employed in Catholic parishes and dioceses.
“Of those employed, 61 per cent were in professional services, 80 per cent in administrative or support roles and 64 per cent in pastoral work and mission. Lay leadership is significant for the vitality of the Church,” she said. Research also showed that young women wish to participate more in Church activities and groups, but they’re not sure how to get involved.
“That is the challenge,” Dr Dantis said.
At the conclusion of a moving listening and dialogue session, the women added their thoughts and themes for a submission to the Plenary Council.