My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
International Women’s Day, as declared by the United Nations, is celebrated on March 8, in parallel with the designation of the month of March as Women’s History Month. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” which acknowledges the tremendous efforts by women around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 2021 also marks the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which has, as its priority theme, “Women in public life, equal participation in decision making.”
The World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), founded in 1910, now represents 100 organizations of Catholic women in 60 countries and has over 5 million members worldwide. The organization promotes the presence and participation of Catholic women within society and our Church.
As part of their celebration of International Women’s Day, a panel is being organized for the purposes of reading Pope Francis’s encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” along with the Consulta Femminile (Permanent Women’s Consultation Group) of the Pontifical Council for Culture, as well as with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Organizations, such as this have cooperated with the Vatican in raising awareness of social causes, such as the recent World Day of Prayer Against Trafficking, which Pope Francis addressed.
For fifty-two weeks a year religious women stand with the poor and immigrants, teach children, fight injustice, care for the sick, bring spiritual care, empower women, defend the planet, promote peace, create community, and offer hope. The week of March 8 to 14 is Catholic Sisters Week. Although women cannot be priests in the Roman Catholic Church, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is now providing them with more significant leadership roles. Last month, Pope Francis changed Church law to explicitly allow women to take a greater liturgical role during Mass. The decree allows women to serve as readers at liturgies, altar servers and distributors of Holy Communion. And while in much of the Western world women already do so, it is not the case everywhere else in the world. Catholic women have played an important role in the life of the Church for many centuries.
Besides coinciding with Lent, the month of March offers another reason to celebrate female saints. Since 1987, March has annually been declared as “Women’s History Month” by United States Presidents. The movement to more formally honor the contributions of women to society started in the 1970s. A few important women to note are Mary, Mother of Christ, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Monica, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and Saint Frances Cabrini.
Last Columbus Day, I stood with officials in Battery Park at the unveiling of a permanent statue that now stands in tribute to Mother Cabrini. This statue is located in direct sight of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty embodies the work of the Church and of Mother Cabrini, who in her life cared for those less fortunate and in need.
St. Frances Cabrini would later become known as the Patroness of Immigrants, and for many years, the Diocese of Brooklyn has been referred to as the Diocese of Immigrants. Our own statue dedicated to Mother Cabrini, sponsored by the Italian Apostolate of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, will be unveiled sometime this spring. The statue will be at Sacred Hearts, St. Stephen’s Parish where Mother Cabrini ministered, and established the first school in our diocese for Italian immigrants in 1892. The date for the celebration will be announced at a later date.
Through the work of so many extraordinary women within our midst, working in our parishes, Catholic Migration Services and Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, we have been able to be there for so many in need, especially in the height of and throughout the duration of this COVID-19 pandemic.
As Pope John Paul II wrote in his June 29, 1995 Letter to Women, “The Church gives thanks for each and every woman. … The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine “genius” which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.”
Every day, women put out into the deep reality of life in so many situations: family, professional life and countless more areas and other aspects of life. We accompany them with our prayers during this time of Lent and Covid-19, so that they may fulfill their important responsibilities.