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Religious leadership: seven women’s testimonies

Stranger in her home

 Straniera in casa sua  DCM-010
04 November 2023

The latest book edited by Marinella Perroni is titled Religious Leadership: The Women’s Word. Seven Testimonies, published by Carocci. Perroni, who is a Catholic biblical scholar and member of the editorial board of Woman Church World, contributes one of the seven texts. “My story as a believer lies within that of my Italian Church, which lies within the history of the Roman Catholic Church, which lies within the history of the Churches, which lies, in turn, within the history of the world. Put succinctly, my story is that of a Catholic theologian who grew and matured following the Vatican II Council. This event pushed the Roman Catholic Church out of her secular season of Tridentinism; in addition, this is also a Page in the history book for women believers of all the Churches and which can be read and interpreted only within the history of a changing world. In the volume, Perroni includes six other women:  Judaism scholar Miriam Camerini, enrolled to become a rabbi at the Har’El school in Jerusalem, one of the first Orthodox rabbinical academies also open to women; Baptist pastor Elizabeth E. Green; Episcopal Vetero-Catholic biblical scholar Teodora Tosatti; Tibetan Buddhism lecturer Carla Gianotti; Waldensian pastor Letizia Tomasone; and Islamologist Marisa Iannucci. We report here a significant excerpt from the latter two.

Today, what does it mean for me to be a pastor? On the one hand, there remains a strong feeling that I have not yet arrived at what I would consider a true community of women and men who are free and liberated from the conditioning of patriarchy. A pastoral ministry has a collective and an individual dimension at the same time. It works if the pastor is embedded in a community network and takes the community with them on the spiritual journey they propose. A pastoral ministry of this kind responds to the Church and stimulates her to be both stronger and more attentive, and full of care and capable of welcoming others.

However, the pastoral figure also has the uncomfortable function of keeping doors open, of not settling into repetition, which dries up all practice. The awareness of the gap between feminist theology and the reality of the Church often creates difficulties and discord.

I am still looking for the community that makes me feel at home. Sometimes, this home is the great international ecumenical events in which one recognizes oneself among women and among pastors who are taking similar steps of deconstructing patriarchy. One recognizes the courage of others, which makes one reflect on one’s own. These events are where new and creative ways of living out women’s freedom in the Spirit are invented. There, support is found and alliances are built in the face of possible backward progress on women’s rights and freedom.

At other times, these are encounters between women of different generations and cultures, as happens in Italy within evangelical women’s organizations, which often intertwine the paths of first- and second-generation evangelical immigrants and Italians.

We are all still struggling to value women’s presence in the Church; nonetheless, they know they have already received their value before God.

The common faith allows them to express themselves with freedom and joy in these encounters among women, which give rise to the strength that the women themselves will later bring to the mixed sphere of the Churches. The journey still to be undertaken is still long; however, the path is set in motion, and the transformation of hearts and existences of which we always speak as the fruit of the divine Spirit, or divine Wisdom, is at work among us and in us.

by Letizia Tomasone