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by Kochurani Abraham
The foot washing ritual of women and other marginalized sections organized by the ecumenical feminist women's fellowship 'Women's Lives Matter' ( a local unit of ICWM), at Santwanam Center for battered women and children, Kottayam, was a meaningful, joyful and liberative experience for the women and children who participated in this event and the women who conducted it. The inmates of Santhwanam participated wholeheartedly in this celebration irrespective of their age, religion or caste factors. The children joyfully joined in the singing and then competed to wash the feet of the elders. Even the tiny tots between the age of two and three sat on the chairs and stretched their feet saying they also want to be washed. No wonder Jesus Christ made them the pillars of the Reign of God!
For the members of' ‘Women's Lives Matter' who conducted this ritual, this celebration served a two-fold purpose. First and foremost, enacting this ritual meant sharing the grace of this gesture of Jesus Christ with a public who are broken and marginalized, drawing inspiration from the initiatives taken by Pope Francis. Since the mainstream churches in Kerala are bound by the so called ‘eastern tradition’ that restricts foot-washing only to men and boys, for us women, it was an occasion to channelize the Spirit beyond the confines of the Church through this ritual. Secondly, this celebration also gave an opportunity for women and others who are excluded, not just to remain recipients of grace, but also to become mediators of this grace. Outside the official liturgy and its politics of exclusion, this was an inclusive gesture to realize the 'politics of the Reign of God' . It was an occasion for women to affirm ‘we are the Church’ with prophetic commitment and a liberative thrust !
31 March 2017
Cardinal Oswald Gracias,
President, Conference of Catholic Bishops of India,
Cardinal George Alencherry,
President Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod (SMBS)
Baselios Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos
President, Holy Episcopal Synod - Syro-Malankara Church
The Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM) together with other organizations/individuals who are co-signatories of this letter come to you with an earnest appeal which has arisen out of our collective endeavour to discern the will of God for the Catholic Church in India in order that we may keep growing as an inclusive community of equal disciples in the Lord.
One of the most encouraging signs in the Church in recent times of such inclusiveness and equality has been the initiative of Pope Francis to include all people of God in the ceremony of the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday falls on 13 April this year and we come to you with his humble and urgent appeal so that the example set by Pope Francis may become a reality in every parish in India this year.
For this to happen, the initiative needs to come from you, dear bishop in the form of a clear instruction/guideline to be given to the parish priests in your communication to them, preferably on the occasion of the Chrism Mass so that they may be inspired to catechise the laity and implement this practice in their parishes.
We would like to put on record our appreciation for the dioceses and parishes which have already implemented this practice last year (2016). It is our prayer that this year more dioceses and parishes may take this cue and implement this single-most inclusive liturgical practice pioneered by Pope Francis.
The Decree on Holy Thursday’s Foot Washing Ceremony dated 06 January 2016 made public the significant change introduced by Holy Father Francis. The relevant portion of the text reads thus:
In order that the full meaning of this rite might be expressed to those who participate it seemed good to the Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis to vary the norm which is found in the rubrics of the Missale Romanum (p. 300 n. 11):«The men who have been chosen are led by the ministers…», which therefore must be changed as follows:«Those who are chosen from amongst the people of God are led by the ministers…»(and consequently in the Caeremoniali Episcoporum n. 301 and n. 299b: «seats for those chosen»), so that pastors may select a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and the unity of each part of the people of God. Such small groups can be made up of men and women, and it is appropriate that they consist of people young and old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated men and women and laity [retrieved from https://zenit.org/articles/decree-on-holy-thursdays-foot-washing-ceremony/ on 31/03/2017]
We are of the opinion that the directives given by Holy Father as well as the example that he himself has set (by including representatives from all walks of life, both men and women in the ceremony of washing of the feet during Holy Thursday since the year 2013) are powerful interventions for making the Church visibly and symbolically more inclusive. We as women and men committed to the vision of equal discipleship in the Church are inspired under the prompting of
the Divine Spirit in our collective and personal discernment to present before you, and other leaders of the Church in India our humble request that clear instructions may be issued to all the parish priests and pastors in the respective dioceses exhorting them to implement the exemplary practice of Pope Francis in the spirit of the above-mentioned directive from the Holy See.
We believe that such a symbolic representation of inclusion liturgically celebrated in parishes and mass centres across India will have a healing effect especially in the light of the recent instances of the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church.
