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“Gender Empowered Church”

Way Forward: A Collaborative Church with Gender Justice.

CRI National Assembly Statement - 2006

The 45th National Assembly of the C.R.I. met from 27th January to 1st February 2006, at the Renewal Centre in Kochi, Kerala State. "We were 486 major superiors representing about 1,25,000 religious women and men of India. Enlightened by the Spirit of God speaking to us through the signs of the times, events, and persons, we felt inspired to reflect on the theme: WAY FORWARD: A COLLABORATIVE CHURCH WITH GENDER JUSTICE. We have been drawn to this theme by the increasing awareness of gender sensitivity and movements for change in the world as well as by the numerous invitations in the encyclicals and teachings of the Church which themselves are inspired by the Gospels.

1. An Analysis of the present

a. Patriarchal culture

The insights from the inputs of several significant resource persons and the experience-filled exchanges during the Assembly brought to our consciousness the pivotal issue that makes gender-sensitivity and equality difficult: an all pervading patriarchal culture which has permeated all spheres of life is it social, cultural, religious, political, ideological or economic. We have come to realize that this reality, so embedded in our history and unconscious selves, has a systemic, systematic and symbolic impact and influence on our beliefs, practices, choices and their consequences.

b. Indian Reality

We are confronted by the complexity of Indian socio­political reality where multiple religions, cultures, castes and regional identities co-exist. Threatened by forces of religious fundamentalism and political ideologies that view with each other for dominance, power assertion and control, India seems internally divided at many levels. This state of affairs in turn keeps the vast majority of our population, particularly the women, in abject poverty excluding them from control over their lives and participation in the life of the nation. This socio-politico-religious reality has a devastating consequence on Gender Justice in our country.

c. Regionalistic / Ethnic Reality

We are also very much apprised of the reality of ethnicity and regionalism in the Church and in the religious congregations / orders. While affirming the positive contributions and strength of linguistic and regional groups, we are saddened by the lack of opportunity given to some groups in exercising leadership roles due to the seeming insensitivity of other ethnic groups in leadership. This is perceived by some as another form of human rights violation that seems to affect women more than men.

d. From the Global Reality We are deeply moved and even distressed (challenged) by the consequences of this patriarchal culture which has impacted female foeticide, commodification of women in and through the media, unequal employment and education opportunities for women, woman unfriendly work places, unequal wages for the same work, dowry system, sexual exploitation, etc. At the same time we are challenged by the commitment of thousands of NGO's and men and women of good will who are involved in concerted action for a new world of Gender equality and equity.

e. Church Reality

We also realize how this culture exists in the Church in many obvious and subtle ways when women, religious and lay, are generally assigned to subservient or service roles and not to the decision making positions. We are aware of how their dignity is defaced with abuse or neglect. Some of the practices in our schools or parishes or in the missions may appear as collaboration but in fact are ways of exploiting women religious and give us glimpses of ' this all pervading culture. Because of such practices, much energy, good will and dynamism is lost and the mission of Christ is deprived of its rightful focus. But we also see positive signs of greater awareness among our religious leaders and the commitment of so many of our religious in realizing a Church of daughters and sons of God as envisaged by Jesus Christ.

f. Call to Envision

Knowing the contradiction between the awareness of this reality and lack of appropriate action, we as religious feel urged to envision building a Church with a sense of Gender Justice that ensures partnership and collaboration, so that she is empowered to address this global issue more effectively.  We dream of a future which respects the dignity of every person in all situations, following the example of Jesus.

