Medical Missionary Sister Dr. Birgit Weiler at October 11 Press Conference (Photo: FutureChurch)
A Manifesto of Faith and Love by Sr. Birgit Weiler
Day Five of the Amazon Synod
October 11, 2019
Every once in a while, I meet a woman who I think would make the perfect pope for our times.
I joke about it a lot among my friends nominating this one or that one, but sometimes the breadth of the wisdom, love, and justice that I find in a single woman overwhelms me with its "rightness," a rightness that would enrich and heal, not only the local church, but the universal church as well.
Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, archbishop of México; Archbishop Pedro Brito Guimarâes of Palmas, Brazil; Bishop Joaquín Pertíñez Fernández, O.A.R., of Rio Branco, Brazil; Sr. Dr. Birgit Weiler, of the Congregation of Medical Mission Sisters, collaborator in the pastoral ministry for the care of creation of the Episcopal Commission for Social Action of the Peruvian Episcopal Conference, Peru. (photo: FutureChurch)
Today, Medical Missionary Sister Dr. Birgit Weiler offered her comprehensive understanding of the crisis in the Amazon, the suffering in the lives of the indigenous people there, and the need for a reformed Church structure to carry the Gospel more effectively to the bruised and battered lung of the Amazon and her people, and to the rest of us.
Yes, I want her to be pope, or co-pope with Francis or a "Francis" successor!
This morning, Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter asked Sr. Birgit Weiler two crucial questions.
· Can you share with us the atmosphere of the circuli minores (small language circles)? As a woman, how is it going for you? Do you feel respected and able to share your viewpoints?
· I know Cardinal Hummes and the Instrumentum Laboris mention the desire for a recognition of women's ministry. Do have a hope in that regard?
Sr. Birgit replied with utter confidence and eloquence.
There is a very open atmosphere. With me, there are two other religious sisters. And so, we experience that we are really accepted as part of the group. There is not a clerical attitude. There's a lot of freedom of speech and it is a beautiful experience, really, to discern together. And also, we could speak how we sometimes feel about the Church -- what hurts us, what we desire to change so that we can really be a community of sisters and brothers sharing faith, learning together, and trying to live together out of the Spirit - what the Spirit wants to tell the Church today so that we follow the path of Jesus in today's context -- with today's potentials and today's demands. Yes, it is certainly strong.
And I also heard from other women religious who are participating in some other small circles, and they say it is the same -- it is really an open atmosphere. So, more critical questions can be put openly and respectfully on the table. And it is beautiful that I experienced this on the first day. There are, among the bishops and cardinals, a good number who really understand us as women and who share our concerns and who share [understand] that there are things that are paining us. And they understand why and also want that things will change. So recognition? Yes, definitely.
And in our small group, it was a strong point even said by the bishops that when you want to become a church that expects to be a synodal church, really walking together and discerning together, [it] means we must come to the point to decide together. And that means you have to have more women in positions of leadership.
There's a wide field where you do not need to be ordained, and we hope this will be much more the reality in the future that women -- lay women, religious women -- will be invited to also assume responsible positions. Now, already many of them already do [assume responsible leadership roles] and that is recognized in the working document. Practically, the major pastoral work and presence is lived by women. But is not only the work that we do, but we should also be included in positions where we take responsible decisions. How to design pastoral work? How to go forward with inter-cultural [work]. Or liturgy, for example. Or the way you walk together with indigenous people to really form and shape Christian communities, rooted in their cultures.
I am a theologian and it is my desire, but I know many other women theologians who feel more included teaching theology and also doing academic theology with our colleagues at the university. And there is a belief that we as women can contribute a lot which is rooted in the life the community.
They have a bridge - not the academic field as a separate field here and the lived faith over here; but to bring it together, to work together, to enrich each other together.
And many of the women theologians are also walking with those women who are indigenous people, and will try to contribute to the development of an indigenous theology. And I would hope that the recognition of indigenous theologies will grow and that many women will be involved in it. I believe it is a sign of our times. Because it means that we treasure -- and that is very important for us as women -- that we treasure the God experience of people of other cultures. And let [ourselves] be enriched by the dialogue and by the exchange which is taking place.
And as women of Christian faith, but together with women of other convictions, we work to overcome the tremendous violence against women in different ways and forms. We do this as part of living our faith, because creation is a gift of love of our Creator and there is a meeting place with women of other religions, that your God experience calls you, invites you to stand for justice, justice in relationships, and to overcome what we call in Spanish, machismo, wich hurts us, and patriarchalism which hurts both men and women -- to overcome those ways of dealing and relating to each other that are deeply hurting and which go against our God experience; and against the way that Jesus calls us to follow his path to life. Many women are working to build bridges where ever there is separation, where we are different. [We want] to be able to build bridges of faith and to see what is at stake, so big, that we are called to come together, and not each one separately.
So, I think this would go together for allowing more space for women in leadership positions and in different ministries, not as a power struggle. That is not our desire, but it is to make it possible in a community as sisters and brothers in faith to really share our gifts, our gift of baptism, our call by God, our insights, talents, and charisms. And then I believe we can really go together toward a richer humanity.
Yes, women religious superiors should have the vote: 'It is expressed clearly."
And then I was able to ask my question as a follow up.
DRM: That was very beautiful what you said. I'm also curious about the level of your leadership and participation here at the synod. I am wondering how satisfied, or dissatisfied you are with the fact that, of course there are more women here, and as you say, they are quite free in the small circles, but what about the notion of women voting on the final document? And have you heard anyone actually talk about that in the synod at all, including the bishops?
