Women’s conclave and other thoughts
I am privileged to have been invited to a regular gathering of Catholic Filipino women theologians—or women doing theology—and participate in a discussion of issues that concern the Catholic Church, especially those affecting women who work in spreading God’s message of love, peace, justice and equality, as well as those that these women serve. I call our gathering a “women’s conclave.”
The meetings are so vibrant and liberating to the spirit, sometimes raucous one moment and solemn the next. The women are always full of hope, laughter and eagerness to listen. I don’t consider myself a foreign entity there, not so much because of some background in theology of my own as because I am a woman similarly concerned with where a huge body (I don’t want to say “powerful institution”) with a massive following such as the Catholic Church—to which I belong—is headed.
Our last meeting was held a week or so ago, when speculations were high on who the next pope would be. How will he deal with women’s issues and restive women in the Church? Will he break or thicken walls? Will the Church be more inclusive or exclusive?
We had a good laugh when someone said that technically, women could be elected cardinals without first becoming ordained priests. A theologian said this is true, a backdoor way for women to get to the conclave that would elect a pope. But this is possible only in theory, and not in practice. But granted that this is in fact possible, how will the conclave go? I suppressed the wicked thought that the women cardinals might end up tagatimpla ng kape (making coffee). I imagined a particular feisty woman theologian, author and feminist lost in a sea of scarlet, humbly doing a Martha. But I should keep that naughty and impious thought to myself.
I am writing this piece while the conclave is going on. The new pope, wherever he is from, will have a lot on his plate aside from Italian pasta—issues of mismanagement and corruption in the Vatican Curia, sexual abuse by priests swept under the carpet and victims coming out of the woodwork, and the need for more vigorous evangelization, especially in places where Church membership is dwindling. And what about the restiveness of women religious who feel suppressed and little understood by a highly patriarchal church?
Add to that the issue of the Church’s relevance in a highly globalized world. This was the topic discussed by Peter Cardinal Turkson of Ghana when he delivered the Fr. Francis Senden Memorial Lecture on the 50th anniversary of the Asian Social Institute here in October 2012. (I was one of the reactors so I had a chance to interact with him during the break, pose for photographs, and have his autograph on my copy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s “Caritas in Veritate,” which he tackled in his lecture.)
Turkson, 64, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican, is considered the black African papabile (papal contender), along with our own Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle. But I say to speculators, leave it to the Holy Spirit, or just bet online.
Before the new pope is proclaimed, he will cry his heart out in the “room of tears.” If he is a Mozart fan, like Benedict XVI, Mozart’s earthshaking “Lacrimosa” chorus should be loudly playing in the background to shake the unholy spirits out of the gilded enclaves of Vatican City. Sorry, but I have a cinematic imagination. If I were a movie director, the scene will be like that.
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This month of March is women’s month, and women religious are celebrating the life of Maryknoll Sister Nila Bermisa who passed away recently. Sister Nila wrote the book “That She May Dance Again:
Rising from the Pain of Violence against Women in the Philippine Catholic Church” (2011) published by the Women and Gender Commission (WGC) of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. I had been in on this research done by Sisters Nila and Esperanza Principio even before the book was published. We ran in the Inquirer a series on their findings.
It was not enough to record the women’s tales of woe. The WGC created a haven for the women in distress and helped them find healing. “As a people of faith,” Sister Nila wrote, “we are called to rebuild God’s people. It is rebuilding the kingdom of Jesus where women and men can enjoy life in abundance and wholeness.”
In celebration of women’s month, I share this plaintive cry of woman expressed by E.M. Broner and Naomi Nimrod in the poem “Dayenu (It would Have Sufficed).” It is full of biblical allusions.
If Eve had been created in the image of God and not as a helper to Adam, dayenu.
If she had been created as Adam’s equal and not been considered a temptress, dayenu.
If she were the first woman to eat from the tree of knowledge and had been recognized as bringing knowledge to us, dayenu.
If Lot’s wife had been honored for compassion in looking back at the fate of her family in Sodom, and had not been punished for it, dayenu.
If our mothers had been honored for their daughters as well as for their sons, dayenu.
If our fathers had not pitted our mothers against each other, like Abraham with Sarah and Hagar, or Jacob with Leah and Rachel, dayenu.
If the Just Women in Egypt who caused our redemption had been given sufficient recognition, dayenu.
If Miriam were given her seat with Moses and Aaron in our legacy, dayenu.
If women had been among the writers of the Tanach and had interpreted our creation and our role in history, dayenu.
If women had written the Haggadah and placed our mothers where they belonged in history, dayenu.
If every generation of women together with every generation of men continue to go out of Egypt, dayenu, dayenu.
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