|July 20, 2005||Vol. 3, No. 12|
Virginia Saldanha is a woman activist working in India for the empowerment of women through Church institutions as well as networking with secular organizations in the struggle for justice and peace.
Open Letters to the New Pope:
Asian women request a true dialogue
By Virginia Saldanha
(Editor's Note: Global Perspective is featuring Catholics from across the globe writing open letters to the new pope, Benedict XVI. Today, Virginia Saldanha writes from Mumbai, India.)
Dear Pope Benedict,
The Gospels tell us that Jesus included women in his ministry and responded to women's concerns with courage and empathy. He challenged the oppressive laws and culture of his time to bring fullness of life to women. Asian women yearn for this fullness of life promised by Jesus.
Our churches are full on Sundays. Women form the majority of the congregations. In the small Christian community which is promoted by the Bishops of Asia as the "New Way of Being Church" (5th Plenary Assembly of the FABC in Bandung, 1990) women are trainers, facilitators and the most reliable and regular participants. In fact, women help build and maintain small Christian communities. Women "minister" to the communities in the absence of men. "If women go, we have to close the church," a Japanese Bishop commented. A Sri Lankan bishop said that in a Gospel sharing session he attended, the deep spiritual experience of a married woman touched and helped him realize that the small Christian community is the way to be church. The women keep the faith and church alive in Asia.
However, the existence of the majority of women in Asia is a struggle to survive beneath the weight of poverty compounded by negative attitudes in culture and tradition. These are women who give birth throughout their reproductive lives; they take care of the family and are forced to go out and earn to keep their families from hunger. They are women victims of physical, psychological and sexual violence; women deprived of opportunities for advancement in social and political life; women oppressed in the name of religion; women without a voice. While a few women from the middle class have opportunities because of their economic and social position of advantage, most women continue to struggle for their day to day existence and that of their families. It is not just economic empowerment that will improve their situation; a holistic approach is needed. Attitudes towards women and the poor have to change. The bulk of the membership of the church in Asia is these poor women.
I work for the empowerment of women at various levels in the church in Asia. Without full support from the clergy and hierarchy, there is not much we can achieve since women have no power to make decisions in the church. The wave of conservatism sweeping through the church makes it even more difficult. It tends to take women back in time as well, reinforcing the oppressive culture.
In your letter "On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World", optimistically, I detect a glimmer of hope. It states that the reflections are meant to serve as an "impetus for dialogue with all men and women of good will, in a sincere search for the truth and in a common commitment to the development of ever more authentic relationships." We hope that you will be open to consult with and listen to a wide spectrum of women to begin this dialogue.
With our deepest respects and prayers for carrying on the mission of Christ,
We the women of Asia, remain faithful and committed to this mission with you.
© 2005 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
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