We have noted with a sense of concern a news item that appeared in the national press on 29 March
2017 regarding the decision of the Syro Malabar Church regarding this issue. We understand that the modification suggested by Pope Francis is applicable to the provisions in the Roman Missal and hence not applicable to the non-Latin Churches. A report in The Hindu Newspaper quoted George Cardinal Alenchery as giving a clear instruction to the Syro Malabar Church to the effect that in the Eastern tradition the washing of the feet was reserved for men and boys and therefore the whole of Syro Malabar Church will continue the practice of including only men and boys for the ceremony of washing the feet. [http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/syro-malabar-church-sticks-to-tradition/article17738865.ece retried on 31/03/2017]
We would like to request the Syro Malabar Synod of Bishops to revisit this directive and look afresh at the possibility of emulating the esteemed example shown by Pope Francis for the whole universal Church and include all members of the people of God in the ceremony of washing the feet on Holy Thursday.
Similarly, we appeal to the Synod of the Syro Malankara Church to kindly issue clear directives to the pastors and parish priests to include all people of God in the ceremony of the washing of the feet of Holy Thursday, so that in words and spirit we celebrate the all inclusive love of Christ as demonstrated by our Spiritual leader Pope Francis.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Noella D’Souza, MCJ
Indian Women Theologians Forum, Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad Forum of Religious for Justice & Peace Satyashodak, Mumbai,
Dr. M.T. Joseph SVD
by Dr. James Kottoor
From the time of Constantine, we always had only the “Holy Father Church”, patriarchy, male dominated. Vatican II brought in Collegiality with bishops. Pope Paul VI asked “Where is half of humanity’’ looking at the Council Fathers, with no mothers in Sight. It was the first vocal public expression of a papal concern for women folks in the Church. Pope Francis speaks a lot about women’s participation even in decision making. He appointed an Irish Lady in the commission monitoring pedaphols. She quit the post recently out of frustration.
It only shows Patriarchcal mindset is so deep rooted to get changed in one generation, two or three. Persons like Kochurani has only one generation to live and so must act at least in her fifties. She did. We need many more ‘Kochuranies’ and ‘Rajas’ to open the blind eyes, deaf ears of Popes and Cardinals in their ‘Sanyasa’ years.
Leadership, in Church or Society, is for the young and energetic, who are in their ‘risk-taking’ years, when they have all their ‘get-up-and-go’ not for those whose ‘get-up-and-go’ got up and went decades ago. In this we have first the example of Jesus himself, in his 30s. Whom are we suppose to imitate and follow? ‘Sweet Jesus meek and mind only?’ He was also ‘Bitter Jesus rough and wild”, nay the most morally violent historic figure who showered a long list of ‘woes’ against the “hypocrites, white-washed sepulchres and brood of vipers?”. Read the whole of Mathew 23. If anyone uttered such words today against the High priests and Pilots (political leaders) of any religion,‘calling a spade’ today he is sure to be locked up in prison. Yet the tragic comedy is, Jesus is presented as the paragon of Non-violence, not Gandiji who was much more pacific both in words and deeds.
As Sr. Chittister titled her speech at the first world conference of Women’s Ordination in the Catholic Church, Dublin 2001, “Preaching equality and practising inequality” none can expect from a hierarchical leadership bend with age to take any earth-shaking revolutionary steps like the ones Jesus took. Hence all the talk – and talk only bereft of action --- like “Vox populi vox Dei”(Voice of the people voice of God”, “Ecclesia simper reformanda est” (Church should change constantly), ‘Church is the people of God’, not the self-supporting and self-promoting hierarchy. They adamantly continue to proclaim, that the Church is not and can’t be a democracy. ‘Aggiornamento’ (up dating) must have been meaningful for Good Pope, John XXIII, not for anyone after him.
So all the Churches, especially the Catholic Church, with its hierarchical structure is incapable of acting like Jesus. It is a counter witness to Jesus who knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples, including betrayers, doubters, deniers. In his famous speech Pope Francis said that his church is to be an ‘inverted pyramid’ where his place was one step below the laity, to rightly deserve the title, “Servant of Servants”, that in his Church all are equal, that now is the time of the laity, when the Clergy are required to look up to the laity to learn and get inspired.
