A Message of Gratitude & Challenge from Young Catholic Sisters

Friday, January 20, 2017

To the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington:

We are Catholic women religious (nuns) under the age of fifty, and we come to you with heartfelt gratitude and concern.

First, we want to say thank you. Thank you for organizing this powerful event and transforming a dark moment into an opportunity for solidarity. The fact that the initiative has caught fire across the country signals a deep, widespread hunger for a world of love, unity, and justice. Because of you, millions of people have a productive way to channel that hunger into action on Saturday.

And now, we want to voice a challenge. We, as young Catholic Sisters, are disappointed in your response to the participation of “pro-life” groups and individuals. We understand that one of the March principles is “reproductive rights,” and we do not dispute your right as the organizers to denote the guiding tenets. As for our group, many of us feel that the common blanket connotations for “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are unhelpful and inadequate in naming a complex issue. All of us come to our varying perspectives out of honest discernment, real experience with people on the margins, and a Christian belief in the dignity of every life at every stage of life. We struggle that the phrase “pro-life” is narrowly employed to mean only “anti-abortion” and hope that it widens its focus to recognize the myriad of threats to life in our society. We believe that choosing to work together against the social injustices that oppress women and their families is more important at this juncture than the abortion debate itself. This march can signal that. You have the opportunity to model the real unity that our country needs.

Last weekend, some members of our group gathered for a retreat with the theme “Healing Divisions.” In our prayer and conversation, that word “unity” surfaced time and time again. We recognize the urgent need for the “culture of encounter” of which Pope Francis often speaks. Encounter is something that draws us out of ourselves and urges us to relationship, especially with those with whom we disagree. One Sister reminded us that unity is not uniformity. If we want healing and progress, we need to cross borders and practice honest dialogue. If we are dissatisfied with a staunchly partisan Congress, we need to demonstrate an alternative way of doing things. If we are protesting divisiveness, we need to model the uncomfortable but noble effort of unity.

The Women’s March has already gracefully responded to criticism of a lack of inclusivity in the March’s origin and planning. We urge you to take this timely opportunity to again emphasize and expand that inclusivity. Your message of unity is weakened, and may even be hypocritical, if certain groups of people feel excluded even though they are behind most of your platform. Choosing to give weight to the "pro-choice"/"pro-life" divide detracts from the overall mission. Surely, a great number of those marching will do so with differing levels of support for the various “unity principles.”

Please make a clear, public statement assuring that “pro-life” people are welcome and encouraged to march. That simple act could smooth waves of divisiveness in an event created to bring people together. What a beautiful proclamation it will be if all women, truly, have a place to walk shoulder to shoulder, each step representing a commitment to work together for a better world of liberty and justice for all.

In peace,

{The signers}