This guide can be used to discuss some of the major ideas in Strengthening the Bonds of Peace: A Pastoral Reflection on Women in the Church and in Society (United States Catholic Conference, 1994), thereby opening a dialogue on the dignity, gifts, and leadership of women. Participants need not have read the document beforehand, but copies can be available at the discussion. Here is a suggested schedule for a half-day session (approximately three hours). Note that the discussion takes place in small groups. Each group should have about four to six people, including facilitator and recorder.
- Opening prayer (5 minutes)
- Sharing and discussion of Part 1 (10 minutes)
- Sharing and discussion of Part 2 (30 minutes)
- Sharing and discussion of Part 3 (30 minutes). Ask participants to name one woman in authority (question A1) and to share their response to all other questions.
- Report from small group sharings (30 minutes). A reporter from each group share two or three significant insights with the large group.
- Break (15 minutes)
- Sharing and discussion of Part 4 (20 minutes)
- Sharing and discussion of Part 5 (20 minutes)
- Summary (30 minutes). Ask each discussion group to share the group resolutions from Part 5. List these on a large board of newsprint. Consider appointing a committee of volunteers to implement a workable number of these resolutions in your parish.
- Closing prayer (5 minutes)
If less time is available, discuss only preselected questions. To vary the format, substitute a speaker or a panel for one or two of the small group discussions. For example, invite a woman who holds a leadership position in the parish or diocese to reflect on her service to the Church.
Part 1: Focus of the document
- To strengthen the dialogue concerning the “necessary and irreplaceable role of women in the Church”
- To affirm that the diversity of gifts in the service of Christ is not to be feared or suppressed but to be recognized as a sign of the Church’s vitality and ongoing renewal.
- To reject sexism and enhance the participation of women in every possible aspect of church life.
- To strengthen the bonds of peace and cultivate the unity which the Holy Spirit gives (Eph 4:3).
Part 2: Strengthening the bonds of peace
- How would you define or describe peace
- For yourself?
- For your family?
- For your neighborhood/community?
- The document lists four conditions
necessary for peace:
- Respect for the dignity of each person
- Welcoming of the gifts and competencies of all people
- Respect for differences
- Working together to build up the Body of Christ
What evidence is there in your parish of these conditions?
- What has been your experience of the
skills needed for honest, open dialogue
on issues of conflict
- In your friendships?
- In your marriage?
- In your family?
- In your parish?
- Pope Paul VI identified four
characteristics of dialogue or
- Clear, understandable language (straight talk)
- Meekness, a virtue that makes our dialogue peaceful and patient
- Trust between speaker and listener
- Sensitivity to the situation and needs of the hearer
How do these characteristics relate to your experience of dialogue?
- How would you rate your
- With your peers of the same sex?
- With peers of the opposite sex?
- With your pastor?
- With your parish lay leaders?
A recent study shows that 82 percent of nonordanined ministerial positions in parishes are held by women (Parishes and Parish Ministers, National Pastoral Life Center, 1999)
- Name four women in your local parish who hold postitions of authority.
- How are their leadership skills developed, affirmed, and respected?
- What are their greatest leadership gifts?
- How do women have a voice in the decisions that are made in your parish?
“We reaffirm the fundamental equality of women and men who, created in the image of God, are called to participate in the same divine beatitude and therefore enjoy an equal dignity . . . Equality does not imply sameness in roles or expectations, nor does it mean . . . identical gifts or character.”
- Were you raised to believe and act as if men and women, boys and girls are equal and different?
- If so, what does “equal but different” mean to you? If not, can you believe and act on what the Church is teaching today? If yes, what has led to your conversion? If not, why?
- Diversity of gifts
“Diversity of gifts in the service of Christ is not to be feared or suppressed, but recognized as a sign of the Church’s vitality and ongoing renewal.”
- List a variety of gifts women have to offer the Church.
- How can the parish support gifted women?
“The role of women is of capital importance for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church” –Pope John Paul II
- Name three women who have revealed the face of the Church to you and describe how they have done this.
- How can we react to the pain caused by sexism in the Church with Christ’s healing, mercy, and compassion?
- What does your parish need to do to enhance the participation of women within church life?
- What can your parish do to encourage girls and young women to recognize the gifts they have for the Church and to encourage them to use these gifts?
- “In dialogue, one discovers how different are the ways which lead to the light of faith, and how it is possible to make them converge on the same goal.”
- Pope Paul VI
(Originally prepared by Sr. Paula hagen, OSB and Eunice M. Cheshire, Diocese of St. Augustine, and adapted by the NCCB Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women, and Youth. All quotes taken from Strengthening the Bonds of Peace.)