Archbishop of Hyderabad Poola Anthony (R) sprinkle ash on the head of Catholic Christians due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic during an Ash Wednesday service at Saint Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad on Feb 17, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
At the end of my term, as I looked back over the 15 years since the start of the Women’s Desk in 1995 following the resolution of the Bishops at the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) Plenary Assembly VI, of which I was the first executive secretary, I was happy that several conferences had set up some structure to deal with issues of women in their country.
Much has changed since then. The FABC Women’s Desk is no longer functional. The structures in the conferences too are not proactive or are non-existent.
The most important issue, especially in South Asia, is violence against women. The Church is obliged to help women live life in all its fullness (John 10:10) and protect them from the “thief” of violence that disturbs and destroys a woman’s mental stability and her functioning.
Today, during the ongoing synodal process, in the spirit of co-responsibility and communion in Mission, I hope women are given more responsibilities and decision-making opportunities in the running of the offices of women, which I sincerely hope will be revived and empowered to function.
Women have to be trusted to determine the way they deal with issues. They should be trusted with planning a project, obtaining funds and carrying out the project with the support of the bishop. This will develop their self-confidence and leadership and the projects will be relevant to the needs of women.
I hope a lot more is invested in the formation of women leaders. Women are the primary teachers in the family and society in Asia. They need to be trained in women’s studies so that they develop a critical consciousness about cultural practices and traditions that perpetuate violence against women and degrade their dignity. Women can contribute much to evangelization in Asia since they exert a strong influence in their neighborhoods and are the ones who interact with women of other faith.
A meeting on women living the Eucharist in Asia, held in Dhaka in January 2010, showed how women contribute significantly to evangelization. Investing in women’s formation can only bring dividends to the Church and society.
I hope that women will continue to work as leaders not only at the community level (in Small Christian Communities), but are helped to emerge as leaders at the parish, diocesan and national levels as well. Women need to be trained to take up leadership responsibilities. The presence of women is very necessary to bring wholeness and healing in the Church that is being rocked by scandals of clerical abuse of children, young people and women.
I hope and pray that Asian bishops see the importance of the role of women that will contribute to bringing balance and stability since both man and woman together can make the image of God truly present. (Gen. 1:27).
The family, the domestic Church, is an important instrument of evangelization in the inter-religious milieu in which it lives. The stress should be on families living the values of the Gospel and not on just bringing non-believers to the Church.
The family is important and necessary for the future of humankind and society, but it is losing its importance for several reasons, one being the pressure of work in the modern work culture. The other is violence against women which influences young women’s choice against marriage or results in broken marriages.
A lot of work needs to be done to train men to respect and help women in the family. Domestic violence is still a very big problem in many parts of Asia. A lot needs to be done to ensure that all violence against women is controlled and handled in a timely way so that women are not forced to make decisions to opt out or against going in for marriage to protect themselves.
The present work culture is definitely anti-family. The Church together with the laity has to become proactive to lobby governments in the interest of the future of the family and society to change this work culture that results not only in infidelity but also places great burdens on young parents who want to have a family. Structures offering reliable child care to working parents will be a great help.
Priestly formation also needs to be updated to include the vision of the Church in Asia as a communion of communities and a co-responsible Church. Women’s studies need to be included as well, so that when priests come to the parish, they are able to function in a spirituality of communion and tap the gifts and talents of lay people. In the parish they deal mainly with women so they need to learn to respect and accept the partnership of women in parish work.
A lot needs to be done to train men and priests to understand and handle their sexuality. This will help to scale down the sexual violence against women and children.
The 21st century is the century of laity and women in the Church. Reading the signs of the times, we can see the Spirit moving powerfully to bring change. I feel strongly that the Church in Asia is already on the road to implementing the change which people in the West are seeking in the Church. But we need to remain on that track and not go backward. Unfortunately, that was my gut feeling towards the end of my term as secretary of the FABC Office of Laity and Family and Women in 2010.
The experience of the ninth plenary assembly in 2009 was a disturbing sign in the wrong direction, where the Church as People of God was absent. The spirituality of communion was abandoned. Decision-making was seen as a privilege of power, not as a service in the spirit of communion to the Church in Asia.
Women have emerged in all areas as powerful leaders and change makers. The change women bring is from their perspective of their faith in openness and transparency. Women also have great strength and resilience to stand up for truth and justice.I hope the Church in Asia recognizes the gifts for women and is enriched by the use of these gifts.
Virginia Saldanha, based in Mumbai, was executive secretary of FABC Office of Laity and Family from 1995-2010
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.