Maria Angela Mariano, a community leader in Germany
Maria Angela Mariano works in the German church where she is Gemeindereferentin (a community leader), responsible for the Italian Catholic community of Rottweil, in the diocese of Rottenburg/Stuttgart. In this role, she performs the liturgy of the word, catechesis, presides over funerals, and has administrative duties. Catholics in Germany have long been accustomed to having laymen and women in responsible pastoral positions. Maria Angela is also a member of the Frauenkommission, which is a women’s commission, and an advisory body established by Bishop Gebhard Fürst.
Born in Germany to emigrant parents, Maria Angela returned to Italy at the age of 18, to her parents’ hometown of Nardò, to trace her roots. While there, she obtained her second diploma, to become a teacher. However, in Italy, with the public exams on hold, she was precluded from teaching. As she could not make ends meet on a supermarket cashier’s salary she returned to Germany. She also qualified as an ambulatory assistant, but the work in the Church attracted her most. First, she worked as a secretary with small pastoral tasks in the Ulm Catholic mission, which is not unusual in the Catholic communities of non-German speaking Catholics in Germany. This was followed by the theology and applied religious pedagogy studies in Freiburg at the academy founded a century ago by Margarete Ruckmich, a pioneer of the importance of giving women a solid training as pastoral workers. “Women in the Church today are educated, prepared and no longer want only to be catechists and depend on the goodwill of the parish priest - Maria Angela said – they want to have space to proclaim the Gospel”.
After her studies, she became a pastoral assistant and then a community leader near Stuttgart. In 2000, she received permission from the bishop to celebrate the liturgy of the word with a speech during a funeral. “I was one of the first women to celebrate funerals. When they saw me coming they asked me, are you a Protestant? But my priest, Monsignor Kilian Nuß, rector of the Wilhelmsstift in Tübingen, supported me”. In 2007, Maria Angela moved with her three daughters to Rottweil to follow her husband who was to become a deacon. There she became responsible for the Italian Catholic community, took on tasks in the German community and pastoral work in the hospital. In traditional Rottweil, it was not easy to have a woman accepted for pastoral duties. However, one day, “We were having lunch with some guests when a German lady approached the priest and pointing at me – and which point I started to get worried - and said, I have to tell you something about Mrs. Mariano, I have to congratulate her. You have such a good collaborator that, if I were to die, I would want her at my funeral!” Maria Angela smiled; she was not a woman to hold grudges. When a priest prevented her from administering the Eucharist -despite having the bishop’s permission-, she put on a brave face. Since 2011, she has been the Ansprechperson, the person who leads the community together with the parish priest. In the diocese of Rotteburg/Stuttgart there are 21 people who have administrative functions in this position, as well as pastoral and liturgical work (liturgy of the word), and who can use the seal on official documents, such as marriage protocols. Four of these people, two men and two women, lead the parish according to canon 517.2 of Canon Law and refer to the bishop as their direct superior.
In 2017, Bishop Fürst established a commission for women, the Frauenkommission, of which Maria Angela was a member. It was an advisory body consisting of twelve women; other German dioceses also had them too. “The bishop realised what women were needed in the curia, in the church, in society. At first, he adopted a defensive attitude, and there was no dialogue. We politely pointed this out to him and he understood us, he even apologized. Therefore, we reversed the order of interventions. First, we report, and then the bishop speaks, with proposals of how to intervene. This involves various situations, from homilies that are hostile to women by some priests, to cases of sexual harassment, but also proposals to enhance women’s skills in the curia. Maria Angela continued, “We paid attention to the fact that there are many women who were disappointed with the church. What did they do? Where did they go? Whom did they turn to? We tried to open the bishop’s eyes to the social reality that exists. Also about Muslim female refugees who were discriminated against by the church and sent by the imam”.
by Paola Colombo