The House is Burning, Call Everyone

Today, one message came through -- loud and clear.

The house is burning and there isn't much time to stop the destruction.

Today we heard from Ms. Judite da Rocha, National Coordinator for the Victims of HydroElectric Dams; Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, O.F.M. Cap., of Kinshasa, Democratci of Congo; Bishop Karel Martinus Choennie of Paramaribo, Suriname; and Archbishop Hector Meguel Cabrejos Vidarte, OFM, the President of the Bishops' Conference of Peru, and President of CELAM.

Ms. da Rocha articulated the intersecting problems created by multinationals building hydroelectric dams.

She explained that first companies come in to build the dams as a gateway for other exploitive industries, such as mining to come in.

The dam building companies promise clean power. "But it is not clean," said da Rocha. "They damage the rivers, kill the fish in the rivers, and kill the way of living for the fishermen."

She explained that the imposition of these hydroelectric dams destroys and displaces communities and families. It causes psychological problems. Those who stay face great difficulties.

For instance, women are sexually harassed by the outsiders who come in to build these projects.

She also said that women and their work are taken for granted. They do not earn a wage for their work.

Bishop Karel Choennie was blunt.

  1. The Amazon is under threat from global warming.
  2. There is a causal relationship between global warming and weather changes such as the increased frequency of hurricanes.
  3. This economy kills. We need a new economy of solidarity.
  4. Even if everyone in the Amazon changes, that will not be enough to stop the impending disaster. Many people in developed nations do not believe they are responsible for the rainforest's destruction. And if they realize it, they don't want to give up their luxurious lifestyles; their timber, their agricultural products, their gold, and their red meat. America, Japan, Europe, and China are most responsible for climate change and it is people in these countries that must change their lifestyles. The resistance to adopting a "more sober" lifestyle will result in greater destruction of the rainforest.
  5. We need to reduce our carbon footprint. All countries must abide by the Paris Climate agreement.
  6. Plunderers of the land take the riches, but when those natural resources leave our countries, we are not any better off. We are worse off
  7. There is an urgency. We don't have much time. If another 5% of the forest is destroyed, there will be no return.

Finally, Archbishop Hector Cabrejos Vidarte remarked that he did not want the synod document to be "put on a shelf" and said there is a specific proposal in the final document to create an ecclesial council that would unite Amazonian countries and be responsible for translating the synod document into practice, and deal with challenges and threats to the region.

Women Deacons in Final Document

The Tablet reported that a proposal for women deacons made it into the final document.

If that is true, it is historic.

A collage of women who have participated in our 100 Women Deacons project to tell the story of their call to the diaconate. Click to read their stories.

At a meeting of people interested in continuing the work of advocating for women deacons, Luke Hansen, SJ, who worked as an intern for FutureChurch in 2015, summed up the progress on women deacons nicely.

At the 2015 Synod on the Family, just one bishop offered an intervention regarding the discussion of women deacons.

In 2016, the International Union of Superiors General requested the Pope open the question of women deacons and the Pope established a commission.

At the 2018 Synod on Youth, the final document spoke strongly about the need for a greater presence of women in Church leadership and spoke of it for the first time as an "issue of justice." But there was no specific mention of women deacons.

But in 2019, at the Synod on the Amazon, what is happening is unprecedented. The bishops and participants have not been talking about dialogue, but about implementing the diaconate for women. And, it has been reported that there is a majority of support by the bishops.

Still, it may be telling that Sr. Birgil Weiler is calling for a synod that focuses on women's leadership in the Church. She is helping on the writing of the final document and this may be a sign of what to expect.

Still, may our bishops have the courage to "call it like it is" and ordain women in the roles and ministries they are already undertaking in the Amazon and around the world.

We have no shortage of vocations. But we have had a shortage of vision and courage. May these bishops truly learn from the women in the Amazon and may they live into God's grace and integrity so they may stand along side these female priests and deacons as true brothers.

The View from Sr. Birgit Weiler

Every synod has outstanding women. And some really shine because they speak the truth with such courage and love.

Today, I had the honor to talk with Medical Mission Sr. Birgit Weiler. She is a theologian and professor who works with indigenous communities. As you may recall, I think she is pope material.

Here is a bit of our discussion below. I have grouped together the threads topically.

Women Deacons

DRM: You said women are leading in the church in the Amazon. They are the church because they are already carrying out most of the ministry. Because of the representation here at the synod with 35 women and 230 men, 185 who have the right to vote, I worry that the synod will recommend opening the priesthood to married men, but not women deacons.

