Michele Coolihan, Helena Kojevnikoff, Jane Scott, Ele Bauer and Karen de Sousa joined 10 CWL members from interstate representing Australia at the Assembly held from May 13-20.
Before their departure, the Adelaide women invited the Emmaus parish community to participate in the journey by praying for them and writing prayer intentions which were taken to Italy.
The theme of the Assembly was ‘WUCWO women, artisans of human fraternity for world peace’.
Founded in 1910, WUCWO is an international organisation that aims to promote the empowerment of Catholic women worldwide. It encourages presence, participation and co-responsibility in society and the Church, to enable them to fulfil their mission of evangelisation and to work for a future of peace, justice and solidarity.
Helena described the pilgrimage as “a journey of faith renewal, an unforgettable experience of beauty and Divine grace”.
On the opening day, the delegates met with Pope Francis in a private audience at Paul VI Hall in the Vatican to receive a missionary mandate from the Holy Father on the synodal journey of the Church.
It was also the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima and before entering the hall a large number of women began to sing a hymn to Our Lady. Once inside and while waiting for Pope Francis, the whole group sang a resounding Ave Maria.
Ele said a highlight of the trip was the audience with the Pope.
“Imagine 800 plus women waiting expectantly to see Il Papa,” she said.
“We all listened intently to Pope Francis’ message and when he was taken around the hall to greet us, the atmosphere was electric. We were afforded great access and the women were whooping with delight, singing, waving flags, cheering, clapping and ululating.”
The president general of WUCWO, Maria Lia Zervino (Argentina) thanked the Pope for his support for the organisation and the work of its eight million women around the world committed to evangelisation and human development.
In his address, the Pope expressed his hope that the women may be enlivened by the Spirit and urged them to “look to the future with your eyes and heart open to the world, to listen to the lament of so many women in the world who suffer injustice, abandonment, discrimination and poverty”.
“There is a need for greater appreciation of women’s capacity for relationship and giving, and her role in the family and society, where she does not cease to be a beating heart,” Pope Francis told the group.
Another highlight for the Australian contingent was meeting Chiara Porro, the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See.
Following the papal audience, a Thanksgiving Mass was held on Saturday afternoon at St Peter’s Basilica, presided over by Cardinal Gambetti.
“Simply being present in this holy of holies was a gift but to receive holy Communion at the foot of the high altar was for me a blessing of a lifetime,” said Helena.
During the General Assembly, global challenges were addressed and the fundamental role of women in promoting peace was discussed. Participants shared their experiences, worries and difficulties, hopes and desires, as well as the challenges they face daily.
After community discernment, the following resolutions were adopted:
- The consolidation and growth of the World Women’s Observatory, which seeks to listen and give visibility to the suffering and to the potential of women, especially the most vulnerable.
- The defence of religious freedom as a fundamental human right for the promotion of fraternity and peace. Participating organisations pledge to work for non-discrimination, to denounce violations of religious freedom and to promote interfaith interaction.
- Responding to the urgent call to action of the encyclical Laudato Si’ by addressing environmental and climate change issues. Activities aimed at recycling, reducing individual pollution and promoting ecological conversion will be promoted.
- The accompaniment and formation of young people and couples on the path of family love, recognising motherhood and fatherhood as paths to holiness.
- Responding to Pope Francis’ call to build a future with migrants and refugees. Special attention will be given to the problem of forced migration and discrimination in the labour market, which affects mainly women.
- Promoting the formation of women so that they can participate responsibly in the building and decision-making processes of the Church. The aim in upholding the synodal process is to foster women’s leadership in the pursuit of the common good through spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation.
At the end of the Assembly, the new WUCWO Board was elected for a four-year term, including president, Mònica Santamarina (Mexico) and Karen de Sousa (CWL Next Gen).
“I am honoured, thrilled and a little daunted to have been appointed as the Australian representative on the Board of WUCWO,” Karen said.
“I am standing on the shoulders of great women who have inspired, supported and encouraged me. I hope I do them and all Australian Catholic women justice in this role.”
Michele said through the presentations, dialogue and celebrating and receiving daily Eucharist together (prepared by each region) the women became united.
“These times of being at Mass and singing and praying together were a spiritual highlight and a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said.
Ele said connecting with women from other parts of the world was a “blessing”. She shared a room with Bori from Hungary, who spoke four languages.
“It was like moving in with an old friend who enjoyed a chat and a joke,” she added.
The group’s accommodation was situated next to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The small chapel at the centre of the basilica was a special place to St Francis and it is still used for private prayer and for the receiving of the Pardon of Assisi. A few metres away is a tiny chapel that marks the place where St Francis died.
“To stand before this place was both inspiring and humbling,” said Helena.
During a pilgrimage to churches in Assisi, the prayer intentions of Emmaus parishioners were left in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore which served as the town’s first cathedral. It is also the place of rest for Blessed Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager and devout Catholic who documented Eucharistic miracles around the world on a website before his death from leukaemia at the age of 15. He was beatified in 2020.
“Although it was confronting to see the glass tomb, it was also incredible to witness many young people and families, praying at the site. A young person on his journey to sainthood…,” said Jane.
“Together as we lit a votive candle, it seemed the perfect place to leave and commend the many prayer intentions of the Emmaus parishioners.”
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