In a global and hierarchical institution like the Catholic Church, it can be hard to find your place. As women, we might feel even more like our voices aren’t heard and our experiences aren’t represented in the conversations happening at the top levels of the Church. This is an experience shared by Vanesa Zuleta Goldberg, who is working to find her seat at the table in the global Church, most recently through a recent internship with the Vatican.
Vanesa currently serves as the Digital Content Specialist for the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM). She shares her reflections on her internship below.
It was fall 2020 and I found myself a bit disillusioned. I had just left my job and was trying to get my bearings while figuring out what to do next. I had experienced some difficulties working in Church ministry, and with the events of 2020, I found myself feeling smaller and smaller within the Church’s hierarchy and structure.
I was struggling to see a Church that welcomed all people to the table. I was struggling to see a Church that understood and did not take lightly the call to freedom that is so present in the Bible. I was struggling to even think that I had a place at the table anymore. It didn’t help that we were also at the start of a pandemic, and I found myself at home, unable to reach out to local Church communities to find community and solidarity.
It was in this struggle that a friend reached out to me about an opportunity that I quickly dismissed: an internship-like program with the Vatican’s Department for Communication for one year, focusing on using digital communication platforms to connect with the Church.
I thanked her for thinking of me and deleted the application form on my desktop. Still, she persisted: “Have you applied yet?” I found myself two weeks from the deadline, still disillusioned, still struggling with feeling seen and heard in the Church, and I decided that the worst that could happen was that I wouldn’t get accepted.
It wasn’t until I found myself inside the Vatican on a sunny Wednesday morning, with clammy hands and a racing heart, standing with my peers waiting to have a personal greeting with Pope Francis, that I realized I was not small. That I did have a seat at this table. And that I was called to make room for all people at this table - the Church - however I could.
The Vatican project that I’m currently a part of is called “Faith Communication in the Digital World.” We meet every Saturday, sixteen young adults from around the world, calling in from various time zones, to learn, discuss, pray, connect, and brainstorm how we can be a global Church that responds to and interacts with those in our local communities. In the last six months, I have learned from my peers how to listen better, how to love better, to not be afraid to create new things, and to lean into the freeing message of love for all people that we find in the Gospel.
As a Latina woman and daughter of immigrants, whose faith has been impacted by the movements of migration, liberation, and culture, I found myself at a table where I could bring these pieces of myself forward and be seen, heard, and loved as a part of the Church. I could articulate myself about the things I hoped to see unfold in the Church and not be judged, but rather enter into conversations with my peers about how we could make that happen in our local communities. I could share the moments when the Church had hurt me or someone I loved, and find reconciliation with other Catholics who apologized on behalf of the Church for those experiences. I found myself encountering other young Catholics who understood the diverse experience of being a global Church, and how God revealed Himself in those experiences to all of us.
When I returned to Rome this past summer to meet the members of our cohort in person and explore Rome together, I found myself recaptured by the spirit of the early days of Church: a spirit that was for the poor, the marginalized, the ignored. I found myself tearing off my veil of disillusionment and opening up to the movements of this spirit to let the new air in.
The experience of this program has been humbling and life-changing. It has reminded me of what it means to be a part of the Church, to truly come together as Catholics, and to welcome all people. I carry with me now the stories of my peers, the stories of a global Church that loves her people and promises them freedom.