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New Feminism

The Feminine Genius and Culture of Life

By Katrina J. Zeno
Celebration of the Jubilee Day for Women prompts reflection on women and the New Evangelization.

Our Sunday Visitor -

Women from five countries celebrated the Jubilee Day for Women in Washington, DC as part of the ongoing commemoration of the Great Jubilee. The crucial role of women in building the “Culture of Life” was emphasized; as Pope John Paul II has said repeatedly, women have a special responsibility for human life, and are called on by the Church and the world to promote and defend it with “feminine genius” and capacity for love that uniquely belong to women. Leading Catholic women also discussed ways that women can actively defend life at professional and public policy levels.

"I’m going to a conference on the feminine genius," lawyer Fran Hogan told her male colleagues last March. "Oh," they replied, "then it won’t be very long."

Her associates obviously hadn’t read Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Women where he said, "The life of the Church in the Third Millennium will certainly not be lacking in new and surprising manifestations of ‘the feminine genius.’" However, the 300 women gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the Jubilee Day for Women knew differently. "This is a special day when the whole Catholic world is celebrating womanhood," Sr. Briege McKenna said at a special prayer breakfast. "Mary’s greatness was her ‘yes.’ It made everything else possible.’"

Reflecting on the feminine genius and the culture of life was the theme of a two-day conference culminating with the Jubilee Day. Organized by Women Affirming Life and the Pro-Life Secretariat of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, women from five countries and twenty-five states exchanged stories and strategies for defending human life and impacting culture.

"What can it mean to be leaven, salt, and light except that Christians are meant to be a transformative presence in culture?" Professor Mary Ann Glendon, the Holy See’s representative to the 1995 Beijing Conference, said in her keynote address. "As Roman Catholics, we don’t have the option to turn our backs on a world that has grown hardhearted. We’re not allowed to throw up our hands and retreat into private lives."

Creating a Catholic presence in the public sphere is precisely why Women Affirming Life was founded ten years ago at the suggestion of Cardinal Law of Boston. It brings the voice of Catholic women into professional, political, and pro-life arenas. An inspiring example was the Hon. Janne Matlary, a former member of the Christian Democratic Party of Norway. As the only Catholic in her country’s government, Mrs. Matlary helped rebuild her party’s platform based on Catholic social teaching.

"Only when we’re free to be women—when we don’t have to choose between having gender and having career, when we’re at ease in a business setting, and when it’s normal to have kids and be a mother—that’s when we’re liberated," she said. "We need to influence society with our values, with our feminine qualities."

And that’s precisely what the feminine genius is all about. At the closing Mass, Cardinal Law read a letter from the Vatican, written on behalf of the pope to the conference participants: "As messengers of healing, hope, and reconciliation, women have an irreplaceable role to play in the conversion of hearts and the transformation of cultural attitudes," the letter said. "[This] will ensure the growth of an authentic culture of life and civilization of love in the new millennium."

Originally published in Our Sunday Visitor. For more information on Women Affirming Life, call (617) 254-2277 or e-mail them at

Katrina J. Zeno, a freelance writer and speaker on topics such as the nature of men and women, singles and romance, the culture of life, the new feminism, prayer, and parenting, is also co-foundress of Women of the Third Millennium, an organization that promotes the dignity and vocation of women through one-day retreats.  Her articles and interviews have appeared numerous periodicals, including Our Sunday Visitor, New Covenant magazine, Catholic Parent, and Franciscan Way, and she has spoken in the U.S., Canada, England, and Trinidad.

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