(Pictured: Sr. Gloria Liliana Franco Echeverri, O.D.N., president of the Latin American Confederation of Religious (C.I.A.R.), Colombia; at October 10 Press Conference)

A Strange Silence Regarding Women Deacons

It is always difficult to gauge what silence means. Was a question understood in a room where many languages are spoken (even though everyone has access to translators)? Was there an unwillingness to signal a preference this early in the Synod process? But when Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter asked the two prelates on the panel today about women deacons, they were silent. Joshua asked, " In working with indigenous communities, we have heard about the importance of women's ministries and the possibility of official ministries for women. Bishop Krautler spoke about women in the permanent diaconate. Would you support a diaconate for women?"

After a few moments of strained silence, Sr. Liliana Echeverri jumped in. She did not use the words "women deacons" but she did signal what progress she would like to see for women in the church.

Sr. Liliana explained that in this synod there are 40 women. And that behind these 40 women there are "many others."

"The Church has a female face - it is a mother and a teacher. But in this time in the Church, [the female face] is also a sister and a disciple."

Using St. Clare of Assisi and our "mothers and grandmothers" as examples, Sr. Liliana said, "We are not the protagonists," but we follow others "who played a part in reconstructing the church."

“The church is doing discernment and we don't know if this [women deacons] will happen," she said. "But we continue to make sure that the female face [of the church] is clear knowing God will continue to lead this process and open up new opportunities and paths.”

Later though, Bishop Wilmar Santin, O.Carm., of Itaituba, Brazil, said his local church is trying to “put into practice what the pope is calling us to do,” because our people "should have their own [indigenous] ministers."

Bishop Santin explained that in expanding the ministerial roles for his indigenous people, the Pope has said, "Start with what the Church already gives you - the permanent diaconate."

Bishop Wilmar Santin, O. Carm., bishop-prelate of Itaituba, Brazil with Bishop Medardo de Jesús Henao Del Rio, M.X.Y., vicar apostolic of Mitú, titular of Case mediane, Colombia in the background (Photo: FutureChurch)

So he has begun to work on a project to get permanent deacons, a program that began in 2017. He starting with forming ministers of the Word. The first group consisted of 20 men and 4 women using "their own language to preach the Word of God."

Another group of 19 men and 5 women has also started. In all, 48 ministers of the Word preach in their native language.

He said that formation is in place so that, in the future, they will be able to take care of baptisms and marriages, which I took to mean they will baptize and witness and bless marriages. He explained that baptism is very important to the people and that they want to be married in the church and not just before the state.

Because the distances are so vast, like Pope Francis who has a dream of a priest in every community, the Bishop wants there to be minsters for baptism and for marriages, “in every village."

"We shall see, then, when the ordination of deacons is made possible," said the bishop.

Now it seems this comment must point to women deacons since the diaconate is already available to men. Let us hope theordination he seeks extends to the women he has already placed in formation.

Creative ordination rites on the ground in Columbia

Bishop Henao Del Rio of Colombia, gave us a peek inside of his creative approach to ordination that I wish we would have had more time to unpack. Hopefully we will hear more about this later on.

The bishop explained that he is ordaining indigenous men as deacons in "both the Roman and indigenous rites." He further explained that before the canonical rite of ordination, "indigenous leaders place a crown on his head, and then they receive the Gospel with dancing."

It is exciting to hear how the innovative ways this bishop is bringing two cultures together in ways that affirm the values and traditions of both.

I really want to know more!

Infanticide comes up again, but what is behind the question?

As a mother of five biological children and another beautiful adopted daughter, and grandmother to fourteen, I am horrified by the idea that anyone would have to let a helpless infant die.

But I also recognize that because I have lived in a world where all my children had enough to eat and where they had a safe and protected environment, I have never had to face such extreme choices.

For a nomadic or isolated people whose survival as a community is at stake, deciding on one terrible choice or another is, at times, a reality.

So, I really "got it" when Bishop Santin said that we “cannot sacralize every indigenous thing, nor can we Satanize it.”

The bishop also challenged the reporter who asked the question, "What about abortions in civilized countries?"

Underneath these back and forth challenges is not some ugly game of Russian roulette, nor the desire to count how many infants and babies have died or have been killed.

The comments and questions are reflective of the general distrust some conservative media have of what changes could take place as a result of this synod. And their means of attack is to discredit indigenous peoples, their bishops, and those who seek changes at this Synod including the Pope by headlining the most shocking stories they can recount.

And the bishops who pastor indigenous peoples aren't having any of it.

Bishop Sartin might compare the narrow minded, colonizing Christianity of these uber conservatives to the Pentecostal churches in his region.

The Bishop explained that in the past 5 years, some Pentecostal churches started to come into his region. "Some of the pastors are very aggressive and do not have an appreciation for the local culture," he explained. In some cases, 'They have been forbidden the people from speaking their own language, telling them it is the language of the devil."

He explained some pastors "stay separated from the culture" and are "fighting against it – the language, the painting on their bodies" and other cultural norms.

Of these Pentecostal pastors, the Bishop said, "They don’t understand the culture and even less about the gospel."

I nearly gave him an "Amen!"

But the bishop admitted people go to the Pentecostal churches because there are too few Catholic churches. And his holy impatience for a greater Catholic presence was clear.

"We must as the Catholic Church to find new paths. The challenges are different than 10 years ago. Things are focused too much on the priest. We need to be more flexible so it doesn’t just depend on the priest. We are too slow. We are unable to preach as we should. We have to make sure that our mission is something we can carry out in a more effective way."

Happy sigh...there are so many outstanding prophets in our midst. And today, I was lucky enough to be in the presence of a few.