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Goan women and the Catholic Church

Gender equality was recently demanded at a convention organised by Indian Christian Women’s Movement, wanting equal position in decision making. In view of this NT BUZZ highlights how across the approximately   167 parishes in Goa not only do women hold positions, but are also involved at various levels of evangalisation in the community

Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ

Women played an important part when Christianity came about. The Bible says that Jesus spoke directly to women and refused to treat them differently from men. The gospel according to Mathew, Mark, Luke and John portrays them as disciples during Jesus’ ministry and women were first witnesses of the resurrection. They’re even mentioned in St Paul’s letters as leaders of house churches and missionaries in their own right.

And like every society, there have been several movements within the church to bring about gender equality. While some say that women should stand up against male domination in the church and claim their rightful place in the body of Christ, others suggest that women can be preachers, leaders and hold offices but cannot be ordained. Over the years, women saints and leaders have set examples of carrying out the mission of Christ.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law has framed many areas where women together with laymen can participate in the life of the Church. The new understanding perceives women as equal in dignity with men, redeemed by Christ as those who enjoy competence to take initiatives and responsibilities for social and ecclesiastical endeavours along with men. The policy states that integration of the voices of women is imperative to ensure the wholeness of the Church, while non-representation of women will result in the exclusion of the perspectives, experiences, strengths and needs of half the Church.

The ordaining of women as priests is all dependent on theological development. “Pope John Paul II has put limits on the possibility. According to his teachings the church has no authority to ordain women as priests as Jesus did not do so. Jesus didn’t have women in the first twelve disciples, and then the 12 didn’t have women ordained. So the discussion came to a halt that time,” points out Fr Victor Ferrao.

Talking about how women were made part of church activities, an assistant priest from South Goa says that while all the power lies with the Vatican, a lot of changes were made as Catholicism spread. “As missionary work was being carried out and priests played an important role in evangelisation, with the transliteration of the bible into local and vernacular languages, there was a change in the way services were conducted. When people’s participation was important, the second Vatican Council gave into demands of the people that not just men but women too should be brought forward to handle church affairs and take responsibility and be bestowed with equal power,” he says.

Ferrao says that women weren’t allowed to do anything officially until it was allowed by bishop emeritus Raul Gonsalves in 1997.The Fabrica that administers properties and church buildings and the Confraria, both have women representatives. It is mandatory for the Fabrica – under direct authority of the bishop – to have at least one woman in the five member committee with the parish priest. Women always played an important part in the parish council, the highest decision making body of the church, and also hold office of moderator. The council has members from all the areas/zones and thus very often, one finds a majority of women being elected to the council.

“People and priests in Goa are not resistant to women coming forward to participate actively in church affairs. This could be because Goa is more modern and has gender equality to a larger extent. Its natural and normal to have women in the church. In 1997 my friend was a treasurer in the Fabrica in St Estevam,” says Fr Ferrao.

He says that priests are supposed to be Christ like and the church in her wisdom thinks that is being true to the Latin phrase ‘in persona christi’. It is not easy for the church to go beyond this. And though ‘Christ cannot be gendered, Jesus is male and Christ is more than a man.’ “Jesus Christ being both divine and human, participated fully in the nature of humanity. He is the high priest and both man and woman participate in his priesthood. It is called royal priesthood that we enter through baptism. Though women are not ordained and they do not participate in the ministerial priesthood, they have been given great importance in the church in recent times,” he comments.

Women and their love for the church

Sylvia Vaz’s involvement with the church in Saligao began after she quit work in January this year. As a Eucharistic minister and a member of Legion of Mary, she has grown spiritually, and lives a life of holiness as a follower of Christ. This path isn’t easy, and she admits that there are failures owing to human weakness. “But as an Eucharistic minister I become conscious of my actions; of what I say and how I interact and speak with people, as I have to lead an exemplary life to be a witness to Christ,” she says.

As a member of Legion of Mary she visits the sick, the lonely, widows and families of other faiths as well. This enables her to bond with the people and relate to them in their difficult times. “All baptised Catholics are called to evangelise and when we show concern and care towards such people they feel that we all belong to one body of Christ, as Jesus said,” says Sylvia.

Sylvia believes that since women have the natural ability to build relationship it makes their involvement necessary in church activities. “Women have the patience to listen and understand people and analyse the situation and guide them accordingly. Many women have put their talents to use, along with their experience being mothers, teachers and other professions,” she says.

She points out that woman as teachers have contributed tremendously to society and with their active participation in church activities are able to hasten the spirit of teamwork, togetherness and dedication.

Yvette Conceicao from Chandor has served her parish for nearly two decades as an active member. She admits that when people are required to work in the church, it is always the women who come forward first. While badmouthing and gossip never affected Yvette, she says it was with the support of her husband that she has been able to serve the church as a lay person and is happy about it. Besides, being a catechist for almost ten years she is a member of the Fabrica, is a Eucharistic minister and part of the Small Christian Community.

“Working in the church has helped my family. I also got to visit the sick people and administer Holy Communion to them. There’s so much satisfaction in it. As part of the liturgical committee I get to write liturgy for Sunday mass,” she says emphasising that women have been given ample opportunity to be part of the church and take responsibility.

A parishioner from Cavelossim is of the opinion that both men and women have been given equal importance in the church and that there isn’t any need to demand for anything extra. “There are several women in our parish who are part of various groups and this is empowering. They are given the freedom to teach, preach or take part in various services. Though there have been times when due to family and other commitments women are unable to make it, they complete their tasks,” she points out. The same sentiment is echoed by youth member of Our Lady of Grace Church, Margao, Steefni D’ Cruz.

She says, in Goa there are more women than men in church activities and associations, but adds that women need to exhort power especially in male dominated parishes, mostly in rural areas. “They need to be encouraged and supported. If a woman is smart and knows her work, while also knowing how to draw the line and be firm when needed, nothing can stop her service in church,” she says.

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