By Sarah Mac Donald - 09 March, 2015
Addressing the crowds in St Peter’s Square on Sunday after the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed “a fraternal ‘thank you’ for all those women who, in a thousand ways, bear witness to the Gospel and work in the Church.”
Noting that International Women’s Day is an occasion to highlight the “importance of women, and the necessity of their presence in life”, the Pontiff said, “A world where women are marginalised is a sterile world”.
Women, he continued, “don’t just bear life but transmit to us the ability to see otherwise, they see things differently. They transmit to us the ability to understand the world with different eyes, to understand things with hearts that are more creative, more patient, more tender.”
The Pope offered “a prayer, and a special blessing, for all the women present here in the Square, and for all women.”
Separately, the second annual Voices of Faith storytelling event took place on Sunday in the Vatican, as women from ten countries and four continents gathered in the Casina Pio IV to celebrate International Women’s Day.
The initiative was launched last year by Catholic philanthropist Chantal Goetz “to enhance the dignity, participation and leadership of women and girls through persistent and good storytelling.”
Voices of Faith is jointly supported by the Fidel Goetz Foundation and Caritas Internationalis.
Two projects that highlight women in leadership roles and whose work benefits women and their communities received the ‘Women: Sowers of Development’ prize of €10,000 at the event.
A self-help group of enterprising Syrian women refugees and a Caritas Nicaragua programme empowering women to provide food for their families and become agricultural entrepreneurs, were selected as winners of the first-ever prize which is sponsored by Caritas Internationalis and Voices of Faith.
Caritas Internationalis’ policy and advocacy officer, Martina Liebsch, explained that the Caritas Nicaragua programme helps women set up vegetable gardens which allow them to feed their families and also to sell their produce to their local communities.
The other prize winner, Reem Alhaswani, is a Syrian refugee who helped create ‘Basmeh Zeitooneh’ (Smile and an Olive), an association which gives dignity and hope to hundreds of desperate Syrian and Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon.
The association’s four community centres run an embroidery programme to help women learn job skills, a school and other projects that help refugee women in Lebanon support their families.
It provides relief services and emergency items, psychological support for victims of domestic violence and organizes workshops on human rights.
Speakers at the Voices of Faith event in the Vatican included Somali refugee Suad Mohamed who spoke about her experiences living for 17 years in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya after her family fled civil war in her own country.
She told the story of how her life changed when she was given the opportunity to study through a ground-breaking higher education programme offered by Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins.
International director of the programme, Dr Mary McFarland, explained how Jesuit Commons: HEM works with Jesuit Refugee Service and other onsite university partners to provide scalable, sustainable and transferrable higher education programmes for more than 1,400 students in camps in Kenya, Malawi, Syria, Jordan, Chad, Thailand and Afghanistan as well as students in rural Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
Other speakers on Sunday included Mukti Bosco, co-founder and secretary general of the India-based Healing Fields foundation, who shared insights into what it takes to make quality healthcare affordable and accessible to the poor and marginalized in India.
Syriac Orthodox nun Sr Hatune Dogan, Founder of Hatune Foundation International, recounted her harrowing tales of braving danger to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Sr Marta Pelloni, Founder of Infacia Robada (National Stolen Childhood Network) told of her experiences fighting the trafficking of women and children in Argentina.
A priest was also among the speakers Sunday. Fr Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator is a Jesuit priest from Nigeria and the provincial of the East Africa Province of the Society of Jesus. He spoke about the Boko Haram kidnapping of the Nigerian girl students and the importance of educating women.