2.Vision for Gender Justice & Collaborative Action

Drawing inspiration, direction, and guidance from the Scriptures, Church documents and traditions we believe that the Holy Trinity is the first and most significant model of collaboration in that their diversity makes unity and communion. It is this Triune God who created human beings in God's image and likeness. (Gen. 1:27-28). God created them male and female and blessed them. In the Acts we read, "Even on my servants both men and women, I'll pour out my- Spirit in those days and they will proclaim my message." (Acts 2:18). The Spirit has continued to pour its graces on both women and men in the early Christian community and they played crucial roles in the growth of the Church.

 a. Jesus' Teachings

We see in the Gospels Jesus empowering the Samaritan woman and restoring the dignity of mission (Jn. 4). We also have many other examples of women as collaborators of Jesus. Such as Mary Magdalene - the first witness and an apostle of Jesus' Resurrection (Lk. 23:1-9) and the Table Fellowship' with Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary as disciples of Jesus (Lk. 10:38-42). Today, after the example of Jesus we as religious want to liberate and empower both women and men. (Lk.

b. Teachings of the Church

The Church has also made numerous declarations concerning the equality and relationship between women and men. Pope John XXIII reflected this concern of the Church for women in his encyclical Pacem. In Terris “Since women are becoming evermore conscious of their human dignity, they will not tolerate being treated as mere material instruments, but demand rights befitting a human person both in domestic and public life”. And again “Man and woman are called to work in a relationship of equality towards the attainment of universal good”.

The second Vatican Council on various occasions dared to wipe aside the many layers of patriarchal dominance in the Church to come face to face with the egalitarian message of Jesus, with glimpses of models of a collaborative Church with Gender Justice. Vatican II in its Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes (No. 29) condemns any form of discrimination on the basis of sex, race, colour, social condition, language, or religion. Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, on the dignity and vocation of women affirms that the “essential equality of men and women since both of them - the woman as much as man - are created in the image an likeness of God”. He further states, “Both of them (man and woman) are equally capable of receiving the outpouring of the divine truth and love in the Holy Spirit. Both receive his salvific and sanctifying ‘visits’”.

c. Natural Reality

Endowed with begetting and nurturing capacity the women will have to play a vital role in understanding, communicating and living out thefeminine aspect of the Church. This will entail first of all a new understanding of the Church as well as our Congregations becoming sensitive to gender issues. The woman carries within her unique abilities of tenacity and perseverance for commitment. Gender Justice will also imply that the natural and biological qualities of womanhood are to be enhanced and promoted for an egalitarian world where women and men work in collaboration. Equal partnership will give emergence to a new way of being human with strength drawn from the gifts of both. It is a strength drawn from their differences. Such a partnership founded on equality and mutuality will open us to new horizons with vitality and multiple perspectives. This is possible where the relationship is based not on fear but on trust. This acceptance and trust becomes the foundation and basis of collaboration.

3. Call to Action

This vision of Gender Justice needs to be promoted by the religious women and men of India at all levels: National, Regional and Local. A general feeling that gender issues is a concern of women is a misnomer. In the ultimate analysis it is the burden of men to dismantle the patriarchal system and learn to organize a community of disciples of Christ, along with women as equal partners, which can be an effective witness to the coming of the Kingdom. Women need to be empowered to play such a role that was denied to her by culture and tradition, including religious belief systems. It should become a policy of both individuals and communities in our ecclesial commitments as well as in our mission. A wholehearted commitment born out of conviction alone motivates  change,  conversion of heart, thinking and action. Hence, we the major superiors, suggest bringing about a directional change in our beliefs and culture, our behaviors and actions, and our choices and decisions within our congregations, communities and ministries. We commit ourselves to the following policy changes and strategies for implementing this new vision of reality.

a) Change from a Patriarchal Culture to Gender Equity

One of the core challenges when we think of Gender Justice is the change from an internalized patriarchal mind-set to a participatory and collaborative culture where women and men can work together for promoting justice and fraternity within the Church and the Society.

Hence we recommend:

•    A renewal in theological and biblical, (canonical) studies that promotes Gender Justice and renewed ecclesiology of Partnership

•    A deconstruction of patriarchal image of God leading to ethical practice of Gender Justice

•    Promotion of holistic approach to spirituality which respects the feminine and masculine elements of human growth and faith

•    Encourage research and development of feminist theology faithful to the original message of Jesus and the tradition of early Church

•    Use of inclusive language in liturgy and all other occasions

•    Cultivate an eco-spirituality, which is an extension of the respect for God's creation in everything and in everyone.

b)   Shift   from   Gender   Discrimination   to Participation within the Church

The current structures within our Christian communities do not promote Gender Justice and a collaborative partnership between women and men due to unequal status and absence of partnership models in the Church. This leads to male dominated model where women are excluded from decision making levels and relegated to the role of implementing decisions made for them by the male authorities of the Church.

