Aurea’s life has not changed. This 32-year-old girl, with her long glossy black hair like that of Quechua women, continues to visit tiny villages scattered throughout the Montalvo area in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon to bring the sacraments, celebrate the Word, teach catechism, and lead prayer and formation groups. The date of June 22, 2021, however, represented a turning point in her life. She recounts, “When the bishop laid his hands on me, it was very strong. I really felt called to witness to the Sumakawsay, the Good News of the gospel”.
On that day, Aurea Imerda Santi, an indigenous from the Boveras community, an hour’s flight from Puyo, the nearest city, received the ministries of reader and acolyte from Apostolic Vicar Rafael Cob along with neighbor Susana Martina Santi. The first two “ministresses” in the Catholic Church since the motu proprio by which, the previous January, Pope Francis amended canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law and opened that possibility to women. For Aurea and Susana, a dream had come true. “The ministry represented a watershed. It renewed and strengthened me in my faith. I also feel the respect and trust of the community. In addition, the responsibility to it. I want to be a better Christian for my brothers and sisters,” Aurea tells me via a letter, in an envelope passed from hand-to-hand all the way to Italy, because in that area cell phones have no coverage and the Internet doesn’t too. “The commitment is the same as always but I experience it in a deeper way,” adds Susana, 50, married to Franklin, who is also a minister, and mother of Andrés. “It is not easy to reach the villages. They are far away, I have to travel for several days, but it’s worth it, people look forward to the sacraments and the liturgy,” she stresses.
In the Amazon, where presbyters are scarce and the territory is boundless, it has always been the laity and, especially, the laywomen who do much of the pastoral work. Anything that does not fall under the exclusivity of priestly ministry is in their hands.
In order to have a proper education, Aurea and Susana studied for three years in the Runa Intercultural Training Center (CEFIR), a regional indigenous school at an advanced level in the Quechua language. Aurea explains, “It was a wonderful experience. I took classes side by side with people from the different native peoples. It pushed me to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to the mission. Until Francis’ motu proprio, however, women’s engagement could not be officially recognized. It is one more step in building a Church with an Amazonian face. A Church in whom women are the pillar. Now they are so in their own right,” Susana concludes. (Lucia Capuzzi)