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Religious commitment sets women free

· ​In Brazil ·

For more than 50 years the emergence of women has been seen in all the sectors of the social, political and cultural life in Brazil. And this is one of the most important and relevant factors in terms of the change in women’s contemporary profile

In the religious field too women are becoming protagonists: about 80 per cent of them are from working class backgrounds, that is, with a low income, living in conditions of poverty and subjected to every kind of oppression. But passing through the Christian religious and ecclesial experience has for many proven to be a constant and authentic way of access to emancipation and to the recovery of their human dignity, constituting a real and original possibility to attain greater social awareness and to gain a place in the public space in terms of participation in trade unions, in district associations, in popular movements and political parties.

The experience and the religious commitment of women of the Brazilian working classes and the various ecclesial services that they take on in a massive majority are, very often, the only place granted to them for acting outside the confines of the home and the care of the family. The fact that in many of her dioceses the Church in Brazil has adopted the ecclesial model of the Grassroots Ecclesial Community (CEB), beside and beyond the traditional model of the parish where the services were excessively concentrated in the hands of the priest, has permitted many women to exercise their capacities of coordination and their gifts of direction and organization.

Thus, in the Church today more women are seen heading communities, committed women pastoral workers responsible for a whole group of people who seek to satisfy their desires and to articulate in the best possible way their access to the goods offered by the Church.

In the field of spirituality too the presence of women has grown considerably. Today there are numerous laywomen or women religious, women who devote themselves to preaching retreats, to people’s spiritual guidance, to the production of material which helps in organizing positively prayer and the liturgy at the most different levels. The fruits produced by these spiritual teachers are remarkable; they help so many men and women, in accordance with their own feminine perception of God and their experience of the Spirit marked by their feminine way of being.

There are also women theologians. After the complex transition of the discovery of themselves and of their role in the theological community, an ever greater number of women today attend theology institutes, obtaining academic diplomas or exercising the ministry of teaching and of theological research. Their theological production is reaching a higher and higher level of maturity, not only or not mainly on the subject of women, but on all the subjects of theology, examined and elaborated in a feminine perspective and from a feminine viewpoint.

Lecturers and writers, researchers and intellectuals of importance and depth, women theologians today make it possible to say already that theology in Brazil would be unthinkable without their contributions. If they did not exist, an important part of reflection would be missing, a fundamental approach to the problems on which to reflect, a single breath which only they can give to the subjects so old yet ever new of the Christian mystery.

Among the themes dear to the women, especially the women theologians, who work in the Church in Brazil, in addition to that of woman’s identity and to all the other theological and biblical arguments thought out starting from a feminine perspective, we would like to emphasize another two which seem to us to be particularly important, controversial and delicate – ecclesially speaking – in which the initial approach on the part of Christian women was timid and cautious. Nevertheless, because of their power and centrality they gradually gained strength, and in the 1990s became great challenges for theology elaborated by women. These challenges are still present in this beginning of the new century.

We are speaking of the theme of ethics and morals, related to reproductive rights and to sexuality. In this regard there is a whole universe to be explored, a universe which acquired new strength and new elements, above all for Catholic women theologians, with Pope John Paul ii’s Encyclical Evangelium vitae. Already in the 1980s, it was evident to women that the challenge of thinking of their corporeity, sexuality and fertility in the light of the Christian Revelation and in dialogue with the Magisterium of the Church was a mission that that they could not shirk. And they dedicated and continue to dedicate themselves to it with courage and hope.

Another subject is more bound to the field of ecclesiology: the question of ministries. All the women involved in an ecclesial service experience in their own skins every day how urgent are a reflection and a practice which respond to the wishes of the people of God in this regard.

In the 1980s women began effectively to take on various ministries in the communities. In the 1990s they continued to deepen this open track and to seek fertile, if not always easy, ways to expand the scope of possible and promising conquests which would permit Christian women increasingly to find a way into the ecclesial space, to enable them to pass from the domestic to the public sphere.

It is starting from these central and crucial points that we see outlined the future of women in the Church in Brazil in the third millennium which has already begun. In this already inaugurated innovative phase there is a characteristic aspect that cannot be ignored: despite a harsh if not even oppressive daily reality women are full of hope and trust. For them all life and the world do not present themselves as threatening or destructive but, on the contrary, full of possibilities of living and constructing something greater and better than what was and what has been lived until now.

Ever stronger within them is the awareness that oppression, of which they are often victims, at home and in society, is not God’s will. For them God is someone experienced very positively, someone who wants to transform them and who in reality transforms them profoundly, helping them in the difficult and fascinating passage from the domestic to the public environment.

Maria Clara Bingemer

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