Being a feminist and being active inside the catholic church seems like a big contradiction. This is how I feel much of the time.
When I was invited to meet 300 international youth in Rome to work on a document for the Synod on Youth, I was thrilled. And on the other hand, I was uncertain of what to expect. The catholic church is a diverse global community, and I was strongly hoping that I would see that reality reflected at this meeting.
I am on the board of MIJARC Europe - a platform of catholic organizations from all over Europe working with agricultural and rural youth - where democracy, transparency and equality are values we base our work on.
The organization lives from what the members bring and cannot exist without their voluntary commitment. When you work in a network like this, you are a part of something greater than you alone, you experience what can be done together and how faith is connecting us. Our operations take place in a self-organized and democratic manner, where active participation is not only tolerated but explicitly encouraged. We encourage each other to ask questions so as to contribute to a positive change in the world.
To criticize the official church structures means questioning power and affiliation. If you do not believe enough, you will be marginalized. Demanding transparency, democracy and gender equality means questioning those structures and is not always welcomed. And neither are the people who question. We need a church who sees the claim for participation not as a threat but as a possibility to change. We need a church which welcomes this diversity and by this accompanies us to find our own vocation. To regard this potential of criticism as an alien, even harmful element in the church is to separate the church from the world.
Allowing criticism and giving room for doubt is theologically required. It is not a weakness, but a protection of the weak, not a lack of faith, but an invitation to grow.
"You are the protagonists. So, speak clearly. The church is getting old, without young people taking risks. "
Pope Francis addressed these clear words to 300 young people from all over the world. The Vatican inviting young people to prepare a document for the Synod of Youth: this had never happened before.
We did our best to do this historical moment justice and to bring together the diverse perspectives of the young people coming from so many different realities.
We extended the deadlines, answered questions they didn´t ask us and used every minute to exchange because we had a lot to say.
As we hand over the document to the Pope on Palm Sunday, there is doubt if our demands will be heard and if time was enough. But above all there is hope in the air as we walk together with palm branches across St. Peter's Square.
For as Pope Francis on Palm Sunday says to us: "Dear young people: with you is the decision to scream. (...) When the others are silent, when we, the elders and those responsible, are silent, when the world is silent and loses its joy, I ask you: do you want to scream? Please decide before the stones scream."
The pope arrived to meet us in St. Peters square. I stood in the crowd surrounded by so many other young people as he looked at us and said “Women, be brave”.
There I was - walking through the streets of Rome after a week full of doubt and inspiration, criticism and new ideas, stuck in this whole big contradiction of thoughts, and overwhelmed by the energy I had felt the whole week, the energy we young people want to bring to the church.
And I was constantly thinking about the discussions we had during the week, the pope asking us to take risks and women to be brave.
And without even realizing it I walked into a tattoo studio and asked if I can get a tattoo now.
The confused faces in front of me asked me if I already knew what I wanted. I answered simply “yes” and without ever having considered getting a tattoo before I painted the little symbol on a piece of paper.
This is the result of a battle I was fighting inside for a very long time, and which now found its way outside in a very physical way.
It summed up so perfectly what this week was about for me: love, faith and women’s empowerment.
I never felt more strongly what I believe in and what I want to fight for.
I am part of the church and I am a feminist. This is not a contradiction. Just a call for change.
Daniela Ordowski is a board member of MIJARC Europe and the coordinator of MIJARC World. Daniela participated in the pre-synodal meeting and is currently participating in the International Youth Forum reflecting on the 2018 Synod on Youth.