Rome Reflections Day 7: Our Last Day Together

As I reflect on our last day in Rome, I will remember it as a day of powerful public witness, prayerful remembrance, and deep gratitude.

We gathered for the “Walk with Women” in the courtyard of our residence in the early afternoon sun: each of us in purple, symbolic of women’s equality in the Church. We put on Canadian flag lanyards, sourced in Ottawa by Virginia Lafond, and including a QR code for the CNWE website sourced by Nancy Quan. We pinned to the back of each other’s shirts a canvas cloth patch that said, “Women Rising for Reform” and “Catholic Network for Women’s Equality Canada” (including the 2015 CNWE conference logo created by friend of CNWE and artist, Andrea Nairn).

As it happened, there was a statue in the courtyard of 16th century astronomer and Catholic canon, Nicolaus Copernicus. I mused that just as the ‘Copernican revolution’ caused a paradigm shift in humanity’s understanding of the sun as the centre of our solar system, so too were we calling for a paradigm shift in our Church’s teaching and practice. We were raising our voices for our Church to truly embody, in ministry and governance, our central belief in the God-given dignity and equality of persons of all genders.

Gathering Before the Walk

To begin the Walk with Women, we gathered with other members of WOW (Women’s Ordination Worldwide) at San Giovanni dei Fiorentini church, which, according to tradition contains a relic of the foot of Mary Magdalene.

Kate McElwee, Co-Executive Director of Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) made a statement on behalf of all participants and invited us all to walk in silence.

Walk With Women

I found it very moving to silently wind our way through the busy streets of Rome and over the Tiber River to Castel Sant Angelo – our group of nine CNWE members among a ‘small but mighty’ group of reform-minded Catholics from around the world. The silence spoke volumes to me, as a symbol of the ways that women have been silenced, erased, excluded and dismissed over centuries in Catholicism. It also brought to mind for me the witness of many years of CNWE’s Holy Week silent Purple Stole Vigils.

I was reminded too, as we walked, of the many walks for justice of all kinds, throughout history and the world over. Since I was toward the back of the group, I could see that our CNWE signs were visible to all, and it was a proud moment in my 23 years as a CNWE member!

Joining Hands at Castel Sant Angelo

At Castel Sant Angelo (once a papal fortress and castle), we joined hands in a circle and broke our silence, chanting– “Women are Here”, “Resistance to Patriarchy is Obedience to God”, “How Long Must Catholic Women Wait for Equality?” and Mary Ellen Morgenstern led us in a few rounds of “Sister, Carry On!”.

Virginia Lafond struck up a conversation with a young woman from Argentina, whose eyes filled with tears when she understood why we were there. CBC Rome Correspondent Megan Williams who had followed the walk had the opportunity to speak with several of us and Susan Roll offered a wonderful statement regarding the significance of this time in the history of the Church.

Over the course of the week, it was quite a whirlwind of media attention for those of us who had offered to speak with the press. There were local and national radio and media requests, some requiring pre-interviews and all wanting a quick turn-around for the news cycle and Canadian time zones. In the lead-up to our time in Rome, we had widely circulated our CNWE press release and contacted journalists that had expressed interest in the past.

These efforts bore fruit as Jeanie McKibbon (with assistance from Nancy Quan), Louise Dowhan, Susan Roll, Virginia Lafond, Roberta Fuller and me were interviewed or asked for comment in Rome, and as Veronica Dunne was interviewed in Winnipeg regarding the prayer and picnic honouring the prophetic support of women by the late Cardinal Flahiff. Many of these interviews were coordinated with the vital assistance of Veronica and Therese Koturbash in Dauphin, Manitoba. New CNWE member and web developer Rebecca also coordinated with Veronica to post our reflections here. 

After being interviewed, some of us had the feeling we could have said more or said things differently, but each of us did our best to draw on the ‘talking points’ we had developed as a group over the last month. It was encouraging that many journalists were genuinely interested in the story of the Synod and its possibilities for women.

CBC Rome Correspondent Megan Williams speaking with CNWE members after the Walk With Women.

Once back at our residence, we gathered at sundown for liturgy and a final dinner on the truly magical rooftop patio of our residence. Susan Roll and Roberta Fuller led us in prayer as we all hoped for the Spirit-led synod to bear fruit, and as we named the CNWE members who had gone before us. In their honour we prayed and sang “We are Standing on the Shoulders” by Joyce Rouse. Mary Ellen Morgenstern then led us in a profound ritual action that brought the blessings of Earth’s four directions into our circle. In that moment, I felt the presence of Wisdom Sophia in the strength and witness of CNWE members, past, present, and future, and also much gratitude for those present and those at home, including our CNWE National Work Group who had been so supportive, and helped to make this week so meaningful. I sensed an urgency  in these challenging times for all humanity to be rowing together in the same direction toward inclusion, justice, peace, and sustainability.

We concluded our week around a twilight table of gratitude with a Mediterranean meal that Mary Ellen Morgenstern and Roberta Fuller had lovingly gathered from nearby grocery stores and our favourite café. It was wonderful for me to have my husband Bob join us as well as Nancy Quan’s husband, Don. When Vince Hanlon popped the Prosecco toward St. Peter’s Basilica, a cheer of joy, hope and gratitude went up with the flying cork!

Jeanie McKibbon, Susan Roll, Vince Hanlon and Louise Dowhan as the cork pops toward the Vatican!

Postscript: Bob and I toured Trastevere, Rome a few days later and I thought I recognized a priest coming toward me. I introduced myself, as did he. He was Cardinal Hollerich of Belgium, Relator General of the Synod, who I then realized I had seen in Vatican Synod press conferences. Given our hopeful conversations with Dr. Catherine Clifford and Dr. Elizabeth Mary Davis, RSM about the prayerful and open start to Synod discussions, I thanked him warmly for the hope that the Synodal process was giving to the Church. He then grasped my hand, in both of his and thanked me very genuinely! A moment of ‘synodality’ to end my days in Rome!