By Józef Łopuszyński
On 11th October, Dr Caroline Farey, Acting Director of the BA Div course at Maryvale Higher Institute of Religious Sciences, Birmingham, was the Guest Speaker at the 45th Catholic Women of the Year Luncheon
The full speech is below:
Rev Fathers, Madam Chairman, Catholic women of the year, especially the wives of the Ordinariate clergy, and all of you who have come to celebrate this day, thank you.
It has just been mentioned that I will speak about my experience of being one of only three lay women experts at the Synod of bishops last October and the only woman expert from this country, and I would like to say just three things about that experience and then speak about today, 11th October, which is a very significant day for women, and especially the greatest of women, Our Blessed Lady, Mother of God.
Firstly, though, it was a very exciting and extraordinary privilege to be working for the UniversalChurch at the Synod on New evangelization for the transmission of faith.
Secondly, it is important that you, as women, know what great courtesy and respect I received at all times from the Cardinals, bishops and priests with whom I was working. We often hear that they probably know and care little about women in the Church, but you have now heard from someone who has worked with them that it was the opposite experience.
And thirdly, it is also good for you to know that each of the 250 bishops present for the synod had 5 minutes – and only five minutes – to speak in the general assembly. So, they only had time to say what was most important to them and a great many chose to speak of their gratitude and respect for the women in their dioceses.
And now you may remember that the Year of Faith, began during the Synod on 11th October last year. Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in St Peter’s square and at the end of the Mass he gave a ‘message’ for people involved in different areas of society, such as the medical world and the sick, the political world and the world of culture and the arts, to young people and to women and if you are in any of these areas of life I hope his message has inspired you during this year.
The day was significant, however, as the 20th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict’s message for catechists was the book of the Catechism itself, whole and entire, and I had the privilege of receiving that catechism on behalf of catechists - and, since we are women, it will interest you I think, that I am wearing the jacket that I wore on that occasion!!
But why was the 11th October chosen as the date for the opening of the year of faith? Why was it also the date for the 20th Anniversary for the Catechism? This is because it was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council which took place in 1962. Why was the 11th October chosen as a good date for the opening of the Second Vatican Council? Well, at that time, 11th October was the feast of the Motherhood of Mary, of Mary as Mother of God and it is because of this title that Mary is known as the defender against all heresy. Under this title, Mary protects the truth of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man. What a good idea, to choose such a feast day for the opening of a Council, at which the Council fathers would need protection in their deliberations!
Let’s go back even further. It was in 1931 that Pope Pius XI made 11th October the feast of the Motherhood of Mary for the whole Church. What prompted him to do this? Sadly, it was because of the Anglican bishops of our own country, who, at their Lambeth conference in August 1930 were the first in 2,000 years of Christianity to vote to permit contraception. Pope Pius XI first reaction to this tragedy was to write the encyclical Casti Connubi, on chaste marriage in December that same year. But how may women would have read it, how many of us have read this great and important letter?
And now we come to see something especially beautiful in the Catholic Church: as well as writing, the Pope pronounces a new liturgical feast day! How can he reach all Catholic women, literate and illiterate, in every country, rich and poor? How can he help as many as possible be reminded of, and ‘graced against’ this tragedy, which is a tragedy not only for the unborn child but against the dignity of women? He pronounces a liturgical feast to Our Lady so that every year we can ponder it again and be helped again.
And I want to go back even further in the memory of the Church. For the mathematicians among you, 1931 was the 1500th anniversary of an event that took place in 431AD. It was the Council of Ephesus and now I want to tell you of a great friend of mine called St Cyril of Alexandria. He defended the title of Mary Mother of God against others in the Church who were saying that God could never have lowered himself to be conceived in the womb of a woman. St Cyril was not only defending Mary but in doing so, he was defending the dignity of woman for God. He insisted that God did not disdain a woman’s womb but honoured it. All this is recorded.
Finally, and again it is recorded, the women of Ephesus were waiting for the Council fathers to come to their decision and when St Cyril announced to them that Mary was truly to be called Mother of God, they led a torchlight procession in thanksgiving through the streets – and we know when this took place – it was at the beginning of October.
In 1962, on the 11th October, there was another torchlight procession this time in Rome and on 11th October last year, yes, there was another torchlight procession – and several women here represented us.
This year, 2013, is the 25th Anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s letter, mulieris dignitatem, On the dignity of women. And Pope Francis has chosen these very days, 9-11th October, to gather a group of women for a seminar to write again about this same subject. I was asked to be part of that seminar and today, 11th October, the group are meeting the Holy Father. I decided that since I had already accepted this invitation, it was more important for me to speak to women rather than write about them!
To finish this talk, I want to mention a conversion story of a Maryvale student who visited the Institute recently. Very briefly, this young woman was ‘in extremis’ and kept having the temptation to kill herself and her children. The temptation became stronger and she eventually spoke to someone. He happened to be a Catholic and said her: ‘do nothing until you have done this – you have a mother in heaven, her name is Mary, ask her one thing, ask her now; you can trust that she will answer you’. From that moment she had no more temptations to suicide and she became a Catholic through that chance meeting.
Let us also turn to Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, now, and ask her just one thing, trusting in her love for us. Let us stop for just a few seconds. …
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.