By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
The World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), representing millions of Catholic women, has added its voice to the growing movement promoting human fraternity.
Inspired by the Document on Human Fraternity signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the WUCWO hosted an event in Rome on Tuesday morning, sponsored by the Austrian, Philippine, Dutch and Argentine embassies to the Holy See. Several other representations from other embassies to the Holy See were among the participants.
Women Makers of Human Fraternity
The theme for the Tuesday morning event, in view of International Women’s Day, was Women Makers of Human Fraternity.
Guest speakers explored the Document on Human Fraternity from various religious perspectives.
An Islamic Perspective
Prof. Shahrazad Houshmand, an Iranian Theologian, recalled Pope Francis’ journey to the Arab Peninsula, and in particular the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity, as an event of major world importance.
The novelty of the Document, Prof. Houshmand said, is that its signers are equals and, at the same time, the highest leaders of these two world religions. Another is that the document opens by invoking God, followed by the poor of the earth.
Thus the two of the world’s most prominent religious leaders have cried out to all who will listen to embrace the basic human values which will allow all to live together in peace and harmony.
A Buddhist Perspective
Rev Elena Seishin Viviani, Vice-President of the Italian Buddhist Union, held that it is important that the Document on Human Fraternity also be affirmed, signed and promoted by women.
A combined response against everything causing suffering in the world is necessary, she said. This begins with respect for and recognition of others’ rights.
Compassion and being in touch with the sufferings of others will bring humanity to the sense that personal well-being is achieved only by promoting the well-being of all, Rev. Viviani said. Women are doubly responsible in this respect, she said, as those who generate life. Thus the compassion needed to implement human fraternity will be diffused throughout the world.
A Hindu Perspective
Swamini Hamsananda Ghiri, Vice-president of the Italian Hindu Union, joined the conference via internet.
She called the Document a strong testimony of dialogue that needs to be transformed into action in order to become an instrument for peace. It is important to pursue unity and truth in Hinduism, she said. Those who seek the Lord in love are blessed—but this is witnessed to in deed. Courage, compassion and respect for women are three great Hindu values. It starts in the family.
The Document mentions major fragmentation in the world which call forth from women their specific contribution. She recalled both Hindu teaching as well as Mahatma Ghandi in reminding the audience that pejorative comparisons of women to men are a form of defamation. In the end, it is necessary to recognize what we have in common as human beings that will bring humanity to the peace and harmony we seek.
A Jewish Perspective
Ms Sabrina Coen, Board Member of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), reminded those present that religion has often been a cause of war in the world.
Seeking a communion of intent, specifically in circles that often define themselves in terms of difference, is necessary today. Occasions to know each other better are a way of seeking wisdom which is a value embraced by Judaism, as well as a renewed moral consciousness, Ms Coen said.
The Torah, she said, presents women as a means to help men confront their prejudices, often created by cultural tradition, in order to choose better ways of living together. Shalom, harmony, is the pre-eminent value that the Document is seeking which we as women can promote.
An Ecumenical Perspective
Prof. Isabel Apawo Phiri, Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, also addressed the gathering via internet. She noted that the Document on Human Fraternity acknowledges the common dignity of all as children of God.
From the perspective of an African Christian woman, Prof. Phiri acknowledged that the Document brings a renewed understanding of the reality that we all belong to one human family. Using familial language, she continued, can help us conceive the Kingdom of God a bit differently. Women are essential to the path of peace building and dialogue, especially at the grass roots levels.
Prof. Phiri applauded Pope Francis’ encouragement of women being present in interreligious dialogue. Women bring a different set of skills to the negotiating table, and experience religion differently, which can greatly enhance dialogue.
A Catholic Perspective
The final presenter, Dr. María Lía Zervino, President General of WUCWO, stated that there are many visionary women who have exercised key roles in the history of the world and in the history of religion.
The Document on Human Fraternity provides another incentive to women today to claim their own responsibility in shaping the society in which we live, Dr Zervino said. The same faith in God embraced by our feminine forebears inspires us today to concretely engage in making human fraternity a reality. Acting courageously and using our professional preparation, without losing our tenderness or femininity, are ways of responding to the evils facing many in today’s world.
Working together, while respecting our diversity provides the opportunity for us women to lead the way, Dr Zervino concluded.
Appeal to all believers
The event ended with a Final Statement, signed by the above six women.
Referring to the Document on Human Fraternity, the Statement declares: “We see this unique document as a motherly embrace to humanity and as a starting point for our journey together.”
The Statement summarizes the rights expressed in the Document on Human Fraternity, then states that the signees agreed to the following: to promote the values expressed in the document, to protect the family, to embrace “merciful love and courageous faith”, and “to update our feminine capacity to be bearers of life and guardians of our Earth”.
The Statement concludes appealing “to all believers…to join in this agreement”.