In the gospel according to John, a Samaritan woman is the one who argues with Jesus. She is not exactly an exemplary woman, in fact quite unconventional, having had five husbands and now a new man. It is precisely for this reason that Jesus listens to her and begins an intense discussion that leads to a fascinating crescendo. During their debate she asks questions and continually raises the stakes, almost provoking him; he plays along, responds to her, respects her, and in the end he reveals himself as the Messiah. A Samaritan, understood as an inhabitant of Samaria, are a people who are considered impure and despised by the Jews, whom Jesus describes as good, charitable, capable of helping the wounded enemy (Gospel of Luke).
For us, the “Samaritans” are the men and women who are outside the system, who are capable of asking questions and permit themselves to be questioned, whose women know how to speak to men, who are open to the other, to innovation, to the future. They are the ones who need truth, not set certainties. In sum, they are enterprising, intelligent, non-conformist, direct, and unsubmissive.
In this issue of Women Church World, we tell the story of these women. We recount the free and lively characters who have challenged the oppression of the dominant culture, who have asserted their independence, while sometimes paying for their ideas, for an obstinacy that was seen as a fault. The female Samaritans have a notable rupturing charge, who were nevertheless sowers, in the Church and in society.
Like Hildegard, a wise and powerful nun, an advisor to popes and emperors, and who skillfully fought duels with the ecclesiastical hierarchies in the 12th century, and a millennium later was declared a doctor of the Church. Mary Ward too, a pioneer in the early 17th century, who was accused of heresy and imprisoned, but whose “heroic virtues” were recognised almost four centuries later.
Some of those written about here have had an entangled, even transgressive existence, and shown great courage to live out their own destiny without offloading it onto the shoulders of others. An example is Etty Hillesum, who died in a Nazi extermination camp, and Dorothy Day, today considered a sort of “radical conscience” of the American Catholic Church in the 20th century. Simone Weil, the philosopher, mystic and partisan activist, sowed fertile seeds for the recognition of undeniable rights, as did Margarita Moyano, the youngest of the 23 women auditors at the Second Vatican Council, for ecumenism.
Reviewing them is not a literary exercise. There is still resistance to some modernist women. Nevertheless, some of the problems they raised, for example the dialogue between man and woman, the relationship between Spirit and Science, call for a new transversal and, perhaps, more popular and widespread reflection. (DCM)