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Of the Church and women

· The documentary "Clarisse" by Liliana Cavani at the Venice Film Festival ·

Liliana Cavani went to the cloistered convent in Urbino to meet the community of Clarisse nuns (Poor Clares). She had learned of them by chance, was struck by them and wanted to speak with them about life, faith, the Church, men and women and the relation between them. She wanted to ask improvised questions, focusing on the freshness and spontaneity of their answers.

It is, of course, unusual to see cloistered nuns in front of a camera responding to questions that dig deep into their life as women of the Church, their faith, prayer, and especially into their complex relationship with men. "Was Jesus a misogynist?”, asks a voice off-the-screen. No, respond the sisters in unison, most of them smiling. “He did not discriminate between people”. And Francis? Francis was not a misogynist either, they answer, his relationship with Clare was founded on equality, they respond. “And if Jesus were to return? What would a contemporary Jesus do?”. The unanimous response comes without hesitation: “He would not be afraid of women. He would welcome women as he did 2,000 years ago”. His return, they say with warm conviction, would lead to an opening, a break in many patterns of society and of the Church.

In the 21-minute documentary the Clarisse nuns seem serene and open. When faced with the difficult theme of the relationship between men and women in the Church, there is no indication in their faces or in their words of complaint or demand. But neither is there diplomacy nor awkward silence. It is clear that this is a theme on which they have reflected a good deal. It is evident that the questions, though unknown before-hand, do not surprise them and about which they have precise opinions. Men in the Church do not comprehend what women can "give", they believe that they can only "receive", the nuns say. And in their words one can discern sadness. "Men do not always understand that nuns are not limited to prayer, they can think as well", states one of the most eldery women of the group. "To feel equality with a priest is rare. They come to us, say mass and then leave". The Poor Clares spoke with levity and depth; they were sincere but not indignant, afflicted or bitter. They know how to be ironic without being harsh. They only want to explain and explain themselves.




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 19, 2019