Friday, May 29, 2009

Don't go washing no female's feet!

Opinion Piece
Editor: David Jackson

When Catholics were preparing to celebrate Holy Week, April 5-12. Parishes in the Brownsville diocese received information about celebrating those holy days. The directive for Holy Thursday seems to insist that only "men’s" (males) feet are to be washed.

Pope Benedict XVI during his trip to the African nation of Angola delivered a strong plea for women's rights during the next-to-last day of his first trip to Africa, insisting that discrimination against women "forms no part of God's plan." Several African women said the pope’s message is undercut by what they see as a pattern of discrimination inside the church itself. The pope quoted from John Paul II’s 1995 message for World Day of Peace. In it John Paul emphasized that women have a "full right to become actively involved in all areas of public life, and this right must be affirmed and guaranteed...where necessary through appropriate legislation." John Allen writing about Benedict’s trip says: "By virtually any measure, the pope’s assertion of male-female equality remains more an aspiration than a reality across much of Africa."

It surely seems to me that Allen’s statement can be extended to the entire Roman Catholic Church. It has particular application to the directives given to parishes in the Brownsville Diocese. The pope went on to say: "I call everyone to an effective awareness of the adverse conditions to which many women have been -- and continue to be -- subjected," he said, "paying particular attention to ways in which the behavior and attitudes of men, who at times show a lack of sensitivity and responsibility, may be to blame."

African women responded to the pope’s talk: "Women are always in second place in the church," said Pauline Maissaba, a 24-year-old Cameroonian Catholic, who spoke to NCR following Sunday Mass at Yaoundè's St. Kisito Parish, where the liturgy is celebrated in the local Ewondo language."When you come to church, you always see priests, deacons, and seminarians taking charge," Maissaba said. "Women clean the church, they wash the priest's clothes, and they do the cooking. They're always doing the less rewarding work."

These African women are expressing the sentiments of many Catholic women the world over. "The church talks about honoring the place of women, as if women are no longer left behind. But women are left behind," said Grace Atem, a 22-year-old Cameroonian. "When it comes to decision-making in the church, you won't see many women," Bekono said. "Even the pope's visit shows this. In Cameroon, the pope met the bishops, he met the Muslims, he met politicians, but he did not meet with women."

I could not help but remember the pithy statement made about John Paul II and his visits to different countries, "He kisses the ground and steps on the women."

from the Valley Morning Star, Palm Sunday 2009

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