Bishops Synod on the Eucharist
Posted Monday, Oct. 17, 2005 at 12:15 p.m. CDT

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Coverage of Bishops Synod on the Eucharist

Report #14:
Women’s voices heard through interventions of 12 synod auditors


John L. Allen Jr.


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By John L. Allen Jr.

Although the primary actors in a Synod of Bishops are, by definition, males, this 21st synod also features a small group of 12 women as “auditors,” who collectively represent the only opportunity to hear female voices during the deliberations of the church’s most important consultative body.

Eight of the female auditors are religious sisters, while four are lay women not under religious vows.

Eleven of the 12 women addressed the synod during the first two weeks of open speech-making, and together they voiced a wide range of concerns, from the church’s pastoral care of youth and families, to peace-making and attention for the disabled.

Only one even tangentially touched the long-contentious issue of the place of women inside the Catholic church, and then in highly oblique fashion.

Italian Sr. Maria Regina Cesarato, superior general of the Pius Disciples of the Divine Master, affirmed “the importance that in the church the ‘Marian principle’ is taken into account and valued, whereby Mary is the ‘ eucharistic woman’ next to the ‘Petrine principle.’ “

That language refers to a famous distinction by Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who spoke of the “Petrine principle” of hierarchical leadership in the church and the “Marian principle” of faithful acceptance of the gospel. Von Balthasar actually saw the Marian principle as the primary and more important dimension of the church.

Read more NCR coverage of the synod on the Eucharist
  • Report #17: Final draft rebuffs Latin Mass; priest shortage, divorce squarely on church’s pastoral agenda Posted Oct. 20, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #16: Gregory: Little change expected but synod had honest talk of pastoral realities Posted Oct. 19, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #15: Draft propositions do not recommend changes in church discipline Posted Oct. 18, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #14: Women’s voices heard through interventions of 12 synod auditors Posted Oct. 17, 12:15 p.m.
  • Report #13: Statement on married priests likely in final list of proposals Posted Oct. 17, 12:00 p..m.
  • Report #12: Outreach to Latin Mass Catholics proposed for final message Posted Oct. 15, 9:32 a..m.
  • Report #11: Problems acknowledged, synod bishops seek middle ground solutions. Posted Oct. 13, 1:15 p.m.
  • Report #10: Despite frank talk, few breakthroughs expected from synod. Posted Oct. 12, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #9: Key synod themes seem clear, but consensus may be elusive. Posted Oct. 11, 11:00 a.m.
  • Report #8: Inculturation of liturgy sparks debate at this and past synods of bishops. Posted Oct. 10, 11:30 a.m.
  • Report #7: Bishops of Global South link Eucharist and justice, local cultures. Posted Oct. 8., 9:52 a.m.
  • Report #6: Discussion of celibacy and marriage clergy continue to hold center stage. Posted Oct. 7, 10:21 a.m.
  • Report #5: Environment, social justice emerge as eucharistic themes. Posted Oct. 6, 10:30 a.m.
  • Report #4: Divorced, remarried Catholics topics of frank synod discussions. Posted Oct. 5, 3:00 p.m
  • Report #3: Priest shortage continues to roil synod of bishops. Posted Oct. 4, 2:01 p.m.
  • Report #2: Movements appeal for changes to make Eucharist more accessible. Posted Oct. 4, 2:00 p.m.
  • Report #1: Priest shortage takes center stage on synod's first day. Posted Oct. 3, 3:04 p.m.
  • Read The Word From Rome columns
  • The final set of propositions; The case of viri probati; Some worry the synod lacked theological heft. Posted Oct. 21, 2: 07 p.m.
  • Latin Mass a non-issue; Interview with Bishop Skylstad; Scola's 17 questions to guide the synod. Posted Oct. 14, 10:46 a.m.
  • The synod so far; How to report on a synod; A view from Moscow; Document on homosexuals in seminaries will not create an absolute ban; Catholic left and right square off. Posted Oct. 7, 11:55 a.m.
  • Preview of the synod on the Eucharist. Posted Sept. 30, 8:05 a.m.
  • In principle, the distinction is not concerned with men and women so much as the difference between the institutional and the charismatic aspects of the church, though it is often invoked in discussions over women’s roles.

    Henrietta Tambunting de Villa, former Ambassador of the Philippines to the Holy See, who characterized herself as a “simple housewife and ordinary lay woman,” urged parishes to do a better job supporting families.