Hence we recommend:

•      That women, both religious and lay, be appointed to positions of responsibility in ministries at all levels, National, Regional and Local, based on their competence and that adequate provision be made for women in commissions where decisions are processed.

•     That wherever there is collaboration in ministry, written contracts be made between both parties which ensure Gender Justice, sharing of resources, mutual consultation and participation in decision-making

•      That whenever possible we run co­educational institutions in order to foster and ensure a healthy gender integration and interaction.

c) Wake from Apathy to Action for social  Change

This new awareness concerning Gender Justice and participationshouldgobeyondthelimitedboundaries of ecclesial communities and congregations. While acknowledging our own apathy an empowered Church should impel us forward in sharing the struggles of marginalized women and men in our society whose rights are denied and neglected.

Hence we urge:

•     That a radical commitment to social justice should engage us in the struggles of tribal, dalit and other disadvantaged, especially women.

•     That religious women and men participate in peoples' movements for the promotion of Gender Justice.

•     That in all institutions of the Church and the ministries, new initiatives are promoted to ensure Gender sensitivity, equality an justice which ensures fair wages, creation of women-friendly environments and opportunities for growth

•      That a Grievance Cell is set up within two years in every regional CRI Unit to address gender abuse, breach of contractual agreements and other forms of conflicts affecting religious.

•      The National and Regional CRI actively encourage the members to join the Pro-Life Movement in their area or create one where it does not exist in order to promote respect for life and protection of especially the girl child.

•     That the CRI support the setting up of 45 Gender Studies and Action centers around the country as an initiative of the 45th National Assembly.

d)    Formation    for    Gender   Justice   and Participatory Collaboration

Experience shows that there has been a strongly embedded internalization of Gender Discrimination in the minds of both women and men of the Church, religious and lay. It will remain a status quo unless there is an education for change and a transformation process set in motion in this area on a priority basis.

Hence we recommend:

•     That a CBCI-CRI dialogue be initiated within two years towards policy making directives that ensure Gender Justice at all levels

•     That Bishops, Major superiors and formators in communities of both women and men religious be conscientized by ongoing programs conducted by either CRI or their respective bodies

•     That pastoral formation of priests include Gender Justice awareness

•     That formation of religious and seminarians is restructured so that Gender Justice and collaboratory attitudes are imbibed as a >norm during the stages of initial and ongoing formation.

•     That faith-formation programs are so designed that catechists, children, youth, those in marriage preparation, couples and families are reoriented towards Gender Justice and collaboration.

•     That our prayer and liturgy in Christian communities and families reflect a language and an attitude promoting gender sensitivity and collaboration.

•     That more women, religious and lay, be encouraged to do research and get professional qualification in theology, scripture, canon law, spirituality and related disciplines.

•     That more Christians are encouraged to get professional legal qualification to address cases and issues related to Gender Justice and human rights violations.

Conclusion; Looking into ourselves and our Congregations and Communities there is an urgent need, to understand critique and internalize these new values in order to move forward. Therefore, we as Major Superiors call on the Religious of India to follow up the directives of this National Assembly with personal commitment and congregational plan of action.

We commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the spirit of Gender Justice and Collaborative Partnership at the service of the Kingdom. We want to see our Church as a visible sign of Gender Justice Society. This will ensure renewal of pur religious life and our commitment to the Mission entrusted to us by Jesus. Together with Mary our Mother - a conscious, committed and empowered woman of all ages - in union with all women and men of our times, we sing the Magnificat for the glory of our Triune God who is our Mother and Father".

Courtesy: Religious India

(CBCI Commission For Women Congratulate CRI for taking a great steps to arrive at a Statement for the Gender Justice. We wish you all the successes for the implantation of it.)

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