Women as Prophets and Priests in the Amazon; Pope Francis Makes 'em Sweat; Saying "Yes" to Married Priests; and more

Day One of the Amazon Synod

October 7, 2019 (This has been updated with the text from Sr. Teresa's words at the press conference on Monday)

I admit, I expected a short answer.

Or a vague one.

But when I asked Sr. Teresa Cediel Castillo, M.ML, if women's roles in the synod for missionaries like herself who represent indigenous women in the Amazon "is enough," she surprised and touched me with her generous insights.

Part of a missionary community founded by Laura di Santa Caterina da Siena in 1914 (M.ML stands for Misioneras de la Madre Laura), they serve indigenous peoples in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Italy, and Spain.

Explaining that her founder established a community "right in the middle of the Amazon forrest", Sr. Teresa works in Columbia and focuses her energies on the needs of indigenous women.

"The situation of women is sad," said Sr. Teresa. "The women have to overcome great geographical distances, and they also must take upon themselves the great problems in the territory -- drug trafficking, poverty, and exploitation. They are often forced to leave and go to the big cities."

"This makes the presence of women in this synod so important because their voices are important," she continued. "We must speak out for indigenous women on the ecclesial, social, economic, and political dimensions of their lives."

And when asked about her expectations for the synod and women's participation, she made several memorable points.

First she said, "the Instrumentum Laboris (the working document for the synod) will have to die," meaning that everything must be on the table for discussion with new paths being created while ideas that make no sense for the region and the church today must die.

Secondly, on the participation of women, Sr. Teresa said, "the role of women is extensive in the Amazon."

The women develop their own projects for education, healthcare, and other issues. They know that they are baptized, and therefore, prophets and priests. Women baptize children. If there is a marriage, women witness the marriage. If someone has need of confession, we listen 'to the bottom of our hearts.' We may not be able to absolve [according to the Church], but we listen 'with humbleness.'

Tears filled my eyes as I listened to her description of women's ministry. Of course, they baptize! Of course, they celebrate and witness! Of course, they are confessors...and just the kind we need in the Church. And, of course, in my opinion and experience, it is S/sacramental -- all grace -- all God.

And as a woman and missionary who walks in solidarity with her people, she ended with, "The presence of women is great, but we need more places for women in the Church."

Amen dear sister. Amen!

Below is the actual transcription of her words on Monday.

Suor Alba Teresa Cediel
38’02’’ – 41’08’’

Realmente la presencia de la mujer en la selva de la Amazonía es muy grande. Hay muy pocos sacerdotes, y muchos deben ir en un sitio, otro sitio, otro sitio. Sin embargo, nosotras hacemos una presencia constante: desde una atención en educación, en salud, en proyectos que ellos tienen de desarrollo, proyectos que se van presentando en cada una de las comunidades.

Nosotras ahí estamos presentes, en cada uno de estos lugares. ¿Qué hacemos? Pues, lo que puede hacer también una mujer desde el bautismo como mujeres sacerdotes, como reinas y como profetas. Nosotras ahí acompañamos a los indígenas en los diferentes eventos. Cuando el sacerdote no puede hacer presencia y se necesita que haya un bautismo, pues nosotras bautizamos. Si hay la posibilidad de que alguien se quiere casar, pues nosotras hacemos también presencia y somos testigos de ese amor de esa pareja.

Pope Francis Makes 'Em Sweat

I remember reading "The Ugly American" as a young person, a stinging rebuke of American exceptionalism and the repugnant arrogance some Americans crassly exhibit for people of other cultures.

Well, Pope Francis wrote another chapter of the book today.

There have been plenty of criticisms of the Pope and synod officials from uber conservative media outlets in the United States. We know their names. Symbols of fertility, festive headdresses, and Amazonian women dancing during the liturgy are just a few things that rankle their precious piety. Lots of Catholics, including Vatican journalists, have been taking them on.

But today, Francis took them on.

And it was soooooo good.

"I was very saddened to hear a sarcastic comment about that pious man who brought the offerings with feathers on his head. What difference is there in having feathers on your head and the three-cornered hat worn by some officials of our dicasteries?"

Big smile...loud applause.

There are some days when I am more than grateful for this Pope.

Yes, we will talk about married priests and women's ministry

Thirty years ago, FutureChurch was founded with a primary purpose to educate people about the priest shortage and to open the priesthood to married men as well as celibate men.

Finally, this synod is taking it up in a serious way.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil, the lead organizer of Amazon Synod, makes clear that the synod participants will consider need for married priests and giving women official ministerial roles. But, this isn't just his idea.

During the consultation stages, local communities, missionaries and indigenous persons, faced with the urgent need experienced by most of the Catholic communities in Amazonia, requested that the path be opened for the ordination of married men resident in their communities, albeit confirming the great importance of the charisma of celibacy in the Church,” he said.

Beyond married priests, Hummes also wants this synod to give official ministerial roles to women for the work they are already doing in their communities saying, “Faced with a great number of women who nowadays lead communities in Amazonia, there is a request that this service be acknowledged and there be an attempt to consolidate it with a suitable ministry for the women who lives in these communities.”

