Brenda Finlayson, Immediate Past Vice President General of the World Union of Catholic Women's Organisations and recently retired WUCWO Board Member Australia, was the recent recipient of the Papal Honour of Dame in the (Pontifical Equestrian) Order of St Gregory the Great. She joins a handful of "fellow dames" in Australia and is the second Catholic Women's League member to be so honoured.
Brenda was officially invested with the Papal title at a special ceremony during Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Connors in Ballarat's St Patrick's Cathedral on 7 November 2010.
While the prestigious award cites her service to the Church, WUCWO, the Catholic Women's League Australia and the Catholic Women's League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga, Brenda insists that the award is testimony to the faithful grassroots apostolate in Church and society undertaken by Catholic women worldwide.
Founded in 1910 in Europe, WUCWO now represents 100 Catholic women's organisations worldwide with a membership of more than five million.
Its aims are to promote the presence, participation and co-responsibility of Catholic women in society and the Church, to enable them to fulfil their mission of evangelisation and to work for human development. It was the first international Catholic organisation to receive United Nations recognition as an NGO in 1947, and was also a force in the creation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
In 2006, WUCWO was erected by the Holy See as a Public International Association of the Faithful, meaning that as an organisation of Catholic women it speaks and acts in the name of the Catholic Church.
Its international Board is currently made up of 27 members from five regions - Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America - each representing the Catholic women's organisation(s) of her country. Brenda has served on this Board since 2001 and as Vice President General, she was responsible for leading the organisation's lobbyists in several key international agencies.
WUCWO has consultative status with the UN and is represented at the Economic and Social Council in New York and Geneva, the Food and Agricultural Organisation in Rome, the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the International Labour Organisation also in Geneva, and UNESCO in Paris.
It is also present at the Council of Europe, Strasbourg where its representatives, working at the highest level of international civic society, fearlessly champion the social teachings of the Catholic Church on all matters pertaining to "the common good."
Brenda says, "this facet of WUCWO's work is tremendously important, as it is becoming increasingly more difficult to combat the anti-Christian influence exerted on UN policy by atheistic humanists embedded in the United Nations and the Council of Europe. What is instigated there slowly infiltrates the legislation of UN states, Australia included. It is imperative that this vital apostolate continues, now more than ever before."
Its members undertake advocacy for those people whose human development is impeded by poverty, apathy, corrupt governance or unjust laws, stressing the lack of appreciation of the dignity of each human person by all those who violate it in any way.
As the Convenor of the organisation's Permanent Communications, Information and Publications Committee and Editor of its newsletter Women's Voice (published also in French and Spanish), Brenda has been responsible for sharing information about the work of "ordinary" Catholic women performing "extraordinary" tasks for "the common good" all around the world and highlighting WUCWO's strong commitment to and interaction with the Holy See. In 2008, Brenda spoke about the role and mission of women at the International Congress, Mulieris Dignitatem.
She says that although "the workload has been extremely demanding, I have been the recipient of many blessings, including the friendship of women from many other countries, the opportunity to meet with wonderful people in the countries visited in the course of my duties, and the interaction with senior Church personnel within the dicasteries of the Holy See."
Brenda also expresses her deep gratitude to the CWLA leadership and its members for their affirmation and support in this unique work for Church and society.
Appointed to the organising committee for the Centenary Assembly in Jerusalem in October 2010, Brenda found herself with an even bigger workload than normal. Attended by 500 women from 40 countries, the Assembly was a huge success and during her time as Vice President General she says she was "extraordinarily privileged to represent not only the 6,000 Australian Catholic Women's League members, but the five million women worldwide."
With this significant background Brenda challenges a popular misconception about the Catholic Women's League Australia and its many branches across the country that its members are old ladies who sit around and drink cups of tea and do little else!
This perception is a long way from the truth: members of the Catholic Women's League are not only involved with social issues, bonded by a shared and deep spirituality, but play a central and important role on the world stage.
Brenda shows great respect for the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, who has inspired her Church activities for many years. "He is a wonderful leader of our Catholic people and we need leaders like him to bring us messages of faith and to help us grow in our faith," she says. "I have known His Eminence for many years and I admire him for his many lovely qualities."