BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE 2019 BOARD MEETING OF THE WORLD UNION OF CATHOLIC WOMEN’S ORGANISATIONS (WUCWO) 16-22 MAY 2019 Rome, Italy
After settling into the hotel, I ventured out to locate our new WUCWO office which is now at Piazza Ponte S. Angelo, 28. It was easy to find as it was just past the bridge that starts in front of the Castel S. Angelo. Crossing over the Tiber, one comes to the Piazza and the building was just to the left.
We began our Executive Meeting at 11:30 in the morning and discussed the agenda for the Board and accepted various assignments. It was here that I learned that the talk I had agreed to give with our Ecclesiastical Assistant, Father Whelan, on Laudato Si was to be livestreamed around the world! No pressure there!
The Masses and meetings were held in the same building as our new office as there is a lovely chapel and a large meeting room fitted with the latest translation and IT equipment.
The full Board first gathered for an Opening Mass that was planned by the Asia-Pacific Region. Following Mass, we moved to the meeting room for the formal opening procedures (Approval of the agenda, minutes, roll call, etc.) and then heard the reports from our President General, Vice President General, and Treasurer General. We approved the appointment of a new International Representative to the FAO where we lacked representation and approved the applications of two new member organizations from Italy and then went around the room to answer two questions: Why is it worthwhile to belong to WUCWO? and What is a useful personal characteristic to have as a Board member?
At 6PM, we had our first formation session that was live streamed around the world. These sessions are held to sensitize and enhance our knowledge of current Church events and documents. This first session, which I chaired as VP of North America, focused on the protection of children, minors, and vulnerable persons. The theme was taken from our WUCWO Resolution of caring for families, especially the most vulnerable members. Three experts on child protection spoke to us and we learned of particular cases of abuse, the difficulty in persons coming forward, and the need for compassion, openness, repentance, and clear directives on dealing with such cases. The Pontifical Council for the Laity, Family, and Life, which is the PC under which WUCWO is held, has asked each of WUCWO’s member organizations to adopt a policy concerning the protection of children. We shall address this at our NCCW Board meeting in June.
The next day, Friday, May 17, we prayed Morning Prayer together and then the VP for Latin America and the Caribbean chaired a session where the Vice President for each region gave a brief 7 minute summary of her region and the region’s work on each of the 4 resolutions adopted in Dakar at our WUCWO General Assembly last October. We then broke off into groups according to our regions to consider two questions: What can you offer and what do you need from WUCWO members? and How can you target new member groups? For North America, we decided we did not need anything specific but could share our resources and prayers with other member organizations. Since in the US and in Canada all women’s organizations are supposed to come under one umbrella organization so there should not be any other WUCWO member organizations from our countries other than those that presently exist, we decided to make a list of reasons why an organization would want to join WUCWO. After this part of the session, we reconvened and held the plenary for the regions where we learned of each region’s response to the questions posed.
Following lunch, the Vice President for Asia-Pacific chaired the session which was for our Working Groups. There are four working groups, each working on one of the new resolutions adopted at Dakar. The groups split off and worked on providing a list of concrete actions they would take to address each resolution. These actions were shared at the plenary session that followed. It was evident that in the developed countries, there were similar approaches and issues whereas in developing countries, the issues and ability to work on them varied widely. Each of these plenary sessions had as its aim to develop the Plan of Action that will govern WUCWO’s efforts for the next four years. The day ended with Mass in the Chapel led by the Europe Region.
The next day, Saturday, May 18, we met for Morning Prayer. The session was chaired by the Vice President for Europe. As we had addressed our Regions and Working Groups with an aim to developing the Plan of Action, it was now time to do the same with the Committees. There are four standing committees: International, Finance, Statutes and Procedures, and Communications, Information, and Publications. So, we split into our assigned committees (mine is International because of my work at the UN for WUCWO) and we each developed actions to take that were reported during the plenary session that followed. With this work behind us, we truly enjoyed an afternoon retreat given to us by Cardinal Tagle that was based upon Gaudete et Exsultate. The day ended with Mass celebrated in the chapel by the Cardinal and planned by the Latin America and Caribbean Region.
