Worldwide Magdala Celebrations Honor Women in Ministry with Paul

In mid-July, organizers across the US and in at least eight other countries joined together to expand awareness of women leaders in the early Church. At over 250 celebrations women and men honored Mary of Magdala, Phoebe, Prisca, Lydia and other little known women leaders who ministered with St. Paul. Twenty-one celebrations were held internationally in Australia (7), Canada (7), England (1), Germany (1), Italy (1), Netherlands (1), New Zealand (1), and Uganda (2). The remaining 228 were held throughout the continental United States, as well as in Hawaii and Alaska.

Many people mistakenly believe St. Paul was against women. Yet as Pope Benedict noted in a February 14, 2007 papal address, St. Paul worked closely with women leaders such as Phoebe, Junia, Lydia and Prisca. Unfortunately, Romans 16, a passage that names eleven women and identifies some of them as deacons, apostles, and co-workers, is never proclaimed on a Sunday. This July, at the conclusion of the Church's Year of St. Paul, it seemed only right to celebrate women like Prisca, Phoebe and Lydia who with Paul served as "Apostles to the Gentiles" in the early Church.

Weaving Stories, Treasuring Women

Joan Brausch, a member of FutureChurch's Women In Church Leadership Advisory Committee, created a prayer service Go and Tell: Celebrating the Women Who Were Co-Workers with Paul for organizers to use. The service, along with a special Mary of Magdala organizing kit is available for free download from the FutureChurch website or by mail. Joan's prayer service invites participants to create a special artwork, weaving together their own stories with those of biblical women and contemporary women who serve, lead, share their faith and preach the gospel in word and action. Here are just a few highlights from this year's events:

(For photos and descriptions of these and other celebrations visit

Venues vary greatly

Many celebrations were held in traditional workshop sites such as Catholic parishes, Protestant churches, and convents. Others were held in locations accessible to the people who planned to gather-- colleges and Newman Centers, senior, retirement and assisted living facilities, women's prisons, private homes, and local restaurants. Still others sought out God's natural splendor as a fitting environment and headed to park, arboretums, lakes, and retreat centers.

Groups from our sisters and brothers in Church reform also annually join in the celebration. This year eleven Call To Action chapters and five Dignity groups, as well as groups from the Women's Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, Catholic Worker, Pax Christi and CORPUS, planned special events.

St. Mary of Magdala is herself among the most misunderstood women of the Bible. In 1997, FutureChurch began special celebrations of her July 22nd feast to publicize contemporary scholarship that she was not a prostitute but the first witness to the Resurrection. These also provide a place for women to serve in visible liturgical roles, and they educate about Jesus' inclusive practice

Participants at this year's celebrations were invited to send paper and electronic postcards to Cardinal Antionia Cañizares Llovera, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship. A follow up to FutureChurch's three-year Women and the Word campaign, the postcards ask his office to follow through on synod proposal 16 from last October's Synod on the Word and open an examination of the Lectionary to include deleted women leaders (see cover story).

Jan Valder of Charlotte, North Carolina, may have named the value of the Mary of Magdala celebrations the best. She wrote, "I got women friends together to celebrate Mary of Magdala and ourselves as women. We prayed, ate and shared. We made time to enjoy each other and reinforce our belief in the power we have." Perhaps that is the message of Mary Magdala and the FutureChurch project. Take time to celebrate the gifts of women past and present-- including ourselves—and go forth into the church and into the world.

For photos and descriptions of these and other celebrations visit

Focus on FutureChurch

Summer 2009


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