WUCWO GENERAL ASSEMBLY IN THE FRAMEWORK OF POPE FRANCIS MAGISTERIUM
DAME PATRICIA NWAUBANI, CWO NIGERIA
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2032-2040) (2049-2051) states that “it is the duty of the Magisterium of the Church to preach the faith that is to be believed and put into practice in life. This duty extends even to specific precepts of the natural law because their observance is necessary for salvation”.
Pope Francis who was elected in March 2013, is the head of the Church and it is in the light of the above apt summary of the Magisterium of the church that I intend to give a brief review of the Magisterium of Pope Francis and relate same to the aims and workings of the World Union of Catholic Women Organization (WUCWO). May I point out that because of limitation of time and space, I am constrained to dwell very briefly on only such aspects of his Magisterium that are pertinent to the topic at hand.
2. The Magisterium of Pope Francis:
The magisterium of Pope Francis comprises his works and teachings. On his election to the papacy on 13th March 2013, he chose the name Francis in honour of St. Francis of Assissi. He is the first Jesuit Pope and also the first from the Americas. In his lecture on “Pope Francis And The Rise of a Pastoral Magisterium” Richard R. Gaillardetz states, inter alia, that Pope Francis “has brought his personal humility, Ignatian spirituality and refreshing informality into his papacy”. The first indication of this was when immediately after his election he appeared on St. Peters loggia, bowed down before the waiting audience and requested the people to pray for him and bless him.
Richard also enumerates that Pope Francis Pastoral Magisterium is marked by the “embrace of the power of the symbolic gesture:-
The whole world has watched in profound admiration and appreciation the times he caused his papal mobile to stop so he could extend comforting hand of blessing and words of Christian love and consolation to some old women, children etc. at a papal audience. These gestures are most effective in evangelization and have made him a reference point for both Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the whole world.
Moreover, he has travelled extensively to places like Mexico, Chile, Israel, Jordan, South Korea etc. Everywhere he goes, he brings the message of Christian love, peace and hope for the people. Pope Francis’ teachings are equally edifying. His first encyclical “Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith) issued on 29th June, 2013 dwells on the light of faith rooted in John’s gospel where “Christ says of Himself – I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me, may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46). “Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals His love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives”. The encyclical goes further to state that “faith sees things and people the way Jesus Himself sees them”. There is a bond between faith and truth. The light of faith in Jesus illumines the path of all those who seek God and makes a specifically Christian contribution to dialogue with followers of different religions. “It describes the Church as the “Mother of our faith” and the roles of the sacraments in the transmission of faith. It states that “the unity of the Church is linked to the unity of the faith: there is one body and one spirit - - - - one faith.” (Ephesians 4:4-5). It describes faith as “a light for life in society.” The encyclical ends with prayer to Mary Mother of the Church and Mother of our faith.
On 24th November 2013 was issued Francis Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” a teaching on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world. Paragraph one of the document summarizes the import of this exhortation thus: “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness - - -. In this exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come”.
In his second encyclical “Laudato Si” of 24th May, 2015 on “Our Common Home”, Pope Francis’ opening statement “Praise be to you, my Lord,” was taken from the canticle of St. Francis of Assisi. In it he calls for dialogue with all people about our common home. He called for more concerted efforts from all persons towards the protection and preservation of our environment and a stop to environmental degradation/pollution. He also called for meaningful and serious actions at tackling problems of climate change.
The Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation – “Amoris Laetita of 19th March, 2016 dwells on love in the family. It treats such aspects as the experiences and challenges of families, love in marriage, the “culture of encounter” to include the extended family kinship and not only the nuclear family. Pope Francis emphasizes the “spirituality of marriage” which has a deeply social character especially the relationship between the youth and the elderly. He also dwelt on the “better education of children”.
“Misericordia et Misera” (Mercy and Peace), Pope Francis Apostolic letter of 20th November, 2016 came at the conclusion of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. In summary, he states that “mercy constitutes the very existence of the church through which the profound truths of the gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the father”. He emphasized forgiveness and asked that the “Sacrament of Reconciliation must regain a central place in the Christian life”. He harped on the need to extend mercy and love to the downtrodden and suffering in the world.
Pope Francis’ “Gaudete et Exultate” (Rejoice and be Glad) of April 2018 is an Apostolic Exhortation of a call to holiness of life. The Pope states that, “the Lord asks everything of us and in return He offers us true life, the happiness for which we are created. He wants us to be saints and not settle for a bland and mediocre existence”. The Pope praises those he refers to as “the middle class of holiness: the everyday sanctity of those parents who raise their children with immense love, who work hard to support their families, in the sick, and elderly religious who never lose their smile”.
The above is not exhaustive of the work and teachings of Pope Francis, but are only those that relate to WUCWO. There are many other aspects of his work and teachings which pertain more to other arms of the church.
3. WUCWO Assembly in the Framework of Pope Francis Magisterium:
WUCWO comprises over one hundred Catholic Women Organizations all over the world, and its aim is to “work to maintain the faith, defend religious liberties and organize catholic social actions in a spirit of full and constant submission to the ordinances of the Sovereign. WUCWO’s mission is to “promote the presence, participation and co-responsibility of catholic women in society and the church, in order to enable them to fulfill their mission of evangelization and to work for human development“. The aims and mission of WUCWO are in tandem with the work and teachings of Pope Francis. WUCWO is therefore united to Pope Francis.
In addition to the declaring 13th May of every year as WUCWO day all over the world, a day of prayers and reflections, there are specific days in the months of every year for various intentions for the church and the world at large.
