Raising the Voice of Women in the New Evangelization

“You must all stand fast in thefaith and love one another, and do not be weakened by what we have gone through.”  These words are taken from the diary of a young mother, Perpetua, who along with her friend Felicity, was martyred in ancient Carthage (modern-day Tunis, Tunisia) in the early third century and whose feast we celebrate today.  The word “martyr” is from the Greek, meaning “witness,” and the story of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, which has been passed down through the centuries, is one of the earliest accounts of women raising their voices in testimony to God’s love and in witness to their Christian faith.

Pope Benedict XVI once reflected, “In the past, as in our day, the blood of the martyrs, their tangible, eloquent testimony, touches human hearts. It makes them fertile, capable of bringing forth new life within them, of welcoming the life of the Risen One in order to take resurrection and hope to the surrounding world” (Message to the Pontifical Academies, November 30, 2011).

This feast of Perpetua and Felicity reminds us that the Church has been shaped by the witness of many great women whose voices continue to be heard today. Recalling the story of these holy women is also a good beginning for the annual archdiocesan women’s conference at Trinity Washington University on Saturday, March 8, for which the theme will be “Raising Women’s Voices in the New Evangelization.” As women from all across the archdiocese gather to consider how they can serve the mission of the New Evangelization in all aspects of their lives – family, work and parish – one source of inspiration is the lives of women martyrs and saints.

With the confidence expressed by Saint Felicity who wrote, “I knew that I could speak with the Lord, whose great blessings I had come to experience,” participants will have an opportunity to spend time in quiet prayer with Our Lord, reflecting upon how the Lord is calling them to be witnesses to the life of the Risen Christ and how life is lived through the virtue of hope.  Also included in the day is time for fellowship and sharing stories of the Lord’s blessings, as well as discussing the need in our families and in our communities for the leadership of strong faithful women.  The two keynote speakers, Dr. Sandra Keating and Dr. Lucia Luzando, are women who serve their parishes and dioceses and have served the Church internationally as educators.

Pope Francis has asked that the Church reflect on how it can “create broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church” (Evangelii Gaudium, 103), and I welcome his invitation to reflect on the gift of the “feminine genius.”  Women have been a generous and stable presence throughout our Church, making enormous contributions here in the Archdiocese of Washington and the Church Universal.  Especially given the questions currently being considered in society, the Church and the world need to hear the voice of women – and in particular women speaking in unison, grounded in a common faith.

Catholic women have a message of hope to share.  In this, they become agents of the New Evangelization who bear witness that our relationship with Our Lord is not a private one.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “From this loving knowledge of Christ springs the desire to proclaim him and to ‘evangelize’ and to lead others to the ‘yes’ of faith in Jesus Christ’” (no. 429).