2018 GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE WORLD UNION OF CATHOLIC WOMEN’S ORGANISATIONS
DAKAR, SENEGAL 16-21 OCTOBER 2018
by Maribeth Stewart-Blogoslawski, NCCW President
WUCWO Women-Carriers of ‘Living Water” to a world that thirsts for Peace
Arriving in Senegal, the first impression was of the heat and humidity but that was coupled with the
excitement felt over the anticipation of the Assembly finally happening after so much planning and
discussion and work.
On the first day, we were bussed from our hotel , a property that was situated right on the ocean and
had lovely accommodations, about an hour away to Dakar. On the way, I could not fail to note the
number of idle men who had no work, and the women and children along the dusty red roadsselling
mangoes or brightly colored and patterned lengths of cloth. There were many unfinished buildings
made of concrete blocks and upon inquiry I learned that people who own land first build a concrete
block wall around their property and then build their house wheneverthey are able to afford the next
stage of construction. We also saw round buildings made of upright branches covered with tarps and
corrugated metal sided homes and businesses with tarp roofs. I could not help but look at those
beautiful children and wonder what the world was missing as it is likely thatthey would never have the
opportunity to contribute their particular gifts to the world. Many prayers remain in my heart for these
The opening Mass was lovely after which we were taken to the Grand Theater in Dakar to a huge tented
area where we had a formal opening ceremony attended by the Cardinal, papal Nuncio, several cabinet
ministers and the President of Senegal.
We then began the first of two Study Days in which we explored different aspects of the theme of the
Assembly. We first heard from Maria Giovanna Ruggieri, WUCWO President General, who pointed out
that as carriers of ‘living water’ we go out into a world where hunger is growing and care for others is
disappearing. Persons from different cultures are not well received. As WUCO women, we need to
think in community, in solidarity.
We then heard from Dr, Isable Recavarren of Peru who is the founder and coordinator of the Women’s
Forum of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly, She spoke of socio-political dynamics at
work in our world and called her talk, A World That Thirsts for Peace.
We then saw a video presentation from Dr. Anne Therese Gallagher of Australia, President of the
International CatholicMigration Commission. Dr, Gallagher pointed out the different types and causes
for migration and the dangers and difficulties encountered by migrants around the world and
emphasized the proper Catholic social response to this issue, reiterating the Pope’s words that each
person, by virtue of human dignity and human rights, has the right to migrate to seek a safe and healthy
existence and it is a baptized Christian’s responsibility to recognize this and act accordingly.
We then heard from Sister Therse Samake, VP of the Catholic University of West Africa in Mali. She
spoke on what is happening to our common home in terms of how women can impact the environment
in both negative and positive ways. She introduced three symbols with which women are familiar: A
broom used to separate waste leading to cleanliness; a bowl that can carry water and food; and a well
that can symbolize the cultivation of our interior spiritual life. She called for women to move to a new
awareness and a new way of doing things, a liberation of the feminine genius both physically and
spiritually with gestures that can lead to peace.
We then heard messages from cardinals and presidents of African countries as well as a message from
the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life in which we received an Apostolic Blessing that extended to
A special effort had been made to include young women in this Assembly and scholarships had been
offered for this. It was wonderful to have these young people with us and to learn their perspective on
We then enjoyed dinner together at the hotel where food was served buffet style and the restaurant
itself was full of tables and chairs where we could eat together inside or outside.
On the second day, after Mass, we had Dr. Linda Ghisoni, Undersecretary for the Dicastery of Laity,
speak to us on Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia and the relevance of those two documents to our
life as WUCWO. She challenged us to ask ourselves if we are too satisfied with our own lives or too busy
or too tired to proclaim the Gospel. We need to be aware of the baptism we received that makes us
proclaimers of the Gospel in all we do. As WUCWO, we are called to awaken the thirst for all that is
love, beauty, trust, peace, and faith. To do so, we must have a personal relationship with Jesus. When
Jesus arrived at the well and asked the Samaritan woman for a drink, He was tired and He was thirsty.
He asked for her help and in doing so, He established a personal relationship with the woman and He
awakened her thirst for an interior encounter for peace and truth. He prepared her to receive His
message and she ran to proclaim that message. As baptized women, we are called to awaken the thirst
for peace and truth. She encouraged us to read Evangelii Gaudium!
We then heard from Dr. Maria Teresa Compte Grau who teaches Social Doctrine of the Church at the
Pontifical University in Salamanca, Spain. She spoke to us about Laudato Si and its application to our
work in our organizations and in our lives. She told us that this encyclical should encourage deep
reflection for women. The symbol of water restores and purifies, regenerates and brings life. Women
do the same. She suggested that we need a counter-culture reaction so that technology does not take
over human interactions. She said we need to understand gratitude since the world is a gift from God
and is our common link with all creatures. We need to experience an ecological conversion.
We then heard from Dr. Donna Orsuto, Director of the Lay Center at Foyer-Unitas, USA. She opened
with a photo of a fountain empty due to drought. In the same way, we are faced with the problem of
presenting Jesus to the world. This is a gift and responsibility given to us. Many need to have the water
of life brought to them, even if they are unaware that they thirst for this and we are called to bring the
water through Jesus Christ. Gaudete et Exsultate teaches us how to do that. Rejoice and Be Glad -Jesus’
words to us and our call to holiness today. In responding, we receive the joy and energy we need. The
Lord asks everything of us because He wants us to live ordinary lives with extraordinary holiness; He
wants us to be saints. Each day is a holy day, each place is a holy place. Women need to be joyful and
confident in living God’s message. DO not be afraid. Keep following our Mission. Be completely open
to the freedom to take risks, go to the peripheries, ask what God wants of us at this moment in time.
We next broke into working groups where we learned the work of each other’s organizations. We
explored the similarities and differences among us. We then addressed the main challenges the Church
proposes for our actions as carriers of living water. We heard single motherhood, unemployment, the
need to step out of our comfort zone and go out to the peripheries. Following these sessions, we met
together in the main hall to learn of the work of each of the working groups.
Thus ended our Study Days.