WUCWO as a formidable pillar of support for the church tailors its activities every year to the teachings and promulgations of the Pope. In 2015, Pope Francis called for dialogue and WUCWO keyed into his statement that peace is necessary in the world by praying that year for the grace to “accept others and their differences”. In addition, WUCWO’s theme for 2015 was “Women of Hope and Sowers of Peace”. All member organizations centered their activities that year on this theme.
Pope Francis declared 2016 the jubilee of Mercy, as well as the year for the family and youth. In consonance with this, the theme for the WUCWO conference held in Malawi Africa in 2016 was, “Women of Africa, proclaimers of God’s Mercy”. Other sub – themes discussed at the conference were – Hope in Action in the service of the family; Youth and the suffering in Africa; the treatment of women, children and trafficking in Africa. In addition, that year WUCWO prayed “that family be a sanctuary of peace, love and faith’.
In 2017, WUCWO’s focus was on “suffering women in the world, all who are being abused, violated, oppressed and in situations that deprived them of their dignity”. This too is in keeping with Pope Francis’ exhortation that special attention should be paid to the deprived and suffering people of the world, to see Christ in those suffering.
WUCWO, in 2018, prays against corruption, war, terrorism etc. that “God may bless us with strength to stand in the way of injustice, oppression and exploitation”. The theme for 2018 is “WUCWO Women Carries of Living Water to a World which thirsts for peace”.
4. Catholic Women Organization of Nigeria (CWON) Championing the Mission of WUCWO:
In compliance with the mission and aims of WUCWO, the Catholic Women Organization Nigeria carries out programmes and activities aimed at supporting both the church and society.
In the area of education CWON has built a school “COR MARIAE”. This school which presently houses a crèche, nursery and primary school is being expanded into a secondary school where the students will be availed the opportunity of a qualitative education. All efforts are geared towards opening the secondary school in September 2019.
Every year, CWON holds seminar and retreat for the top executives of all the dioceses in Nigeria. National meetings, seminars and retreats are rotated among the nine provinces in Nigeria. The seminars and retreats are usually off shoots form the WUCWO theme for the year. These go down the ladder to dioceses, parishes etc. In 2017, CWON mapped out a one year programme for new evangelization for her members. This programme, among other activities, focuses on five aspects of formation viz: human, Spiritual, doctrinal/religious, apostolic and professional. It is believed that with this training programme, Woman will be “poised to bring their maternal influence to society and champion the cause of a new evangelization.” That same year CWON, Organized an extensive training on evangelization for representatives from dioceses. The beneficiaries of this train the trainees programme are to train others in their dioceses and parishes. This enables the woman to be better equipped to disseminate the catholic faith, first in their families and then their communities.
CWON as a statutory organization in the Catholic Church in Nigeria is a formidable arm of support for the church. When the catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) takes a stand on any issue, CWON lends its voice and support. Recently when the bishops of Nigeria protested the killing of two priests and parishioners in a diocese in Nigeria, the CWON at April 2018 National Conference in Kaduna, staged a peaceful protest against the killing to back up the bishops.
There had been occasions when CWON had to rally the woman folk from other faiths (including Muslims) and denominations to pre-empt and nip in the bud attempts to pass laws offensive to nature and womanhood. CWON has engaged in solidarity visits to people in areas ravaged by incessant killings etc., offering both financial and material support. The list is endless. The dioceses are equally active. WUCWO Day, 13th May is a beehive of activities for dioceses, and stretches through a whole week of spiritual and social activities culminating in the grand finale on 13th May. Rosary processions, seminar retreats, visits to charity homes, prisons with assorted items of food, clothing etc. bible quiz and get together are some of the activities.
Mothers Sunday is celebrated every year in parishes with activities ranging from religious, to outreaches to homes for destitutes and the handicapped, visit to prisons with sundry items of food, cloths, toiletries etc. are inclusive. In fact one diocese as part of its prison apostolate, built a church –the Church of St. Paul, for the inmates of the prison. This Church formed the hub of religious activities and evangelization in the prison. Many prisoners, that year converted to the Catholic faith. Many Dioceses in Nigeria have built schools and offered scholarships to indigent students. Many Dioceses and Parishes sponsor the training of seminarians and provide support to formation homes. They provide skill acquisition centres for training of young people in various skills to enable them become self-employed.
Dioceses and Parishes also organize women development and capacity building programmes to empower their members. In some cases, members are given small loans to set up small businesses. At Parish level, the CWO collaborates and contributes to the growth and development of the Parish. They assist in feeding the priests and cleaning the Church. Members serve as catechists, marriage counselors and evangelists. CWON has an outreach programme (CWON in Diaspora) to reach out to her members wherever they are in the world. The voice of the women are aired in the WOMEN ECHO Magazine. This magazine disseminates information on various activities of the various Provinces that make up the CWON.
It is not possible to list all the worthwhile activities of CWON and her components because of lack of space.
5. CONCLUSION: Finally, I categorically state, without any fear of being immodest, that WUCWO has been most effective in aiding the magisterium of Pope Francis. We are all looking forward to 2018 WUCWO Assembly in Dakar Senegal. There are so many challenges facing the church in a world that seems to have gone haywire. However, we stand firmly on the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ; “And so I tell you, Peter: You are rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it ---“ Matthew 16:18 (Good News Bible).
Let me end with the famous prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola “O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness, and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of your presence; Your love and your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to you, we shall see your hand, your presence, your will through all things.”
WUCWO, may our Blessed Mother Mary intercede for us and may God give us the grace to continue to be the bearers of Christ’s message to the world that hungers for peace.