BW: That would be very sad. But if happens, as women, we have to keep in mind that this is a special synod for the Amazon region. And there are other strong efforts of women working on the possibility that women can become deacons and have done some very good research on it.

We have prepared and presented very strong arguments and I believe this will be discussed on the global level.

We were told that the Pope is open.

We know there were women deacons in the first centuries, but this cannot be the only argument. We have to read the signs of the times. We believe God's Spirit is working among us. We can see that in a growing number of societies, women speak up and feel they have the right to be treated as equals.

Yet as women speak up more and grow stronger in their willingness to address harassment and disrespect, there has been an increase in violence against women. In the universities, women have ombudsmen who they can go to if they are being violated or harassed. And in the cities women are marching for their rights. But some men just can't cope with it. In marriages and relationships, some take violent action if they feel put down, are jealous, or if there is a conflict. And when women are abused, sometimes the police and judges are also victimizing the women.

And, of course, as I am close to to indigenous peoples. For these women it is more difficult still. They are two times oppressed. There is the exploitation and violence they face daily by those who destroy the land and the people. And they also face violence from the males in their lives, in their own families and communities.

Women's Ministry in the Church

DRM: If women face violence in their relationships and in their communities, how are they treated as leaders and ministers within church communities? Does machismo flourish in a place where a majority of women minister?

BW: When it comes to Catholic leadership, it is true that many more women participate and minister. There are also more women on various boards, so it is easier for them to speak up because they support each other.

And they do a lot of intense work so that men will show up regularly and participate in the various ministries.

And for men, this is not easy to accept participation in the church where women are the leaders of ministries, making decisions, or directing the financial resources of the communities.

So this is a time when men need to adjust to this reality of how women lead. It is different. Women share. They help each other. They support each other. They conduct meetings differently. They approach the sermon differently. The approach decision making differently. They do not force decisions, but invite different suggestions and build consensus.

And it is my experience that in church communities and organizations there are priests and men who support women. They are helpful in bringing about change because they can talk to other men who often have a deep seated fear of being overpowered by women. They know women are capable and might even be better at a role than they are and they do not want women to take over.

But women put this machismo on the table and talk about it. There was a community project that went on in many different communities for quite some time where women and men talked about what it would mean to have a good life.

Women said that the good life has to do with relationships of respect, of solidarity, and of reciprocity. But we, as women, feel that often we are not treated with respect. In leadership we need the space to speak up, to bring our ideas, to have them valued in the same way as men. Also, when our husbands mistreat us, that is not the good life.

So they changed the rules the govern the communities, rules that are reviewed every couple of years. Regarding how women and men should live together, they decided that women and men can be leaders. And when it is proven that a husband has mistreated his wife or his daughter, there is punishment which includes locking men up.

And when men have committed an offense, there are public meetings where these cases are brought forward. They ask men to go deep into themselves and reflect on what they are doing to women and what they need to change. That is really dynamic and all of it is a big step forward.

And I work with young men who have very different values and this impresses me deeply. They treat women as colleagues. They have very different relationships with their wives. They work in the kitchen. They cook. They take care of the babies.

Some men are not used to this and make unkind remarks. So these young men support each other. They recognize that the remarks are stupid and they continue in this way because they want a good relationship with their wives, daughters and sons. They give us an example of how things are changing.

Also there is a lot of work with adolescent and young women to value themselves enough to not so easily get into sexual relationships where you might end up being pregnant your whole life.

And as the young people grow up in communities where women are elected as leaders, are leading the boards of very large associations and organizations --something that was unheard of 10 years ago -- it makes a huge difference.

DRM: So how much of this movement toward equality is societal, and how much is coming from the church?

BW: The missionaries [carrying the ideals of equality] in the church are mainly women, but also some men and priests. They teach that we are all in the image of God. So there is dignity that we share as Christians that we accept one another as equals.

And this whole process has been bearing fruit.

Women are much more present in leadership in society, in education, in health care, etc. and they also expect that this will happen in the church.

I must say that I can see signs of the Spirit. There is a very strong energy from women and, also, indigenous women who stand up who speak without any fear. They will not allow men to mistreat them. And this is a model for other young women.

What Women Want

DRM: What do indigenous women want from this synod, from the church?

BW: They also know that the church has to change so that women can take on leadership, not only ordination, but in all rights and service.

