“What does it mean to be a woman?” That’s a loaded question, and Katrina Zeno, cofounder of Women of the Third Millennium, has made it her life’s work to answer it. In June, Zeno saw the publication of her first book, Every Woman’s Journey: Answering “Who Am I” for the Feminine Heart.
An open invitation
In 1995, John Paul II issued an open invitation to women as he called for a “new feminism” with Evangelium Vitae. In response to this encyclical, the group Women Affirming Life hosted a Washington, D.C., conference in 1996. “The gist of this conference was that the women agreed they needed to further reflect and work out what the ‘new feminism’ was,” said Zeno. There wasn’t really a solid consensus at the conference as to what the new feminism was, so they gave a charge to the women to go out and at the grassroots level work this out.
Zoë Romanowsky-St.Paul, Katrina’s close friend, had attended the conference and returned to Steubenville, Ohio, where she shared her experience with Zeno. Both women were stirred by this charge and gathered weekly for six months to pray about how they could respond to the pope’s invitation. The result was Women of the Third Millennium.
The main work of WTTM lies in education through books, tapes and conferences that inspire women to build a culture of life by taking John Paul’s teachings to others across the country.
Genius of women
Katrina believes that the heart of John Paul’s call for a new feminism lies in what he called the “genius of women.” Her book seeks to define this term as “the distinctive way a woman makes a gift of self in all her feminine fullness and originality as God intended her to be from the beginning.”
Women are called to take this God-given genius and use it to transform our culture. Zeno points out that the terms “genius of women” and “new feminism” are intimately connected: “John Paul II spoke repeatedly in his writings about the unique ways that women make gift of self and men make a gift of self. So the genius of women is that quality given to us [women] by God from the beginning… To me then, the new feminism is the visible public expression of that.”
Many may ask, and rightly so, why a “new feminism”? Why did John Paul specifically address women and ask them to more deeply explore their nature?
“John Paul II recognized that women are the heartbeat of society,” Katrina explained. “As women go, so the culture goes. In our present age women feel that it is offensive to be called a homemaker or a housewife, so why not call ourselves ‘culturemakers’? That’s who we are. We create a culture wherever we are, in the home, in the workplace, in society and in the Church. I think that John Paul II realized that if he could create a gentle revolution among women, then he knew he would create a significant revolution in the Church and in the world.”
Katrina’s idea of women as culture makers is truly revolutionary in a society so bent on the trampling of women’s nature through contraception, abortion, pornography and same-sex relations, which highlights the importance of WTTM’s work. Katrina also understands that her work is bound up in the work of the pro-life movement. “WTTM’s purpose is “to invite men and women and the world to look at the dignity of the human person in a new and, hopefully, healing way. Isn’t that the role of the pro-life movement? WTTM is trying to give language and illumination to the view of the human person that under-girds all pro-life work,” said Zeno.
Now abortion is so commonplace that the nature of women is lost on our culture. Zeno believes that the answer to this dilemma awaits us in spiritual motherhood. “Motherhood is knit into the very structure of a woman’s being, and so the way that a woman makes a gift of self that a man cannot is through motherhood. While only some women are called to biological motherhood, every woman— without exception—is called to spiritual motherhood. Spiritual motherhood is nurturing the emotional, moral, cultural and spiritual life of others. The difficulty in reading John Paul II is that he throws out these terms and doesn’t define them. That is the work of those who follow behind him. We have to take his work and continue to explore it and make him accessible to the world,” Katrina stated.
This spiritual motherhood is what brings every woman to see how she is called to make a gift of self no matter what her vocation. WTTM is out there to spread the word to all women: single, married, widowed, young and old, that they have this unique ability to nurture others. According to Zeno, spiritual motherhood is of particular importance to single women. “A single woman has the incredible privilege of pouring herself out to a non-selective group of people. This is the call of a single woman’s life. A woman sees others with her heart and in doing so tries to nurture them into the wholeness of who God created them to be as persons.”
The 20th century of selfish feminism dragged women down— but it’s not too late. In this new century, we can begin anew by seeking to answer the question, “What does it mean to be a woman?” In seeking the answer, let us rise above our self-centered culture and fallen nature by looking to resources promoting the truth. Thankfully, grassroots organizations like Women of the Third Millennium make John Paul II’s new feminism a mission, further helping us to grow in holiness and nurture society.