The People Speak Out

Local voices connecting globally

This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.  (Pope Francis)

Canon Law 212 calls upon the laity to speak up:

2 - The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. - According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Annual Meeting, 21st – 24th April, 2017,

We, the  members of Indian Women Theologians Forum met for our annual meeting from 21st to 24th April 2017 at De Nobili College, Pune, to deliberate on the theme: The Politics of the Reign/”Kin-dom” of God in the Indian Context: A Feminist Theological Search.  We based  our reflections on the notion of ”Kin-dom” popularised by mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, as it reminds us that we are all kin to each other in the family of God. Understanding the ‘Reign of God’ as Kin-dom has special significance in the Indian context as it serves to challenge the hierarchical implications of domination and power associated with the term ‘Kingdom’, which is an expression with  patriarchal overtones.

Enacting the foot washing ritual Jesus instituted as the exemplar of service and subversion of existing hierarchies, was a spiritual experience of bonding, reconciliation and an invitation to constant transformation. Conducted at the start of our meeting, this ritual offered us an occasion also to connect to the community of some of the tribes in North East India for whom foot-washing is a gesture of purification and connectedness.   It was an exercise that motivated us to assert that we are Church and to commit ourselves to the Kin-dom of God that welcomes with humility and loving care, the least and the last.

Our sharing on the lived experiences of the ‘Kin-dom’ of God in our personal lives brought out the different facets of the Reign of God in the context of India. It was an invitation to engage consciously in the politics of inclusion against the backdrop of the practices of exclusion, as exercised by the mainstream systems of power including that of religions.

Our reflections were based on a series of papers presented on the changing Indian scenario where economic and social inequalities are growing, and hyper-nationalism and communalism are surreptitiously being mainstreamed through the shrinking of democratic spaces and the tacit complicity of those in power.

We observe the deliberate attempt in the global political economy to institutionalize exclusion by focusing on growth and the supremacy of the market, and using religion to polarize people. The irreparable damage inflicted on the environment, led by the greed for profit, forces displacement of masses of people. It destroys particularly the livelihood and the cultural practices of the Adivasis/tribal communities who live in harmony with nature. This has increasingly led to the feminization of migration, exploitation of labour and increased vulnerability of the poor.

We problematized the concept of ‘kin’ in the Indian context as the caste system in our society is a hierarchy that is defined by one’s family identity.  Ethnicity and religion also create barriers to kinship.  Within the family itself, traditional kinship relations are marked by discrimination on the basis of gender. While we reaffirm the need for kin-ship, and interdependence even with nature as a responsibility beyond self interest, we also affirm that Jesus’ call to “Kingdom” is universal and inclusive. Being subversive of hierarchy it challenges exclusive sectarian practices and oppressive traditions. In using loving, humble service as the key to the Kingdom, Jesus binds humans to each other and the cosmos in interdependence and responsibility to the well being of all.  In this context, we feel called to push with prophetic courage the existing boundaries of divisions and discriminations that mark our society and Church, in the name of blind adherence to tradition.

We see the Kin-dom as a gift and a task; a home coming of Sophia, a new wisdom that awakens us to be and become a transforming presence. The Kin-dom is at work in all social movements and various individual and collective initiatives that counter marginalization, discrimination, exploitation and exclusion – of people of minority faiths and genders, ethnicities, and caste hierarchies. We also acknowledge the liberative politics of the Kin-dom being enabled  in the  several initiatives that demonstrate alternate ways of enhancing sustainable development while preserving God’s creation.

We are challenged by:

  • the nexus between patriarchy, religious hegemony, market fundamentalism and the exploitation of the poor;
  • the various exclusions defined by caste, class, gender, religion, language and culture;
  • the need of groups to assert their own identities at the risk of excluding the other;
  • the market that draws us into a cycle of consumption and waste, destroying nature from both ends by depleting its resources and using it as our dump yard.

We commit ourselves to:

  • Building communities of inclusion, reconciliation and service, modeling the liberative symbol of washing of the feet , as illustrated by Jesus;
  • Adopting lifestyles that are marked by simplicity and harmony with nature,  while  making efforts to rejuvenate and conserve our natural resources;
  • Entering into partnerships/alliances with individuals, groups and movements who bravely challenge the existing patriarchal development paradigm.

We draw our energies from  the Spirit - Wisdom Sophia who is at work in realizing  the Kin-dom of God, where all in our shared ecosystem are at peace and in harmony, and experience life in abundance (Jn10:10).

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2 August 2016

India

On behalf of the Indian Women Theologians Forum.  I would like to present to you in sum, our deliberations from our meetings held in 2015 and 2016 which present our Vision of a new way of being Church.

The Indian Women theologians have reflected on a New Way of Being Church within our Indian and Asian Context of poverty, caste, discrimination, inter-religious reality, and injustice.  We realize that to initiate this way of being Church we need new structures “New wine that requires new wineskins”

As Indian feminist theologians we therefore envisage the Church as…

-  a ‘discipleship of equals’, non-hierarchical and participatory, with women being co-responsible in decision making and the services in the church; 

-  a community that is open to all irrespective of class, caste, creed, gender or sexual orientation;

-  a body incarnated in the lives of the  poor and the marginalized;

-  a people in dialogue with religious and cultural pluralism, “revered” tradition, and the ‘signs of the times’; 

-  a member of the wider human family, networking with people of good will for the common good, and intervening prophetically to address violence and injustice;

-  an ecological blessing committed to protecting and sustaining creation; and

-  a sign of peace and harmony promoting the communion of all faiths. 

These new ways of being Church entail rediscovering and translating to our present times the egalitarian vision of the Jesus movement that says NO to all forces of domination, and promotes inclusive, liberative and welcoming spaces for all.

This vision of Jesus for the Church as an inclusive community of discipleship of equals, which will be instrumental for initiating the Reign of God will involve:

·         Uprooting the hierarchical and patriarchal mindset from ourselves and our communities

·         Creating an awareness of Christian discipleship according to the vision of Christ

·         Choosing leaders for Christian communities according the criteria deployed by the early Church, like selecting persons filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3)

·         Celebrating ‘inclusive table fellowship' in the family which is the domestic church as well as in Small Christian Communities which are the “house churches” of today, where sharing experiences of joys and sorrows can help create bonds of support and solidarity, thereby building family and community

·         Recognizing the varied ministerial services exercised by all the people of God  like Coordinators of Small Christian Communities,  Ministers of the Eucharist, Ministers of the Word, Ministers of  healing/teaching/social outreach/ justice and the like, as  equally valued and  effective ways of realizing the vision of Jesus

Through this, we dream of birthing a new vision of being the Church with structures which are collaborative, participatory and inclusive without distinctions of class, caste and gender. This will help the Christian community to become the ‘new wineskin’ that can hold the ‘new wine’ of the Reign of God.

Virginia Saldanha