ANDANTE – European Alliance of Catholic Women’s Organisations
Conference in Riga, Latvia, 3rd-5th October, 2014
Conference Theme: Poverty
Pope Francis opened the Synod of Bishops on the Family, 5th October, 2014, Rome, with these words:
“…Because we must say everything we feel we need to say, in the spirit of the Lord, without pusillanimity and without fear. At the same time, we must listen humbly and embrace with an open heart what our brothers are telling us…I can ask you please to adopt these two fraternal attitudes, in the name of the Lord: to feel with parresia and listen humbly…”
These words and sentiments describe best the atmosphere and culture which prevailed throughout the ANDANTE Conference in Riga, in the days prior to the Synod.
The Conference focused on how the Andante member organisations are taking actions to address and combat poverty in their own countries as well as through collaborations with partners in other European countries. More than fifty delegates attended.
Mrs. Anna Zaborska, in her keynote address, spoke of the many understandings of the term ‘poverty,’ presenting both the worldwide and European perspectives. She concluded with the stark fact that despite years of unprecedented global economic growth, poverty is on the rise.
Mrs Zaborska urged listeners to understand the concept of ‘family’ in contemporary times; to see the importance of the family unit as central to society. At the same time she drew attention to the disintegration of the family unit as having a direct impact on poverty.
Following her address, conversations with frank and open dialogue took place. These were the ‘hallmarks’ of the gathering. Shared belief was simply, that everyone must do the best one can do one’s own particular circumstances.
Different approaches to addressing poverty-related matters were presented by representatives of three ANDANTE member organisations; Gretta’s story from Riga; The National Board of Catholic Women, from the United Kingdom and Mary Ward Loreto with RENATE. This led to lively discussion exchange of impressions and responses.
The situation in the host country Latvia, was presented by a Gretta who has struggled personally to overcome poverty and now works to help others in similar need. She founded Martin’s House, which offers shelter and support to homeless mothers. Gretta spoke of the desperate situation for so many unemployed who become homeless due to the downturn in the economy.
The ‘National Board of Catholic Women’ in the UK shared some poverty consciousness-raising projects in the UK. Their focus was on social responsibility and the power of working through networks such as CARITAS, and ‘The Women at the Well’ was much appreciated. The conclusion was that we need more women to be politically engaged, to be vocal and advocates for Catholic Social Teaching.
Mary Ward Loreto (MWL) and RENATE presented their work to combat Human Trafficking. This struck a chord with those present and gave rise to requests for membership of RENATE. This is a welcome development!
Representatives gave brief presentations on their own countries’ various activities. These included awareness-raising ‘fasting’ days; fund-raising initiatives, like candle sales distribution through parishes in Austria; voluntary telephone emergency services in Holland; as well as work with prisoners; the provision of food-banks through to the ‘Today a Reader; Tomorrow a Leader’ initiative in Germany.
One of ANDANTE’S long-term goals is to seek to be heard in the political arena. It works hard to be respected and regarded as a voice of women at the Council of Europe, as well as other political and Church bodies throughout Europe. This is already being achieved as the Conference proceedings will be ‘fed into’ future meetings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Solidarity was saluted as a common value to celebrate and accentuate what we have in common instead of focusing on our differences. As ANDANTE grows and widens its impact, its immediate task is to identify the extent of other Catholic Women’s Organisations throughout Europe. A project to achieve this scope is likely to begin in the New Year. The final days of the Conference were spent discerning ways forward in this regard.
RENATE congratulates the ANDANTE Conference organisers for all their good work! It gives special mention to the President, Dr Mary McHugh, for her energetic leadership and commitment to encouraging each member-organisation to work together to address issues of poverty.
For further information about Andante, please see www.andante-europa.net
Text by Anne Kelleher, RENATE Communications Person