Women deacons? Let's see.

Swiss Nuns Sing a New Song

Just prior to the Voices of Faith Event on October 3 in Rome, a busload of nuns from the Fahr Monastery in Switzerland traveled from their home, through the countryside, to Rome to speak up for women and women religious. They want women religious to vote in the synod and women's full inclusion in the Roman Catholic Church.

Last year, the photo of these sisters standing in front of their monastery holding their "Votes for Catholic Women" signs went viral.

Nothing has changed this year, except the increased strength of their conviction. As such, they decided they needed to make their wishes

known -- directly to Vatican officials by coming to Rome.Affectionately referred to as "Sisters on the Bus," Voices of Faith Chantal Goetz, Zuzanna Flisowska, and Stephanie Lorenzo organized this caravan of creative nuns with their hand-sewn, "super-woman" black and orange capes carrying the message "Votes for Catholic Women."

Their prioress, Sr. Irene Gassman, has been a leading voice on this mission for women's equality and has instituted a weekly action that is being shared by Maria 2.0 and other women and men around the world. Each Thursday Catholics are invited to pray and act for women's vote and for their full inclusion in the Catholic Church.

Sr. Petra Müller, one of the oldest and most outspoken sisters called for women to vote at the Synod, especially since women and children are some of the most vulnerable in that exploited land. She said, "Women should be perceived and taken seriously at the Synod and thus be given the right to vote. Women have a potential which is absent from men, our church urgently needs this potential for a new vitality.”

Throughout the few days that I had the honor to be with with them, I don't think there was a moment when they were not smiling, laughing, talking energetically, or singing.

As we readied ourselves for our witness in front of the Synod office in the evening, the way they cared for each other was a delight to watch. Many of them aged, they tenderly helped one another tie on their capes and straighten them, smiling and laughing as they did so.

As we gathered in front of the Synod office door, Kate McElwee led us in prayer and song while I projected the lighted sign "Votes for Catholic Women" on the door. But then the Swiss sisters offered their own prayers and songs. I couldn't follow the words, but I got the message. And so did others who stopped and listened, curious what these women were up to.

Reform, serious reform, can and does come with joy, tenderness, and laughter and it would be a mistake to be lulled into thinking these women weren't decisive change agents. In fact, they are lazar focused and deeply serious and about the fundamental changes that need to occur in our Church. They will accept nothing less than the full inclusion of women in church governance and ministry.

Say it sisters! We are there alongside you!

Voices of Faith Press Conference Stokes Fervor for Women to Vote at the Synod

It is no secret that Catholic women want to see Catholic women have a deliberative voice in our Church. So, in order to bring more attention to the "Votes for Catholic Women Campaign," Voices of Faith organized an October 1 press conference with VOF manager Zuzanna Flisowska, Kate McElwee from Women's Ordination Conference, Paola Lazzarini of Donne per la Chiesa, Sr. Simone Campbell of Network, Sr. Irene Gassmann from the Fahr Monastery in Switzerland, and yours truly representing FutureChurch.Kate began with a bit of history about WOC's effort which began in 2016. She recounted the 2018 protest that took place in front of the Synod hall and the moment Vatican police sought to arrest her as she led a group of women and men from five continents in song and with the chant, "Knock, knock, who's there? More than half the Church!"

I shared our efforts to spread the word through about the injustice of non-ordained male religious voting while no women religious who are of equal ecclesial status could vote through our petition drive, an effort that we have renewed this year (please sign if you have not already done so).

I also talked about the UISG's continuous efforts to lobby the synod secretariat and Pope Francis to get more women religious not only participating, but also voting. Last year, Sr. Sally Hodgdon, Vice President of the UISG pointed out, “Women religious should have the same number of members at the synod as men. If there is a vote, we should be allowed to vote.” She also pledged, "“We need to be the dangerous memory of this synod and the spirit of what happened at this synod. We will not let this issue just die.”

Sr. Simone Campbell gave a beautiful reflection on the need for a synod to invite all the voices that matter in making decisions. And of course, women's voices matter a lot.

Paola Lazzarini shared some of the most interesting new information on this joint effort.

Representing “Donne per la Chiesa,” an Italian association of women that has grown tremendously in two years with small groups in Genova, Torino, Milano, Roma, Napoli, Cagliari and Catanzaro.

"Italian women are certainly not the most aware and involved in this female advocacy process in the Church, but something is moving and there are encouraging signals," said Paola. "Women are asking questions about the leadership in the church and not leaving it in silence."

When the Synod published of the list of voting members, the members of Donne per la Chiesa wrote a letter to the synodal fathers about the fact that women could not vote, especially in light of the fact that women are most important to the Amazonian region.

"Women who are fundamental for the Amazonian Church still can’t vote when it comes to making decisions for their own communities," said Paola during the press conference.

They wrote the letter in Italian, English, Spanish, and Portuguese and sent it to Fr. Costa, the secretary of communication at they Synod.

Surprisingly, he responded to their letter telling them that he was well aware of the contradiction in having an unordained male religious vote, but no women religious voting.

