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This month, Latin America

A twofold experience makes faith stronger

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26 September 2020

The sugar sank and merged into the margarine under the pressure of the wooden spoon that Diana was stirring relentlessly. The other 15 women and men arranged the ingredients and, in the meantime, chatted amongst themselves. The space was tight but they did not care. They had found their own order: the older one perched on the only chair, the rest squatting on the floor or leaning against the wall. The dough had almost reached the right consistency when Socorro began to read: “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it’”. For a year, one morning each week,  Socorro Vivas Albán – a professor of Theology at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogota - went to the southern suburbs of the capital accompanied by a team of students.

In the Bolivar neighborhood, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people had sought refuge from the horrors of the civil war, she rounded up a group of unemployed people. Then, she sat them around a table and taught them how to make biscuits that they could sell to survive. In the meantime, the theologian commented with them on the Last Supper story from the gospel according to Luke. Among the rudimentary cookers and pots, the evangelical words jumped of the pages and mixed with the lives of the participants, those wounded by poverty, exclusion, and violence. Sewing the tears, healing them, soothing the pain, illuminating the dark corners. After all, theology resembles the culinary art in its ability to dissolve the “lumps” of faith and make them flow into the daily dough of human existence. Socorro Vivas is certain of this: “The aim of projects like this is to find new theological places where, in this time, God reveals Himself”. The scholar is one of the founders of the Asociación colombiana de teólogas (ACT), a space for thinking about faith from a feminine perspective. Founded in 1999, ACT is one of the many movements in which both lay and religious Latin American Catholics have tried to become protagonists in the construction of the Kingdom over the last half century. This fermentation was inspired by the Council and its incarnation -with the Conferences of the Latin American Episcopate of Medellín and Puebla-, throughout the Continent. As one of the exponents of the first generation of Latin theologians, the Colombian Isabel Corpas de Posada, who is also a active participant in ACT, explains “Fifty years ago, women did not study theology. Nor did they practice it. Theological knowledge was the exclusive heritage of the men of the Church - The Council changed things, giving back to theology the other half of human experience”. Without that half, as Genesis tells us, the image of the Creator is mutilated.

In 1979,  in the year of the Puebla Conference, the Tepeyac Congress took place in Mexico.  This congress is considered to be one of the incubators of what was later called “Latin American feminist theology”, which was initiated by the studies of the pioneers Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, María Clara Bingemer, Nancy Pineda, María Alicia Brunero, and María Pilar Aquino. Their memory is collated and handed down thanks to the continuing work of their heirs. The term “feminist” may sound “suspicious” to certain clerical ears. In fact, the term has to be understood in light of its proper context. “It is not another-way-round type of masculism, for ours is not a vindictive theology. On the contrary. We reflect on faith from our experience as women; and, we try to live and promote equality, including that between men and women, as Jesus asks us to do in the Gospel. For this reason, and to avoid prejudices or unnecessary misunderstandings, I prefer to talk about theology made by women”, explains Marcela Mazzini, a theologian from the Argentinean Catholic University and one of the creators of Theologanda [on page 8 of DCM, October, her article on the Synod of the Family]. “I attended the Faculty of Theology and at that time there was not one woman lecturer on the subject. Once we graduated, we began to meet up with former classmates. Then, after years of informal meetings, we set up an organization in 2003 with the aim of promoting female theology. We have carried out extensive research work and in four tomes we have collected the contributions of leading Latin American theologians. Thanks also to the collaboration with the Association of German Catholic Theologians, we have also carried out international meetings. And, now we are moving forward by proposing research projects and scholarships”, says the Buenos Aires academic, firmly convinced of the need for women theologians. “Because faith must be thought about from all possible existential places. Theological discourse is imbued with context. It is not the same if it is formulated by a man or a women, a lay person or a presbyter” she concludes. For this reason, female theology is not “women’s stuff”, as Lucila Servitje, an exponent of the council of the Chair of Feminist Theology (established in 2016 within the Iberoamerican University of Mexico City), never tires of repeating. “We propose an interpretation of faith from a female experience. And as such, this work is not only for the benefit of women. Discrimination against them is also a wound for men, as they are deprived of other ways of imagining the relationship with God and, therefore, of living their full humanity. It is not a question of denying the difference between genders but of fighting to ensure that it is not used to justify inequality. A feminist theology is not a pressure group in favor of the female priesthood. It is a service in favor of every human being. It is no coincidence that female and male theologians form part of the chair’s council”.

 “We do not want to replace a dominant male with a dominant female. Instead, we fight evangelically against any dominant relationship in which the other is reduced to an object, because it is a sinful situation that poisons the hearts of those who exploit and those who are exploited”, stresses Sister Geraldina Céspedes, Dominican Rosary missionary and theologian at Rafael Landívar University in Guatemala City. It was here, at this university in 1994, where she founded the Mujeres y Theología group together with her fellow students and two teachers. Twenty-six years later, hundreds of people gather at the traditional annual meeting with the public. We share and strive to put Jesus’ dream into practice”, she continued, “of an inclusive community where there is room for all”. José León Suárez, crowded urban belt of Buenos Aires. Consuelo was skeptical about the club. While being committed to the daily effort to survive the chronic crisis, she thought she had no time for abstract activities. The Bible, on the other hand,  as she learned through the weekly meetings, had many concrete things to say to her life as a poor woman and victim of violence. She found strength and hope in the Word, through the chats, and in the relaxation and dance exercises. For this very reason, thirteen years ago, a group of religious came together to set up Arraigos para la vida, women’s clubs which today are widespread throughout Argentina. “The Gospel restores full dignity to those who have long been ‘discarded’ - concludes the sociologist Ana Lourdes Suárez, a veteran of Arraigos - and in doing so it transforms life. I have seen it happen many times. When human beings walk side by side. Becoming Good News, one for the other”.

by Lucia Capuzzi