Joanna Bogle salutes the four people who are the 2008 Catholic women of the year Anun who helps women caught up in sex trafficking and a doctor supporting the forgotten Christians of Iraq are among the 2008 Catholic Women of the Year.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Catholic Women of the Year Awards and a special celebratory lunch will be held in October. Every year four women are selected from names submitted by people across Britain. Any Catholic woman can be nominated and the aim is to show the range of service given by women in the Church. The final names are chosen by secret ballot by a panel with representatives from the main Catholic lay organisations.
This year's four women are Sister Ann Teresa, founder of the Medaille Trust, Dr Suha Rassam founder of Iraqi Christians in Need, Mrs Diana Sanderson, who was born with spina bifida and went on to train as a social worker and probation officer, and Mrs Julia Houlston Clark who works with young offenders at Cardiff Prison.
Sister Ann Teresa was nominated by members of the Catholic Women's League who have been supporting her work. She established the Medaille Trust to help young women brought to Britain under false pretences who find they are forced to work as sex, slaves. Unable to speak English, and with their passports or any legal documentation taken away, these girls — and also some young men — are trapped and treated with cruelty. Many are from eastern Europe and have been told they will get work in restaurants or cafes and given accommodation while learning English. When they discover the truth of their position they are unable to escape without great difficulty. The Medaille Trust offers a refuge and accommodation while physical and psychological healing can be given, and plans made for the future. A number of women have been helped. Sister Ann Teresa has also been a leading campaigner calling for more effective action on the part of governments across Europe to ban sex-trafficking and impose penalties on those running the trade.
Dr Suha Rassam, a Chaldean Christian, has been a voice for the suffering Christians of her native Iraq. Living in London, she has been a campaigner on their behalf, raising awareness of their plight following the Iraq war. She has raised money for those who have had to flee to neighbouring countries, and launched the charity Iraqi Christians in Need. She began this with her husband Faiz and four friends and in addition to providing practical help to those who have settled in Syria and elsewhere, it has been a means of telling the world the plight of the Iraqi Church. This ancient Christian community, with its own special traditions and heritage, is in danger of being forgotten and obliterated through emigration and the discrimination its members suffer in Iraq. Mrs Diana Sanderson was born with spina bifida at a time when only limited help was available for families with handicapped children: her parents were told that she would be a "vegetable". Following several operations in early childhood she learned to walk, talk, and read, and was eventually able to go to school and later to university, where she became a Catholic. She trained as a probation officer and worked with young people while raising her own family. She has been active with the handicap section of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and the Durham branch of LIFE.
Mrs Julia Houlston Clark works at Cardiff prison where she initiated the SORI system — the initials stand for Supporting Offenders through Rehabilitation Inside. Under the scheme, offenders undertake a tough programme in which they come to understand what they have done to their victims. They meet people who have suffered under similar crimes and sometimes, where it is safe to do so, write letters of apology to • their own victims.
Mrs Houlston Clark was nominated by a former Anglican chaplain at the prison. The prison authori ties are also supporters of her work. The first four young people to go through the programme have now served their sentences and left prison: all are in fulltime work and none has reoffended.
The Catholic Women of the Year event was launched in 1968 as a gesture of support for the Church at a time of widespread dissent over Church teachings and much confusion in the immediate post-Vatican II discussions. It has been held every year since then, and the annual Luncheon not only honours women from different walks of life who give service to the Church but also raises money for charity. This year, funds raised will go to Youth 2000, a young peo pie's Catholic evangelistic initiative. The speaker at this year's Catholic Women of the Year Luncheon will be Father Aidan Nichols, from the Dominican priory at Cambridge, whose book The Realm: An Unfashionable Call for the Conversion of England made headlines and has been widely reviewed.
Organisers of the Lunch are inviting any former Catholic Women of the Year to attend, to make the anniversary event a time for reunion and celebration. Tickets for the Luncheon cost £35 and are obtainable from the chairman at 22 Milton Road, Ware, Herts SG12 OPZ.