But they want a formal way of dignifying women's ministry when the church asks them to assume a role in ministry in service to a community. They want the same rite as men. Indigenous women themselves may not all want to be a deacon, but they want leadership, and support in making decisions about ministry, parish life, pastoral work, etc. They want equality in decision making.

Small group discussions in the Synod

The discussions have been a very good experience. The bishops practice equality and it is a beautiful experience. These men don't see women as competition and this was really very eye opening. There was a real relationship of respect, of discussing issues together. Everyone's voice is heard.

I spoke with other women as well, and this has been their experience too.

The Catacombs Pact

DRM: Did you attend the event at the Catacombs of Domitilla where the new pact was signed?

BW: I did attend. There were about 200 people, women and men.

But I was disappointed by the press coverage because most every picture was just of the bishops, who were about 40. We had representation from the entire synod -- lay, religious, ordained -- but only the ordained were shown in the pictures.

But it was beautiful to have bishops and all present to really commit to care for the earth and our common home. It was very moving and deeply touching. And it was very special to do this in a place where Christians had given everything, including their lives, as witness to the Gospel.

DRM: I thought it was wonderful that, in this historical moment, women signed as well and referred to themselves as Synod Mothers and that within the fourteen points, there was a recognition of the diakonia of women and that all lay people should have a voice and vote in decision making bodies.

BW: Yes, the Pact was explicit on this. And that was also so strong in the Synod. The Pact was also the fruit of the thinking in the Synod. And the bishops in my circle fully supported this. They said that in a synodal church, men and women not only walk together, but also discern and decide together.

DRM: Do you know how many people signed the Pact?

BW: I took quite some time because the list was also passed around. And some who could not be there but wanted to sign, also signed it later. I think it was around 200 people who signed.

DRM: Why did only 40 bishops attend? I had read that there was going to be 150 or more.

BW: I think that many signed up and some were concerned about the number the space would hold and wondered if this chapel could fit all the people. are not much more than 200 people can fit into this chapel. But among the bishops, it is not clear how they were invited, or signed up, or came.

Some also questioned whether the Catacombs was the right place to hold such an event. Instead of under the earth, some thought it should take place in the Vatican, above ground and in full view. But others wanted to keep it in the catacombs because of the historical connection to 1965 and to the memories of the martyrs.

Eucharist and Women

DRM: Women are already ministering in the Amazon and in other places around the world. They are baptizing, witnessing marriages, leading Eucharistic services, leading bible studies and catechesis, presiding over funerals, and hearing confessions. And using the disclaimer that is "not absolution" seems to be an effort to appease churchmen. But what do you think?

BW: I believe we, we should be very careful not to be tempted to think of such a small God. Women can do this with no priest. And when we go to God in a prayer, of course they are forgiven. It is good.

DRM: I posed a question to a very thoughtful priest who works in Kenya. I asked him why he believes there is a "Eucharistic famine" when there are women functioning, for all intents and purposes as priests and deacons in communities already. How can it be that this is not Eucharist? Why not give them and their ministry in the community official recognition instead of labeling this holy action as "famine"?

For me, it annuls what women are doing. It creates a sense that they are operating on a second class tier and it reinforces patriarchal norms.

BW: So you must keep building that case because it is beautiful. That is true of many indigenous women as I know them. They are open to the divine in ways we are not. For us it is time to value their spirituality. There is more than one way. Jesus had many ways to reach out to people. And these women hold Jesus' approach to healing and relationships.

As you say, we often have very segmented thinking. I love going to India where you say "Namaste." That means the God in me see the God in you. If you are living in this relationship with God I see the divine in you and you see the divine in me.

So in some sense, such a fixation on the Eucharist, I must say is a very narrow way of thinking about it. The Eucharist is so important, but it's not a little narrow thing. There are many expressions of this thanks and if you live in authentic community this disposes you to live the Eucharist in daily life. Celebrating the liturgy helps us to, to perceive what it really means when we say God is love. Jesus. Islam is a community builder and Jesus helps us to discover more mobile. It really means that God is love and that you stand up for what you believe and pay the costs. This mystery of love is something I like very much. There is a writer who has a beautiful expression. He says when you love a person, that you learn not to want to fix them or change them, but you learn how to live in this dynamic movement of love.

Celebrating the Eucharist for me also carries the deep, deep meaning of the table. Jesus invites to the table. With Jesus you go to the prisons, to the places where people suffer, where the earth suffers. You meet these other beings, and it widens your heart. Love transforms. So when this really takes place, this is Eucharist.

