During this Holy Week, protesters have gathered in Saint John to bring attention to what they say is the institutional discrimination against women in the Catholic Church.

The procession of protesters arrived at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the centerpiece of the Saint John Catholic Diocese, late Tuesday afternoon for the annual Purple Stole Vigil – an annual event that protests church laws which prohibit women from becoming ordained priests.

Many protesters say they don't necessarily want to become priests themselves, but they want to open the door for women to answer the call.

"We're trying to make it easier for those women who do wish to become priests, who wish to become bishops," says Judith Meinert-Thomas. "They have a calling and that calling is not being answered and that's the part that I'm really concerned about."

Meinert-Thomas says the group receives a lot of encouragement from Catholic clergymen who are unable to openly support the cause because of their role in the Church.

While the activists admit the role of women in Mass and in church life has expanded in recent decades, they say it is a gradual change that is not moving quickly enough, both for the female parishioners who want to be more involved, and for the needs of the Church.

There is a well-documented shortage of priests in the Catholic Church and the priests who are serving tend to be older, leaving many parishes without a backup plan in the event of ill-health.

"We have no bench strength, as they say in basketball," says protester Elizabeth McGahan. "And you'd be in a crisis mode if one or two of our priests said ‘I can't show up on Sunday.'"

McGahan says the door will likely stay closed to female priests in the near future; she believes the Church is more likely to allow married men into the priesthood, before it opens the door to women.

"There are conversations of the nature going on," says McGahan. "There is great resistance just the same, but there are conversations of this nature going on. It's not hopeless, believe me."

While the protesters hope for change, they also concede they may never see the changes they demand in their lifetime.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Mike Cameron