Relationship between man and woman: facing the challenges of the future together


“Challenging the future: men and women in dialogue”. This was the title of a meeting held at Castel Gandolfo, (Italy) from 18 to 20 October 2019, organised by the Focolare Centre for Dialogue with People with non-religious beliefs.

It was an opportunity to express hopes, needs and ideals from different cultural perspectives through a wide-ranging dialogue between people without a precise religious affiliation and Catholic Christians. Two young Muslims were also present at this meeting entitled “Challenging the Future: men and women in dialogue”, held at Castel Gandolfo (Rome, Italy) from 18 to 20 October, organised by the Focolare Movement.

The choice of theme stemmed from the search to understand in depth today’s women and men, adults and young people, belonging to different faiths and non-religious affiliations.
What holds us all together? What is the specific contribution of male-female collaboration for a peaceful future and effective work for the common good? When does education on male-female relationship start? “Everyone is different, but at times young people are excluded because of what they look like. Real heroes don’t do this, even if it’s not always easy”. These are the opening words of the short film “Real Heroes”, by Belgian director Erik Hendriks, which opened the conference. The documentary, filmed with a cast of students, was followed by a wide range of contributions which proved to be a source of enrichment for all those attending at the three day meeting.

The focus of the meeting was the Focolare’s distinctive approach to work: working together and with co-responsibility between men and women. An important contribution was made by Piero Taiti, a medical doctor and pioneer of the Focolare’s dialogue with people of non-religious beliefs, on Chiara Lubich’s prophetic message.

Moreno Orazi is an architect who describes himself as a ‘troubled Christian’, still searching, with many questions about faith. He presented examples of the masculine and feminine in the social environment. “We recognise the strong influence that the difference between the feminine body and the masculine body has from a psychological point of view. At the same time I also perceive a substantial reciprocity of feelings from the point of view of existence and affectivity, at the deepest level. For both men and women, solitude and a lack of recognition of the person, of their hopes and expectations, cause deep suffering. There is an inner voice emanating from the body of women, to which men have reacted ambiguously in the past, amplifying or ignoring it according to their own interests at the time, but never perceiving it as the key to ascertaining the essence of the feminine”.

For psychiatrist Giuseppe Auriemma, reciprocity, which springs from the relationship between men and women, is a valuable resource for overcoming differences. “Reciprocity calls for effort and commitment. It involves overcoming the rigidity of opposing positions, resisting the temptation to resolve differences in victory by the strongest; overcoming a mentality of taking and possessing. In reality, it is a hard journey towards liberation. Men and women must be aware of their specific characteristics, which can be gifts and a source of enrichment as well as limitations. Only in this way can they live in a relationship, a true meeting, because each will have something to give and something to receive”.

Donatella Abignente, lecturer in Moral Theology, outlined a perspective from the Catholic Church: “There is a lively debate going on now in the Catholic Church. At the Synod of Bishops on Amazonia, the Pope asked for women’s ministry of the Word to be officially recognized. This was met with resistance from those who place too much importance on individual rights and particularly on the rights of the strongest; so that women only become important when they acquire enough strength to make their own rights count. Rights should be acknowledged on the basis of fellowship. As regards reciprocity, it can only be built freely, which does not mean neglecting one’s own fulfilment, voluntarism based on mortification, or altruism which resembles the search for one’s own perfection through service. It is not about becoming women or men, but of becoming persons within the free giving of fellowship, committing ourselves in a transformation that will last our whole lives”.

Valuable contributions were offered by people from beyond Europe. Vania Cheng spoke about the man-woman relationship in China; Ray Asprer gave a perspective from the Philippines; Mounir Farag, Haifa Alsakkaf and Giovanna Perucca reflected on women in Islamic societies.
In her talk, “Interpretative keys to interpreting the history of man-woman relationships” sociologist Giulia Paola Di Nicola presented an overview of history, outlining some of the changes which have developed over the centuries, the division of roles, hierarchies and values which over thousands of years have characterized approaches to the ordering of society.

By the editorial team

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