Sr. Birgit answered:
Yes, in our circle, it has been a topic -- a strong topic -- and we have been cited by several bishops.
I am really grateful to Pope Francis for the steps he is taking to make it possible. We are now 35 women, from different positions, and functions in the synod. This is already a significant step forward and I want to honor it.
Of course, as many other religious women, we desire that we come to the point that our superiors general can have a vote as the superiors general of the brothers can.
Pope Francis at the last synod, already made it possible, saying that it is not [necessary to have] ordination to priesthood to be able to vote. When you are participating fully in the whole process of sharing faith, of discerning together, then the vote is also an expression; you also want to responsibly participate in the decision that is taken.
And, yes, we hope very much that something can happen there.
It is expressed, and clearly expressed.
There is no real reason for why not [having women religious superiors vote] because when the brethren can vote, women religious are equals. Both have votes and are not ordained.
So, really, it would be good.
So, sisters and brothers, can we get an Amen? AMEN!
Who is Who in the Small Language Groups
There are twelve small language groups that began to meet yesterday (Thursday, October 10). That will be the way this synod process works through most of the rest of the time with some breaks.
Those twelve are broken down into
· Five Spanish speaking
· Two Italian "
· One English "
· Four Portuguese ".
A short history: Pope Francis changed the way synods work starting toward the end of the extraordinary synod on the family in 2014 and made even more room for the small groups in 2015 at the ordinary synod on the family.
That has been important for increasing the participation of women, lay men, ecumenical observers, experts, and other invitees who do not cast votes. Each voting and non-voting participant has an equal chance to speak in the language groups and to help shape the final document.
In the past, all the interventions or short presentations were conducted in the synod hall, one person speaking after another. So small language groups have enlivened the discussion and made it a much more inclusive process.
But the effectiveness of the small language groups has depended on the luck of the draw in terms of bishops who are included in each group. The memory of Sr. Maureen Kelleher's 2015 words is still with me. As a member of a small group with Archbishop Charles Chaput, she made an impression on me when she said the "condescension was so heavy, you could cut it with a knife."
But, as Sr. Birgit assured us today, she and other women religious are having very good experiences in the small groups. They are speaking with parrhesia and they are being heard and respected. (You can watch the entire press conference here.)
So who is who in these small groups? We have the list of the moderators, but not all the participants in the group.
SPECIAL ASSEMBLY OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
FOR THE PANAMAZZONICA REGION
LIST OF SPEAKERS AND MODERATORS
ITALIAN CIRCLE "A"
Rev. P. Dario BOSSI, M.C.C.J. ,Speaker
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Flavio GIOVENALE, S.D.B. Moderator
ITALIAN CIRCLE "B"
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Filippo SANTORO, Speaker
His Most Rev. Card. Luis F. LADARIA FERRER, S.I. Moderator
PORTUGUÊS CIRCLE "A"
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Neri J. TONDELLO, Speaker
His Eminence Rev. Mgr Jesús M. CIZAURRE BERDONCES, O.A.R,Moderator
PORTUGUÊS CIRCLE "B"
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Evaristo P. SPENGLER, O.F.M. Speaker
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Pedro BRITO GUIMARÂES. Moderator
PORTUGUÊS CIRCOLO "C"
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Vilsom BASSO, S.C.J. Speaker
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. José B. DA SILVA , Moderator
PORTUGUÊS CIRCLE "D"
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Wilmar SANTIN, O.Carm., Speaker
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Alberto TAVEIRA CORRÊA. Moderator
ESPAÑOL CIRCLE "A"
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. José L. AZUAJE AYALA, Speaker
His Most Reverend Card. Carlos AGUIAR RETES, Moderator
CIRCOLO ESPAÑOL B
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Francisco J. MÚNERA CORREA, I.M.C., Speaker
His Excellency Rev. Msgr. Edmundo P. VALENZUELA MELLID, S.D.B. Moderator
CIRCOLO ESPAÑOL C
Rev. P. Roberto JARAMILLO, S.I.,Speaker
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Jonny E. REYES SEQUERA, S.D.B. Moderator
CIRCOLO ESPAÑOL D
Rev. P. Alfredo FERRO MEDINA, S.I. Speaker
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Omar de Jesús MEJÍA GIRALDO.Moderator
CIRCOLO ESPAÑOL E
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. José J. TRAVIESO MARTÍN, C.M.F.Speaker
His Most Reverend Cardinal Oscar A. RODRÍGUEZ MARADIAGA, S.D.B. Moderator
CIRCOLO ENGLISH / FRANÇAIS
His Eminence Rev. Mgr. Emmanuel LAFONT Speaker
His Eminence Rev. Card. HOLLERICH, S.I. Jean-Claude, Moderator
Prayer for the Burning Amazon Forest
Loving God, the Amazon is on fire!
We come before you with a heavy and contrite heart.
We know Your heart must be deeply grieved
as You hear the cries of the innocent trees, creatures,
rivers and indigenous communities as their home burns.
We pray that in Your mercy, You will forgive us
For our way of life, for we have created the markets
For beef, timber and minerals taken from the Amazon.
We pray that You will forgive those who have set the fires
in the Amazon, those who have cut down the ancient trees,
those who plunder its precious resources,
to fulfill human desire for things.
Oh God, Your mercy is infinite
And only Your power can save us from choosing destruction,
Grant us Your grace to turn to better and kinder ways of living.
Rain down your love to heal the scorched earth and its inhabitants.
May Your love, justice and peace reign for all creation always.
In the name of Your son, Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.
(Clare Westwood, adapted from the GCCM prayer)