Pope Pius XII had said it long ago: “Laity are on the front lines of the Churc.” But has anything changed? Will anything change in the foreseeable future? Honestly CCV cannot say “YES” to any of these questions for the sake of being realistic. No use trying to appear optimistic or pessimistic, better be realistic. We wish the better enlightened prove us wrong.
By way of conclusion, we also understand, it is of no use blaming the leadership alone in the Church for acting like the ‘Pharisee and publican’ in the temple, saying ‘we are better than all other churches’. These leaders are chosen from among us. “We get the Government we deserve”, it is said of political systems. Think of Donald Government in US. It was voted in by 52 % of Catholics including bishops and priests. These very same people make up the bulk of Catholic Church both in US, India and in every other country.
So to change the church for the better we, the laity, have to become the change we advocate, imitating Kochurani, as an inspiring example of leadership in the Church. james kottoor, editor.
Catholics for Renewal has drafted this letter in consultation with many Catholics strongly committed to the teachings of Jesus and their Church. People of the Church have been distressed by the increasing failings of our Church, particularly in the context of the evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Australian Catholics are invited to consider and sign below the following Open Letter to the Bishops of Australia. The Open Letter provides an opportunity, consistent with the Church’s Code of Canon Law, for the faithful - lay people, religious, priests, all members of the Church - to seek renewal of the Church.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has exposed grave governance failures in our Church, failures that undermine its very mission. We, the undersigned Catholics of Australia, write to you as Pilgrim People of God, accepting shared responsibility for our Church, expressing our sense of faith which Vatican II recognised as critical to the life of the Church, and asking you our bishops to listen and to act decisively, executing necessary reforms now.
Over several decades we have seen our Church declining steadily to its now shameful state. Countless Catholics have been alienated, particularly younger generations who are our Church’s future. The Royal Commission has now exposed dysfunctional governance, an entrenched culture of clericalism, and a leadership not listening to the people. Too many bishops have denied the extent of clerical child sexual abuse and its systemic cover-up, and even protected paedophiles ahead of children.
The Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry also found that the Church’s governance contributed to coverups and further abuse. Yet the failings go beyond the scandal of child sexual abuse. Archbishops have admitted to “a catastrophic failure of leadership”, and some have spoken of ‘criminal negligence’. Church credibility has been squandered. To rebuild trust, there must be reform of governance based on Gospel values, reflecting servant leadership and engagement with the faithful. There has to be accountability, transparency, and inclusion particularly of women.
Changing processes is not enough. We ask each and every bishop to act now on these reforms:
None of the above proposals requires deferral to the Holy See or awaiting the Royal Commission’s report before acting. All these actions are within your own competence. We ask you to lead the reform of our Church now, acting promptly and decisively - anything less would be a betrayal of the Gospel.
We pray that the Spirit guide us all at this critical time.
[The Open Letter can be signed by Australian Catholics either a) ONLINE - with comment - above (or at www.catholicsforrenewal.org/open-letter) OR b) in writing via hard-copy downloaded below or from any inclusive parish]
Alternative hard-copy version of the Open Letter HERE for printing and posting
Having returned from three blissful weeks on the Wild Coast, despite having viewed the ‘real thing’ in the unpolluted night skies, I found myself playing ‘catch up’ with my Southern Crosses. In the 04-10 January issue, the headline “Church to back gender equality on slave’s feast.” caught my eye. Wonderful news indeed! As the SACBC acknowledges, “Despite men and women being equally children of God, women have been massively discriminated against ----“ and proceeds to outline the December 2016 SACBC pledge “for an end to abuse wherever it occurs, whether in the Church, in the family or elsewhere” .
Well, we don’t have to look very far for ‘the plank in our own eye’ do we, and I could not help wondering whether Jesus’ would have not perhaps have applied his well-known ‘white sepulchres’ description to that statement, when one considers that the Church persists in relegating Catholic women to second-class membership? If that is not regarded as ‘abuse’ or ‘discrimination’, what IS? Perhaps the SACBC will outline precisely how it intends tackling this long-entrenched abuse?
Maybe the 8th February feast will bring about some radical changes in the Church’s attitude towards our women-folk - but I am not holding my breath!
May 2017 bring many blessings to the Southern Cross and its readers – and especially the women of our Church, without whom the Church would never be the same. It is high time their role was fully recognised and acknowledged!
Geoff Harris (Dip-R) - South Africa