Extract from Ursuline High School, Wimbledon, “A Letter to Pope Francis: From Ten Young Catholic Women, Ages 14 to 17” in Visions and Vocations:
This letter was written as part of a study day at the University of Roehampton in London.
Dear Pope Francis,
As young women in the Church, we know that Catholicism is at the centre of our lives. Our faith in Jesus Christ gives us our values: respect for all, compassion, wanting to change the world for the better, leadership, forgiveness, kindness, love, community, courage, peace. Our school motto is SERVIAM and we understand this to mean serving others and making a difference. We are so grateful that you are bringing issues of the equality and needs of the poor to everyone’s notice, and the importance of caring for our world and environmental issues if we are to improve people’s lives.
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In response to your request for young people’s views about the Church in our lives, we have considered this statement from Amoris Laetitia and discussed in groups the issues that we think are important, and we have written down some of our responses as well:
The woman stands before the man as a mother, the subject of the new human life that is conceived and develops in her, and from her is born into the world. The weakening of this maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world. I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities – motherhood in particular – also grant duties, because womanhood entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all. (AL 173)
In this letter we summarise our discussions about the statement. We have directly quoted from some of the students’ responses where we think this is the best way to show how we feel. We also share our views on femininity, sexuality, social media and role models.
One of our group speaks for many of us when she says:
As our Pope you have inspired me greatly to uphold and respect the main values of Catholicism and to understand the way to be a good Catholic. At the same time I cannot ignore the prejudice formed against women in our societies.
As young women we feel it is our duty to raise the issues that are affecting us in our lives and that we feel are not given enough consideration by the Church. As one member of our group wrote:
As a young woman in the Catholic Church, I have faith, but the Church does not enrich my sense of what it means to be a Catholic woman in the ways it could. Ideally, I believe the Church should be more outspoken in parishes about the roles of women beyond motherhood and about equality and women’s leadership.
Missions, motherhood and “feminine genius”
We know that you recognise that women have ambitions outside the home, but we don’t think this is properly acknowledged by the Church. We ALL have missions in our lives. We aspire to be lawyers, nurses, teachers, musicians, athletes, engineers, doctors and some of us feel called to have a family as well. While motherhood is a really wonderful aspect of being a woman, it is just one aspect, not the only one. In a changing society, it is important to change the ways that we as a Church engage with young people and women.
We discussed what you say about the weakening of maternal presence and about “feminine genius.” Initially “feminine genius” sounded complimentary, but then we asked ourselves what it really means. We think of the qualities it refers to which are supposedly inherent to womanhood such as caring, nurturing and receptivity. It is evident that there is a persistent reference to “motherhood” within church teachings on vocations. We believe motherhood is really important but, for a number of reasons, focusing only on this does not relate to our ambitions as women or our experience of the world.
We believe using the phrase “feminine genius” puts a particular burden on women to be the “caring, nurturing” gender exclusively, yet there are no reasons why husbands and fathers cannot be these things also. We want to draw attention to the importance of a father in a child’s life. Fatherhood is a central aspect of being a man – it takes two to make a baby. Carrying a child is unique but it is not the measure of a woman. Children need unconditional love and responsible guardians, a responsibility that does not depend on gender. A father who is not present in his children’s lives is arguably as much at fault as a mother would be. Parents are equally responsible. What is the Church doing to tackle the problem of men leaving their families? We know that you do speak about fathers in Amoris Laetitia, but we think the Church should focus much more on the responsibilities of fatherhood.
One of our group described her experience and how it made her reflect on what it means to be a parent:
When I was 12 years old, my father left. It has taken these extreme circumstances for me to realise that “masculine genius” is also required in a family as well as “feminine genius.” In an equal society, both parents ought to be equally responsible as parents for their children and equally engaged in activities outside parenthood like working, rather than women being restricted to a household environment. It is not right and just to say that only the mother has a responsibility and obligation to fulfil her duty as a parent and have motherhood as her only achievement. In Genesis 1:27, it says that “God created humankind in his own image”; I believe that this clearly refers to women and men. We are equals and consequently we should both have the whole life responsibility of parenting.
Caring for young children is not a “feminine genius” but a human genius. Not all women are able to have children or are called to have children or have the opportunity to be mothers. What does this mean for them in the Church? Don’t they have a mission if they are not expressing their “specifically feminine abilities” or carrying out their “specific mission in the world?”
We do not see a “weakening of this maternal presence” that you refer to. On the contrary, we see lots of young people like us being brought up by their mothers alone. We looked up the statistics: “Around 90 per cent of single parents are women; the proportion who are men has remained at around 10 per cent for over a decade. Single fathers are more than twice as likely to be widowed as single mothers.” In our experience young people are often being really well brought up just by their mothers. We see no mothers walking away and abandoning their children.
Our Catholic mothers and grandmothers are our role models. Here is how one of our group described it:
I have felt more inspired by the inspirational Catholic women I know – particularly my grandmother and mother – than by what I hear in church on Sunday. They showed me what it means to be a strong woman and have given me the ideals and values I respect: caring, confidence, self-assurance, independence and – through hard-work and guidance – helping your family to flourish.
Many mothers have been a role model for faith and womanhood in their faith and work, such as Margaret Mizen, who set up a charity in the memory of her son. For all women, who do not necessarily have these role models in their lives or the opportunities to meet such women, the Church speaking out more about their work will help. Praising women of faith for their achievement will help to support strong Catholic women in every community.
We believe women can work, lead and be really good mothers. As one of our group said,
The women in my life all work outside the home as well as having a family.
As a Catholic student I want to go in to science and pharmaceuticals but would also like to get married and have children; I can do both.
Somebody else wrote:
In the future, I aspire to become an engineer. I also want to have children. The human mind is capable of performing more than one task, more than parenting, more than one career. I have not heard of a mother who does not put her children first. Women are able to be more than just mothers because we ARE “genius”.
All those who are able to care for children and bring them up in a loving and enriching environment with a high quality of life for them should be encouraged, whoever or whatever their gender, culture, background, ethnicity or sexuality. These should not matter. A member of the group expressed well why we say this:
Growing up in London, we have been lucky enough to be surrounded by many different cultures, faiths, backgrounds, genders and sexualities. In this environment it has become clear to me that the subject of becoming a parent and marriage is important to all of us. My neighbours are a good example. One couple is gay with children and has raised them to be fantastic, friendly, smart ethically and sociable kids who are aiming for Oxford and Cambridge. I have neighbours who are young mothers taking care of their children on their own after the father has left them to their own devices without the role model of a father. I also know a newly wedded couple planning their first child.
In love, faith and hope,
Students from the Ursuline High School, Wimbledon [/expand]