Synod Results

DRM: So, what do you want to see happen from the Synod?

BW: I want most of all to be a prophetic church with all people, indigenous men and women, young people and the elderly to defend this space -- the Amazon.

I want us to go together with these people who have suffered the strongest burden of colonialism. In the working document, it says it is time for the church to leave its colonial past, and to be on the side of those who want transformation. I deeply desire this transformation together with the people.

And I desire this for all countries that they would help the Amazon people and the region. That when the government and companies look down on them, that the Church will have the courage to stand up and demand a different way of living together, of understanding each other, of creating an economy that works for everyone.

I desire deep, deep change. And as church communities in the parishes, dioceses, religious life and formation houses, that we take steps to build a coherent way to care for each other and the earth. Doing away with plastic, for example.

I desire that we do it with passion, with a love for each other and for the earth. We don't just want to renounce something, but we want to act in love. That is the energy source and maybe that has been the missing piece. Our faith is the source of our loving action.

And sometimes it is very, very hard because we hear so many stories of devastation and the violation of human rights. Companies try to bribe people. They divide communities.

It is heavy. It is painful.

So faith is the source of loving life, of persistence, and of strength. People need space to talk about the pain, but we don't want to lose sight of the beauty and the hope.

And I am most impressed that Pope Francis has picked on this violence against people and the earth. He said he was touched by learning about the level of violence is going on there.

So, my dream is that we connect stronger as Christians globally because the Amazon threats cannot be solved only by the people living in the Amazon.

We need a strong movement of solidarity with the Amazon, its people, and the other living beings. If the Amazon dies we will enter into a very dark period. So I would desire that we can share this passion for life, first with the Amazon people, but also with other people.

The Final Document

DRM: You have gotten the final document and you've read through it. Are you offering amendments?

BW: Oh, yes, we want changes and they have prepared forms for those changes. You state what you want to change, or add, or cut out, and you make a short argument for it. Then it is discussed in the circle. Then the moderator takes a vote. Those that pass get taken to the writing committee.

DRM: And what about tomorrow. What will you be doing?

BW: They have called several of us to help with the writing because there is a tremendous amount of work.

DRM: So, without giving away details that I know you cannot disclose, are you satisfied with the final document so far?

BW: What is that saying? "I think there is room for improvement."

WOW's Witnesses to Women Priests and Deacons in the Amazon

Women's Ordination Worldwide witnessed to the priestly and diaconal ministries of women in the Amazon, and like those women, helped heal the sting of the thieves and plunderers who, just the day before, desecrated an indigenous, feminine, and sacred icon by throwing it into the Tiber.

Thank God for these women!

Photo Credit: Women's Ordination Worldwide

Kate McElwee, Miriam Duignan, Kathleen Gibbons Schuck, Pat Brown, Alicja Baranowska, and Therese Koturbush carried the banner, "Empowered Women will Save the Earth, and Empowered Women Will Save the Church." They prayed, proclaimed readings by Sr. Theresa Kane, Pope Francis, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, and Sr. Simone Campbell. They sang "Sister Carry On", and explained their position to the many press outlets who covered the event.

Their message was eloquent and comprehensive:

  1. Women are already serve in priestly roles and to demand that they too are recognized as equal leaders of the Church.
  2. The all-male voting delegates behind the Synod Gate are discussing the priest shortage in the Amazon region, but WOW wants to remind them that women are already leading sacramental ministry across Amazonia and around the world. Their vocations are recognized by the communities they serve.
  3. As momentum to ordain married men increases, WOW cautions against adding yet more men to an already imbalanced church without addressing the injustice of excluding women.
  4. WOW is encouraged by the new Pact of the Catacombs, signed by 40 Bishops from the Synod on October 20, demanding that the church: ‘Recognize the services and real diakonia of a great number of women who today direct communities’ and for ‘an adequate ministry of women leaders of the community’.
  5. Without women, the Catholic Church would not exist in the Amazon and it is a matter of justice that they too are finally empowered as equals rather than being supplanted by local men whilst women continue to do the work of serving the communities.
  6. WOW called on Pope Francis to publicly acknowledge that a majority of attendees of the Synod support women deacons and witness their ministries daily in the Amazon region and asks that the Synod take a first step towards equality and justice by restoring women deacons in the same rite as men.
  7. The call for ecological justice cannot be separated from the call for spiritual and sacramental equality.