    “The parishes … have to move -- and move fast -- so that these become centers of charity, [of] love that welcomes, forgives and saves,” she said. They must be “centers that are models for families where people, especially the young, feel they belong, are loved and are connected with one another.”

    Sr. Elvira Petrozzi, an Italian and founder of the Cenacle Community, spoke of her experience of watching the enthusiasm of young people for Eucharistic adoration over the least 23 years as “the witness that the Eucharist is really the living presence of the Risen, and that also our own dead life when entering in His own is resurrected.”

    In a characteristic touch of humility for the female auditors, Petrozzi called herself a “simple and poor nun.”

    Only one auditor picked up a theme frequently addressed by women invited to Vatican gatherings -- an indirect critique of Western feminism.

    Martha Lorena Alvarado de Casco, president of the Committee for Life in Honduras, who described herself as a “wife, mother, sister, daughter and grandmother,” expressed concern that the Catholic woman has been losing “the true meaning of her identity, the genuine sense of her Christian mission.”

    To counteract that, Alvarado de Casco proposed: 1) separate education for boys and girls; 2) avoiding mixing the sexes in Catholic youth groups, and even during celebration of Masses for the young; 3) steps to avoid “a serious lack of care on the subject of modesty,” including inside church, “[which] should help woman to be aware of the value of her dignity and the holiness of her body.”

    Some auditors gave talks seemingly less based on their identities as women, than on their professional and ecclesiastical interests.

    Sr. Renu Rita Silvano, member of the executive committee of the International Catholic Biblical Federation in India, called for greater attention to scripture.

    “I appeal to this synod to find ways to implement the plea made 40 years ago by Vatican II’s Dei Verbum: that the faithful be helped to develop an ‘increased devotion to the word of God,’ so as to experience ‘a new impulse of spiritual life,’” Silvano said.

    She also addressed Benedict XVI, calling for “a future Synod of Bishops on the very important and urgent topic of the Word of God in the life of the church.”

    Bruna Tomasi, an Italian member of the executive board of the Focolari Movement, spoke on the link between the Eucharist and unity of all men and women, perhaps the core concern of the Focolare.

    Two women addressed the link between the Eucharist and social justice.

    Outlining core concerns, Sr. Yvonne Coly, former of the “Mater Christi” center in Bob-Dioulasso, Senegal, said, “People are hungry, people are thirsty! Of meaning and of dignity -- of reason and of means for living: hunger, AIDS, exploitation of women and children -- ecology problems ...”

    Sr. Rita Burley, superior general of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a former president of the International Union of Superiors General, the main umbrella group for women religious, struck a similar note.

    “Eucharist and work for justice are inseparable,” Burley said.

    “Communion with Christ in the Eucharist implies accepting the moral responsibility to work with him, in collaboration with others, to transform unjust structures and mentalities into strategies and plans which further the true nature of God’s love for our human family,” she said.

    Sr. Hermenegild Makoro, a South African member of the Missionary Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, and a leader in the Pastoral Animation of Christian Communities, warned of “an alarming ignorance even among old and good Catholics concerning the deeper meaning of the Eucharist.”

    Makoro called on the church to widen the scope for “inculturation” of the liturgy in Africa to address this problem. She proposed, for example, allowing people to voice short acclamations of thanksgiving during the Eucharistic prayer, and allowing people of different origins to gather around the altar in a symbol of peace-making.

    Marie-Hélène Mathieu, a French leader in the movement “Foi et Lumière” founded by Jean Vanier, spoke about that movement’s concern for the disabled and mentally ill.

    People with physical, sensorial or mental disabilities, she reminded the synod, represent 20 to 25 percent of the population. She called for a greater welcome in parishes.

    “Special adjustments can contribute towards this, but what is more important is the quality of welcome which allows each one to feel loved, called to love, and to be useful,” Mathieu said.

    Sr. Margaret Wong of the Congregation of the Cannossian Daughters of Charity, Promoter of the Centers of Eucharistic Adoration in Hong Kong, made a similar plea for the disabled.

    Reflecting specific Chinese concerns, Wong called for “spiritual healing of SARS patients and relatives, as well as front line medical workers at critical periods,” and offered a prayer that “the eucharistic Lord may feed the hunger of our Chinese people with his word and his bread and soon his majesty may reign in China.”

    John L. Allen Jr. is NCR’s Vatican correspondent. His e-mail address is

    October 17, 2005, National Catholic Reporter

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