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Merci is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo who found refuge in education. She now lives in Canada. Her story will be told at the event on 8 March.

Vatican City, 4 March 2016 -- For International Women's Day on 8 March, at the Casina Pio IV in the heart of the Vatican, the Voices of Faith storytelling event will take place. With the theme "Mercy requires courage," it will feature and celebrate extraordinary faithful women from nine countries on five continents who exemplify the courage required to live merciful lives. 

The speakers for this 3rd annual Voices of Faith event are dedicated to the empowerment of women who have experienced trafficking, forced displacement, violence, physical disabilities, homelessness, forced early marriage and lack of access to education simply for being female. 

"Our speakers show that it takes courage to overcome adversity and become a leader," said Chantal Götz, managing director of Voices of Faith, an initiative of the Fidel Götz Foundation (FGF). "It takes courage to break through traditional barriers to access and provide education; to venture into wartorn countries; to help war victims believe in peace. It takes courage to forgive your tormentor." 

Among the speakers is Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, a former child laborer from the Philippines who was later imprisoned for four years for fighting against the Marcos dictatorship. In 1991, she founded and now serves as the director of the Visayan Forum Foundation which addresses modern-day slavery.

When speaking at the press conference about her captors she said: "What I learned is that mercy begins with having the courage to accept that our God prepared us for a bigger mission in life, no matter how painful the journey is. Maybe one can never have courage if one does not have mercy." 

JRS and Fidel Götz Foundation collaborate in educational pursuits 

The second part of the Voices of Faith event will stage a panel of Catholic women with different backgrounds. Fr. Thomas H. Smolich SJ, International Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), is moderating the discussion which is headlined "What women want – a multigenerational conversation on expanding women's leadership in the Church".  

At the occasion of the press conference the partnership between the FGF, the leading partner of the 

Voices of Faith event, and JRS was announced by Fr. Joaquin Martinez SJ, JRS' International Education Coordinator, and Chantal Götz. The FGF and JRS already have a history of working together in the area of education. 

Putting Mercy in Motion for women 

"It is a perfect fit to link the Voices of Faith initiative and JRS' Mercy in Motion (MiM) campaign, because as partners we aim to support the Catholic Church's mission and work in looking at it through a gender lens," Fr. Martinez said.

The MiM fundraising and advocacy campaign has the goal of providing 100,000 refugee children and youth with access to education by the year 2020, paying particular attention to women who face disproportionate access to education and numerous barriers to achieving success. 

"Education helps empower women to assert their rights and strengthen their protection. It promotes equality and full participation in all decisions regarding their lives, which can improve not only their lives but the lives of their children and communities," Fr Martinez said. 

The Voices of Faith event takes place on International Women's Day (Tuesday, 8 March). Live streaming starts at 15:00 hrs CET (14:00 UTC) on

For electronic press kit in English, Spanish and Italian including bios and photos please go to 


Media contacts 

Voices of Faith storytelling event: 

Mr. Sigvard Wohlwend +423 792 50 32 

Jesuit Refugee Service / Mercy in Motion: 

Mr. Giulio D'Ercole +39 340 355 2538 

About Voices of Faith 

Voices of Faith, an initiative of the Fidel Götz Foundation, seek to enhance the dignity, participation and leadership of women and girls through purposeful and compelling storytelling. The Fidel Götz Foundation is a charitable trust established in 1967. Its mission is to work with the church and catholic organizations to provide opportunities for a just and equal world. Its core area of focus is education. 

About Jesuit Refugee Service 

The Jesuit Refugee Service programmes are found in 45 countries. JRS provides assistance to over 760,000 refugees and IDPs, more than half of whom are women, including: refugees in camps and cities, individuals displaced within their own countries, asylum seekers in cities, and to those held in detention centres. The main areas of work are in the field of education, emergency assistance, psychosocial support, livelihood activities and social services.