He sounded sympathetic but also said that it is too late to change anything since all the rules had been written. He suggested that the women continue to write during the synod, but also after the synod.

Of course, the women working on the campaign had done just that last year during and after the Synod on the Youth. Zuzanna Flizowska (VoF) and Kate McElwee (WOC) sent an official letter to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod, but he never answered.

So, Paola wondered aloud, "When is the right time to speak? Not before, not during, not after… so when?

Modern day suffragists push for voting rights at the Synod

Women call for women's involvement in the Synod, Church Power Structure

Catholic Sisters and Nuns Call for Voting Rights at the Synod

Nuns and Laywomen Stand Up to Be Counted as Pioneers and Profits

Signs, Signs, Everywhere!

Something mysterious is happening in Rome. People have been spotting signs with the caption "Votes for Catholic Women." They just keep popping up in the most interesting places. Where else where will these enigmatic signs pointing to an imminent reality appear?

Votes for Catholic Women in St. Peter's Square

Keep Your Eyes On Women Religious -- Our Change Agents at this Synod

Below is a list of the women from the International Union of Superiors General who are representatives at the synod, as well as other women religious who are attending. The list was produced by the UISG. These are women to follow for the next three weeks!

Rev. Sister Marlene Fatima Betlinski, sfa, of the Franciscan Sisters Angeline, head of the General Administration of the 37 rural communities of the Pastoral Area Santa Clara (Brazil) [uisg]

Rev.da Sister Daniela Adriana Cannavina, scmr, of the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto, General Secretary of clar (Colombia) [uisg]

Rev.da Sister Alba Teresa Cediel Castillo, mml, of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and of Sts. Catherine of Siena (Colombia) [uisg]

Rev.da Sister Raimunda Nonata de Aguiar Bezerra, of the Sisters of Our Lady, coordinator of the Justice and Peace area in the Congregation, representative of the NGO, unanimously, of the Congregation to the United Nations, member of the anti-trafficking network "Um grito pela vida" (Brazil) [uisg]

Rev. Sister Maria Carmelita de Lima Conceição, FMA, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, Provincial Superior of the “Laura Vicuña” Province of Manaus (Brazil) [uisg]

Rev.da Sister Zully Rosa Rojas Quispe, mdr, of the Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, Member of the traveling team "Bajo Madre de Dios", committed to the indigenous pastoral care of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Madonado (Peru) [uisg]

Rev.da Sister Nelly Sempértegui Ramirez, Member of the "Esclavas del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús" , Professor and Director of the Superior Public Technological Institute in Consorcanqui, Amazonia (Peru) [uisg]

Rev. Sister Arizete Miranda Dinelly, CSA, of the Congregation of Nossa Senhora - Cônegas de Santo Agostinho, Member of the Itinerant Team "Tent Amazônica", Member of the repam and clar (Brazil) [uisg]

Rev.da Suora Gervis Monteiro from Silva, fsp, of the Congregation of the Daughters of St. Paul, member of the traveling Team in the Amazon region (Brazil) [uisg]

Rev.da Sister Mary Agnes Njeri Mwangi, of the Consolata Missionary Sisters, an expert in Indigenous Theology and Interreligious Dialogue, involved in the journey of the Church in Roraima, in particular in the pastoral care of original peoples (Brazil) [uisg]

Religious Sisters Auditors - Religiosas auditoras (11)

Rev. Sister Maria Irene Lopes Dos Santos, SCMSTBG, of the Congregation of the Carmelite Missionaries of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, Councilor of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon of the CNBB (Brazil)

Rev.da Sister Gloria Liliana Franco Echeverri, odn, President of the Latin American Confederation of Religious [clar] (Colombia)

Rev.da Sister Mercedes Virginia Arroyo Rizopatrón, Compañía Misionera of the Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, active in the native community of Caco Macaya, of the ethnic group Shipibo-Konibo in the department of Ucayali (Peru)

Rev.da Sister Roselei Bertoldo, icm, of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Network "A cry for Life", frontier Church, fight against trafficking in persons (Brazil)

Rev. Sister Mariluce dos Santos Mesquita, FMA, of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, a religious belonging to the Barassana ethnic group (Brazil)

Rev.da Sister Marie Henriqueta Ferreira Cavalcante, Commission for Justice and Peace, Belem; Frontier Church, Network "A Cry for Life" (Brazil)

Rev. Sister Gloria Liliana Franco Echeverri, odn, President of the Latin American Confederation of Religious [clar] (Colombia)

Rev.da Sister Francinete Galvão Noronha, religious belonging to the Tuyuka ethnic group (Brazil)

Rev. Sister María Irene Lopes dos Santos, scmstbg, of the Congregation of the Carmelite Missionaries of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, Councilor of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon of the CNBB (Brazil)

Rev. Sister Laura Vicuña Pereira Manso, cf, Pastoral agent for the Karipuna people (Brazil)

Rev. Suora Inés Azucena Zambrano Jara, mmi, of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and of St. Catherine of Siena, (Colombia)


Rev. Sister María Luisa Berzosa González, fi,

Collaborator for Communication - Colaboradora for the communication

Suor Bernadette Mary Kathleen Reis, fsp