“Twenty years later…..”

A group photo of the Holy See delegation in the Beijing Conference, 1995

Pilar Escudero de Jensen

Pilar is from Chile and is married with four children and four grandchildren. She belongs to the Schoenstatt Institute of Families. She is an adviser to the Pastoral Ministry Vicariate of the Archdiocese of Santiago, and assists the Bishops’ Conference of Chile and CELAM. She is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Together with her husband Luis Jensen, she formed part of the Holy See delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women convened by the United Nations in Beijing in September 1995.

20 years ago our eldest daughter was 14. Today as I was talking to her and her two older daughters, aged 8 and 5, I asked them, “What are women like?” The immediate response from Trini, the younger one, was “happy”. Angeles thought for a moment and replied, “special” ... They followed this with a volley of features and adjectives, all true, all based on concrete examples of different women like their classmates, their aunts, the lady selling flowers on the street or their teachers. What a joy it would be to be able to say that all women are happy. We know that the reality is very complex and that sorrow is also part of our lives. What we do agree on is that we are special, each one with her dignity and her identity, her capacity to love and care for life, her gifts and also many challenges, and her indispensable contribution as she strives to make her surroundings more humane.

Twenty years ago on Tuesday 29 August 1995, the Pope, Saint John Paul II, was thinking of women as he addressed the delegation who would represent the Holy See at the 4th Women’s Conference in Beijing: “Over the past months, on various occasions, I have drawn attention to the positions of the Holy See and to the teaching of the Catholic Church on the dignity, rights and responsibilities of women in today’s society: in the family, in the workplace, in public life. I have drawn inspiration from the life and witness of great women within the Church throughout the centuries who have been pioneers within society, as mothers, as workers, as leaders in the social and political fields, in the caring professions and as thinkers and spiritual leaders”. His words gave us inspiration as we set out for what we knew was a tremendous challenge. We were aware that there were very different views about women and their rights. There would be the histories, religions and beliefs of the whole world, all the hugely contrasting realities facing women in different regions of the planet, and there would also be the influence and interests of states and various organisations...

Although the Pope knew that we felt very small in comparison with this great mission, he said clearly, “My wishes are for the success of this Conference in its aim to guarantee all the women of the world equality, development and peace, through full respect for their equal dignity and for their inalienable human rights, so that they can make their full contribution to the good of society”.

Twenty years later we can ask whether this purpose is fulfilled. What do we understand by women's equality? How is it expressed? Regarding development, what has been achieved? How much remains to be done? We could talk for long about these important aspects. We know the ideologies and currents of thought that present us with different models to achieve the proposed goals and how they differ on key points from the vision and the approach of the Church. It is very important to keep dialogue open on these issues. We have gathered enough experience over the years to observe their impact on the lives of women and men, in the complementarity that helps build full humanity.

I would like to dwell on the third objective of the Conference which was peace. Just by being aware of the news in recent weeks we realise how distant we are from having reached this goal. On every continent there are terrible wars and conflicts, violence in our cities is growing steadily, and there are millions of migrants and refugees in the world seeking a home. The list of situations of suffering and insecurity is even longer. However, I would like to dwell on a more personal ordinary aspect. What is happening to the cultivation of inner peace? Women at peace with themselves can radiate this through their witness and thus more effectively help to change the face of this world of ours.

Growth in inner peace requires us to be able to know and value ourselves. We must be able to experience that our dignity also allows us to discover our identity, both on the natural plane and the supernatural plane. It is to discern God’s call, our vocation, our personal goals or ideals and our mission in life. Ultimately it is to be able to see the love and mercy of God. It is a source of joy, serenity and peace as expressed again and again by Pope Francis.

The Pope himself helps us to further express the meaning and significance of being female and male by inviting us to “care for our common home” in the encyclical Laudato Si. How can we do this if we do not take care of ourselves, if we neglect to nurture our world both internally and externally? The Pope writes in number 155: “Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment...”. A concrete expression of this is, “The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home .... Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment”.

Women peacemakers when renewed within can help us all to grow in awareness of being one of others for the good of so many others, of those we love and those who are entrusted to us, of those who suffer and those who are lonely. 20 years later, on Sunday 30 August 2015, Pope Francis gave us a further idea at the Angelus: “it is not the external things that make us holy or unholy, but the heart which expresses our intentions, our choices and the will to do all for the love of God. External behaviour is the result of what we decide in the heart, and not the contrary: with a change in external behaviour, but not a change of heart, we are not true Christians. The boundary between good and evil does not pass outside of us, but rather within us. We could ask ourselves: where is my heart? Jesus said: ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’. What is my treasure?

What is our treasure, that which makes us “special” and which we yearn to find in order to be “happy”? Could this change of heart also translate into renewed commitment and responsibility? 20 years ago, John Paul II ended his address before we left for Beijing with the words, “In the spirit of those great Christian women who have enlightened the life of the Church throughout the centuries and who have often called the Church back to her essential mission and service, I make an appeal to the women of the Church today to assume new forms of leadership in service and I appeal to all the institutions of the Church to welcome this contribution of women”.

Let us keep the conversation open. Let us invite Mary, and let us try to discover with her  and through her example  God’s will for us, with what we are and have, with the joy and peace of knowing that we are loved by the Father.

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