The female genius inspiring the Church and the world in difficult times
By Linda Bordoni
Therese of Lisieux, Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Ávila, Edith Stein, Bridget of Sweden and Catherine of Siena are just some of the women chosen, by the Church, to offer hope and inspiration in times of daunting challenges and fear.
Upholding the relevance of their work and the testimonies provided by their lives, Catholic academics believe these remarkable figures can be seen as beacons of light and can provide much-needed hope and help restore momentum as humanity searches for the best way forward.
Organized by the Pontifical Urbaniana University, the Institute for Advanced Studies on Women of the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum, and the Catholic University of Avila, the congress scheduled for 7 and 8 March is entitled “Female Doctors of the Church and Patron Saints of Europe in Dialogue with Today’s World”.
A Press Conference in the Vatican to present the event took place on Monday, with participants highlighting the fact that while the message of these saints will be able to offer a huge contribution in relation to major issues concerning women, their relevance is far reaching and can inspire the pastoral work of the entire Church in the near future.
Professor Anita Cadavid, Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies on Women of the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum, told Vatican Radio’s Sebastian Sanson Ferrari that one trait women theologians and saints have in common, is the belief that Christian life must “give life”, it must be generative.
“These were all women,” Professor Cadavid said, “who ‘were in the world.’ They were in touch with people’s feelings, sufferings, struggles.”
Back in the High Middle Ages Hildegarde of Bingen studied medicine – no easy feat for a woman - and was deeply committed to her belief that her sister nuns had a right and a duty to pursue education. This, she said, “was really, really, present in her life and in her ministry.”
And then we have Edith Stein, a teacher who struggled in a world that was full of discrimination. With her own life, Cadavid continued, “she was able to show us that our lives as Christians are meant to ‘give life’, to ‘be generative’.”
These two women are amongst others, she explained, who show us that “to be in the world, to be in touch with other, is something we must learn for today.”
Enlightening the women of today
The message of the protagonists of this congress, Professor Cadavid explained, is an important one for the development of a feminism with Christian values and it helps women today in their quest to live according to deep principles.
“I think that most of all, with the conscience of the call to “give life” according to the specific vocation that each one of us has,” she said, noting that “Giving life is not only a physical thing, it is also spiritual.”
An insight for our wounded world
For example, she noted, Teresa of Ávila, who was the originator of the Carmelite Reform, gave life to a completely new reality, and for Therese de Lisieux, “to give life was to be in that convent, praying with that desire of being at the heart of the Church,” as she said before dying.
“I think,” Cadavid concluded, “that this giving life is a great insight for our wounded world.”
A time of anniversaries
The congress falls at a time in which we commemorate the anniversaries of the declaration of various women as Doctors of the Church: the 50th anniversary of Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila (as well as the 400th anniversary of their canonization on 12 March 1622), the 25th anniversary of Therese of Lisieux (1997) and the 10th of Hildegard of Bingen (2012). To these female doctors, organizers have chosen also to focus on the female patrons of Europe proclaimed by John Paul II in 1999, Therese Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Bridget of Sweden, together with Catherine of Siena.
The Conference also has a charitable-social purpose as registration fees, along with any voluntary offerings, will be used to support projects and youth training in Lebanon.