Global Perspective

November 9, 2004
Vol. 2, No. 28

Erika Rally Aldunate Loza
Erika Rally Aldunate Loza, 34, teaches dogmatic and fundamental theology at St. Jerome Seminary in La Paz, Bolivia, and develops seminars on theology and ethics for the Center for Lay Formation in La Paz.



In the last 25 years there were a great many clergy, religious and laity who believed in Latin American theology and put it into pastoral practice, especially among the poor and marginalized. I always considered myself the subject of this theology from the reality of my poverty and not from the reality of being a woman. .. [But over time] I began to sense a change in myself. For the first time I saw what I do in theology is because of what I am - a woman.

From the option for the poor: A personal journey

By Erika Rally Aldunate Loza

Editor's Note: This is the fifth of a new series of articles on Global Perspective, Journeys in Theology: Women's Stories. Join us as we hear women describe their experiences of doing theology in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

I would like to tell you why I chose to study theology and give you the subsequent evolution of my thoughts and ideas.

In the last 25 years there were a great many clergy, religious and laity who believed in Latin American theology and put it into pastoral practice, especially among the poor and marginalized. Among many other things, they particularly taught believers (and non-believers) that they were the subjects of their own integral liberation.

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Lay formation and pastoral practice were illuminated by this theology. And with it came both an increase of religious vocations and base communities of laypeople who lived their faith with solidarity and a critical eye.

The liberation of the chosen people as narrated in the book of Exodus and the preaching of the Old and New Testament prophets gave power to our dreams and utopias. The prophets denounced the injustices and false idols of riches and power of their times. And Jesus taught how God was the God of life who took a particular option for the poor and the outcast.

For me these utopias became real from the moment I knew they were not just my sentiments but when I saw my friends give their lives for our dreams.

Our country is poor and I was poor but some generous friends helped me to pursue my aspirations. I studied with enthusiasm to learn and give flesh to the teaching of my professors. However, I always considered myself the subject of this theology from the reality of my poverty and not from the reality of being a woman, which the same theology had characterized as "doubly marginalized".

Perhaps my excuse was that I was always capable of doing many things and had proven that to myself and others. I never felt myself less than anyone else, nor less than the men around me as I was studying theology in the Seminary. I was not conscious of the fact that my interest in theology and the Bible and the practice of my faith was, and is, from my being a woman.

Why? I do not know exactly but I believe it is a phenomenon that happens to many women. That is, we may identify ourselves with some biblical personage, be it a man or woman, but we take in our studies uncritically and we repeat certain things without knowing where they come from or what is their context. I believe this is a general fact of life because all our social structures are anthropocentric. The weight of authority is real in the church and consciousness-raising about the theme of gender in our theology as a discourse made from and by women is quite recent. It is the fruit of a long process.

The seminary authorities asked me to study dogmatic theology as a service for the seminary though my tastes would have leaned more toward Latin-American theology or the social thought of the church. I studied in the Gregorian University in Rome 1997-1999 being an acidulous defender of Latin American theology. In my thesis for the licentiate degree, I tried to show the great differences, and some of the similarities, between European and Latin American theology as represented by two authors, Gustavo Gutierrez and Rene Latourelle as they used the term "testimony".

Read More
         Learn more about this new series starting on Global Perspective: Journeys in Theology: Women's Stories.
         Part One: Theologians issue call to 'to fulfill the vision of Jesus' and create 'a discipleship of equals.
         Part Two: Women theologians in India are reclaiming space.
         Part Three: Forty years of theology in Latin America.
         Part Four: Eventually everybody adjusted to who I was: My experience as a woman theologian in Africa.
         Part Five: From the option for the poor: A personal journey.
         Part six: Faith seeking empowering understanding.
My thesis was quite well accepted because I showed the necessity of doing theology in a social and historical context, which then makes a great difference in our theological reflection, and in how we put our faith into practice. In passing, I touched on the situation of women doubly excluded in the Third World for being women and being poor (or worse, being a woman, poor and a Black or Indian). However, that was not the priority of my study.

After two years, I returned to the seminary in La Paz to teach dogmatic and fundamental theology. Latin American theology was woven into all my materials but the theme of gender was still not my priority.

The seminary opened its doors to women in the 1990s, both as professors and students, because of various pressures and the leadership of its Rector, the Italian missionary, Fr. Basilio Bonaldi. Some other authorities only gave in grudgingly.

I also began to work with the team (10 of 11 now are women) of the Center for Lay Formation whose work is to develop seminars and courses in theology, ethics and the role of committed laity in the world.

About two years ago we made an effort to start an ecumenical dialogue about gender and faith but it did not work out. This year the seminary decided on gender as the theme of its annual workshop on theological and philosophical studies. The theme was "The Role of Women in Evangelization". I was asked to coordinate the daily seminars and the talks which will be published later this year. The planning team was ecumenical and of mixed gender with women predominating.

The planning stages were difficult at times, perhaps because the themes of gender are still somewhat controversial in the church and in Bolivian society. But we went ahead and decided that though there is a great deal of material for study it does not come from our Latin American and Bolivian context. Furthermore, it is often very theoretical. Theological discourse is one thing, but social practice is often quite different.
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Therefore, we put together a questionnaire about the present attitudes and consciousness of women as they sense themselves being part of an ecclesial community as thinking, feeling, and active subjects in the community.

As we organized the program I began to sense a change in myself. For the first time I saw what I do in theology is because of what I am - a woman.

One also senses that this theme can be divisive even though one would wish to concentrate on what unites us in the community. Finally, I saw that Catholic theology seems to have established limits on the theme and if one questions those limits because of one's study and experience one becomes suspect even to a disregard for the results of one's investigation no matter how valid it may be.

But with it all, I assume the challenge with avid interest. The thought of redoing my understanding of this theme from my feminine being and feeling fascinates me.

Opening new avenues of understanding, following in the footsteps of those who have gone before, I want to be one who can seed the future in faithfulness to the pastoral practice of Christ.

This column was translated from Spanish by Fr. Michael Gillgannon, a Global Perspective columnist and longtime contributor to National Catholic Reporter.
Next week, Gemma Cruz, a Filipina studying in the Netherlands, brings to conclusion the series, Journeys in Theology: Women's Stories.
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