Voices of Faith, a women’s leadership initiative
I remember clearly a bright October afternoon, walking along the Tiber excited by the prospect of a year's study in Rome. I had interrupted my studies in art history and theology in Warsaw to attend the Pontifical Gregorian University. It was one of the first times that an ordinary girl from Central Europe could come to study theology in Rome. This was made materially possible with money received from a public grant and the support of the university. Until a few years previously, it would have been unthinkable, on one hand for social, economic and political reasons, and on the other, for ecclesiastical reasons.
I remember that this thought shocked me. I was not wrong. As a religious community, we do not always bear responsibility for political and economic obstacles, but it should take away from our peace the bitter realization that the church has for so long been unable to see the value of theological study for women.
At the time, I did not see the exclusion of women from the fullness of life in the Church as a personal problem. Perhaps it was because I had always found support and generosity in my local church. On the other hand, perhaps my expectations were not high enough from the outset as I treated theological studies as a pursuit of personal interest that had little to do with my professional life (for that had I chosen art history). In the Polish context, however, it could hardly have been otherwise; after all, theology as a scientific and professional path for lay people is still practically non-existent here.
In a small, self-instructing group, created among friends in Warsaw with which we became familiar with feminist theology texts that gave me the idea to enter into a more critical debate on gender issues in the Church. The TEKLA Foundation grew from this group, which promotes this kind of formation among Catholic women. I personally also came into contact with the Voices of Faith initiative and in 2018 moved to Rome to represent it.
The main goal of Voices of Faith is to provide a platform where Catholic women can share their experiences - including struggling with Church hierarchies when they are hostile to non-stereotypical women’s activities. We organize meetings and discussions where women leaders in their communities seek to identify the changes needed to ensure that each person’s vocation is truly accepted and respected in the Church, regardless of their gender. For a believer convinced of the value of equality in the Church, this activity is naturally a combination of work and personal passion. After all, it touches on the most important questions about one’s identity, but more importantly, it is often a painful questioning of aspects and teachings of the institution that is central to one’s religious life. It is also a difficult school of respect for those who are in active opposition to our beliefs, but should have the same right to shape the community.
For me, one of the most important experiences within this difficult and fascinating discussion about the problems and the future of the Church is my participation in one of the four commissions of the German Synodal Way, which is Women in the ministries and offices of the Church. This commission is organised through the joint efforts of lay people and bishops, respects the equal participation of different church and social groups, and represents an extraordinary attempt to respond to the pressing problems of the Church. At the same time, it is an example of how a conversation about the Church should take place, where everyone brings their best - and at the table, there is a place for a bishop, a professor of theology, an activist, and young people.
The main tool of the Voices’ work is networking - making contact with women theologians, women religious and activists from around the world and promoting the exchange of ideas. We meet these women, get to know their texts, and the debate they lead, has been - and still is - like a revelation, through which we learn to think in a new way. It is also a discovery of niches in which it is possible to engage concretely in critical theological debate. Unfortunately, it also means learning about stories of lives in which courage and the love of truth -two virtues fundamental to Christianity- are paid for dearly.
by Zuzanna Flisowska-Caridi
ZUZANNA FLISOWSKA-CARIDI, 35, is the head of the Rome office of Voices of Faith, an initiative that aims to promote equality and leadership of women in the Church. The founder is jurist Chantal Götz, who for many years led the Fidel Götz Foundation, a charitable trust based in Lichtenstein. We also asked her for her experience in relation to her participation in the Women’s Commission of the Synodal Path in Germany.