Yeah, that is me in the photo too -- so happy to join! I love my sisters in the faith! And I'm grateful everyday for their creatively and courage.

Sisters, carry on!

Get the Twits

My grandkids love lying in bed with Grandma and reading a bedtime story. They love Roald Dahl with his funny, frightening tales and I love the social commentary in child size bites.

When I get home, the first story I am going to read to them is "The Twits", the story of a nasty couple who keep caged monkeys and make bird pies with real birds.

And of course, there will be a moral to the story.

"Yes, little ones, there are still twits in our world. And Grandma hopes they catch all the little twits who disparaged a beautiful people and their culture and stole a precious feminine sacred symbol and threw it into the Tiber River."

I hope I can report to them that the thieves are caught by the time I go home because they bear the responsibility for this egregious act.

Still, in this sad and ugly tale, there are smoking guns, fake news, and complicity. Too many in the Catholic media world have been hard at work stirring their followers by generating doubts, calling names, and inventing conspiracy theories.

In the search for those who may have created the world of words where this egregious act manifested, I have been particularly grateful to Heidi Schlumpf who has been following the money and rhetoric for a long time. The trail sheds light on Francis media critics such as EWTN, The Catholic Herald, and big time funders of anti-Francis elements such as Tim Busch. The National Catholic Reporter has also helped Catholics understand the shadowy side of the media world with articles about ChurchMilitant and the Lepanto Institute, two orgs that even Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote off.

I have also been curious about the initial report by Catholic News Agency and to what degree it helped steer a wave of doubt by casting the opening ceremony with indigenous participation as something that stirred silence in Pope Francis implying that the feminine symbolism had to be overcome with an "Our Father." They also reported that other Vatican officials attended but denied any responsibility for the ceremony. That may have been true, but what do the questions imply?

Then there is the power of Lifesite to hold a press conference hostage by repeating doubts and demanding answers about the sacred symbol of life -- a symbol that was finally stolen and plunged into the Tiber. I don't accuse them of plundering the altar, but did their words contribute in any way to this act of vandalism?

Other players stirring the pot are the men who are losing their grip on power and are in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction about the direction of the Church.

And this pack have been working hard stirring followers to action.

The 40 Day "Crusade of Prayer and Fasting" initiated by U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke and company asked people to pray that the synod won't get drunk on “error and heresy”, especially when respect for the Amazon's indigenous people, culture, spirituality, and love of their land is taken seriously.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller insisted that the synod document is "heretical."

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller has spent a lot of ink characterizing aspects of the synod document as "false teaching."

And, finally, as if they share one clericalist mind, the Voice of the Family sees the "egalitarian and ecological minded society" framework for the Amazonian Synod, along with the proposal for married priests to be an "attack on the family."

The Church is moving toward a new way of being. It is slow, too slow. But, the force of that change can be charted by the growing pitch of the complaints of those who believe they are losing their power.

To that degree, even their symphony of conspiratorial tales and accusations can be counted as a genre of music that is marking the end of an era.

Ultimately, in "The Twits", the clever monkeys and birds outwit the cruel couple and win their freedom.

Now that is my kind of ending!

For My Grandchildren

During my time in Rome reporting on the synod, I have been visiting the side altar in Santa Maria in Traspontina where the images of the martyrs, including Sr. Dorothy Stang, along with the sacred symbols are laid at the foot of the altar.

As I listen to the stories from indigenous people and women religious and men, the plight of the people and the destruction of their land has penetrated my heart and mind more deeply. And that has me praying - for conversion to greater action.

During a presentation about Sr. Dorothy Stang's life, martyrdom, and continuing legacy, I met women religious who were carrying with them "tucum" rings made of the wood of the Amazonian tucuma palm tree. The ring has a long history as a symbol of resistance dating back to a time when blacks wore them in opposition to Brazilian Empire.

More recently, the the ring became a symbol of liberation theology and the "preferential option for the poor." Here at the Amazonian synod it has become a symbol of solidarity with indigenous people of the Amazon and their land and a sign of a pledge to struggle alongside the Amazonian people to end the violence against people and land, and to heal that which we have destroyed.

So, I am wearing a "tucum" ring as a symbol my desire for greater conversion, and I am bringing home one small gift for each of my 14 grandchildren -- the same ring.

I want to continue to spend my life working for justice, living the Gospel more fully, healing what I and others in my generation have broken and destroyed, and somehow pass on to those I love most God's radical dream of a world where justice and peace reigns for all Her people, creatures, and the land.