Sunday morning was free for the Board. I met with the President so we could go over some items. Everyone was free to attend the Pope’s Regina Coeli and blessing in St. Peter Square and it was lovely to do so, the Square being just ½ block from my hotel. The entire board reconvened at 4:30PM when we began preparation work on a new WUCWO video. Sentences and phrases from our responses as to why to join WUCWO were joined together to explain our structure, mission and purpose. Each member of the Board was assigned a phrase to say for the video, showing “the face of WUCWO.” This was a time to practice how all this would flow when it was filmed by a team from the Vatican Press Office the next day. Of course, we had a lot of fun doing this as people flubbed lines, acted like movie stars, etc.
At 6PM, the Vice President for Africa chaired a session where we considered additional elements for the Plan of Action not covered earlier, agreed that we would pursue possibly having a meeting with the women of the Middle East next year in Greece, agreed that we would participate in two seminars on microeconomics, one in Latin America and the other in Africa, continue our work on water provision, and learned of what would be required of WUCWO as a partner in the promotion of the cause of Pilar Bellosillo, a former WUCWO President General, for sainthood.
Early the next morning, Monday, 20 May, we caught taxis to San Calisto where most of the main offices (dicasteries) of the Holy See are located. We had lengthy meetings with the Dicastery for Integral Human Development and the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, with Mass being held at the chapel at San Calisto, organized by the North America Region.
In the afternoon, we returned to our meeting place and with the team from the Vatican Press Office, shot our new video. At 5PM, we had the second formation session to be live streamed around the world and this was on Laudato Si. This was in keeping with our resolution concerning a healthy planet depending on us all. I gave an introduction, some science behind the statements in the encyclical, 10 important points of the encyclical, the Pope’s statement that climate change and man’s impact on it are not optional beliefs as it is now Catholic Social Teaching, and then Father Whelan reiterated the high points of my part, spoke about Saint Francis, and then provided some philosophical aspects of Laudato Si. The day concluded with an ecumenical prayer shared with some English-speaking persons in Rome who are Anglican and Methodist. The choir led us in some beautiful praise together.
Tuesday, May 21, started bright and early with Morning Prayer after which we discussed and voted on the Plan of Action that will take us through the next 4 years. We then discussed and approved the budget and noted the importance of member organizations paying their dues on time. We all signed a confidentiality statement and were asked to make known the Campaign for a Minute of Peace. Father Whelan then gave us a brief power point talk on the three popes who did so much for the laity and whose tombs we were to visit later in the day: Saints John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II. After lunch, we walked over to St. Peter Basilica where we had a special pass to go right in by a side door. We were free to go about the Basilica on our own or with small groups and we all visited the tombs of the Popes who were highlighted earlier in addition to some visiting the Treasury of St. Peters and all spent time marveling at the Basilica and praying. At 4:30, we gathered at a designated spot and were led down to the Tomb of St. Peter where Cardinal Ouellet said Mass for us. What a sacred moment! We were then free again until we gathered at the meeting building for our Cultural Dinner where we enjoyed delicious food and entertainment by our board members who sang and danced. So interesting to see the extravagance and flair of the Latin American dances, the joy of the African songs, and the haunting melodies sung beautifully by our Hungarian member. It was a fun evening where we all had a wonderful time together.
The next day, Wednesday, May 22, we met at the Porta Sant’ Uffizio very early as we had a special ticket that allowed us to have very privileged seats very close to the Holy Father as he gave his General Audience. Immediately following the Audience, the Swiss Guards led our WUCWO group to a certain area where we were arranged on three levels with the President and VP General in front. To our joy, the Pope walked over to us and greeted our President and me. What an amazing and moving time.
After this experience, the Board members bid each other farewell and safe travel as our time was officially over -but not for the Executive who had a meeting following this time together. That evening, when all was over, it was lovely to reflect on what an extraordinary thing it is for women united in faith from all over the world to come together in Rome to work on problems through united prayer and effort. Though we speak different languages and come from so many different cultures, we all bonded so quickly and so closely as sisters. This was indeed a most blessed time of work, spirituality, and fun.
-Maribeth Stewart Blogoslawski
VP General, VP North America, WUCWO
WUCWO Representative to ECOSOC, UN, NY