“Women’s place in the Church is not just for functionality. The role of women in ecclesial organization, in the Church goes further, and we must work on it beyond that, because women are the image of the mother Church, because the Church is a woman. The Church is able to carry on this reality and women have another function. You should not have a functional job… it is necessary to open this new horizon to better understand what women are in the Church.”1
“Understanding well what women in the Church is”, is the end of Pope Francis’ long quote with which I begin this bold reflection on women in the day of the Cuban Catholic Church. I am not an “expert” on the subject, but it is also no secret that in our small or large communities, women (girls, adolescents, young people, mature or elderly women) are a significantly larger number. It would be enough to check it out to take a look at one of our temples at a Sunday mass and to do accounts, as I often do just out of curiosity.
Beyond the numbers, the life of the Christian community is marked by the constant and generous presence and service, ardorous and faithful, of hundreds, thousands of women catechists, missionaries, animators of the liturgy and communities, visitors of the sick, volunteers of Caritas or prison pastoral care, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, communicators, teachers in the formation centers of the Church , to the care of the elderly and sick in asylums… and it is not necessary to affirm that there is no pastoral action of the Church in Cuba in which women’s hands and hearts are not present.
Despite our still sexist culture, women are in many decision-making areas of the pastoral life of the Cuban Church; either in national or diocesan commissions, or in parish or community councils. In many cases they are responsible and in their work they project their thought and spirituality, their experience of Christian life and encounter with God, their theological vision. From there they propose, organize, decide pastoral and evangelizing projects and actions, work and engage in society that always demands coherent witness.
But not everything is perfect, not everything is fine. Also the woman in our Church, can be used and forgotten, and it is from that perspective that the Pope emphasizes “it is necessary to open this new horizon to understand well what women in the Church are”; women are not only for everything to work well, not for it to be done because there is no one else, not forgetting about herself, not for continuous activism without time for silence and the Spirit, so no.
I grew up in a community, parish and diocesan, marked by the testimony of incredible women: Macusa, Gloria, Laura, Elena, Teté, Raquel, Luz, Elvira, Paquita, Ana, Esperancita, Caridad Cristina, Hna. Rachel, Zaida, Belkis… long would be the list; single, married, widowed, hardworking, retired or housewives, consecrated lay people who in their day set the pattern of being Church, of being the People of God. Women who loved Cuba and the Church, who cared for temples and parishioners, who baptized their grandchildren, and led them to catechism. Women who never said, “Don’t be, don’t go, don’t do… if you don’t see and live your faith without fear, bear witness.” I look at myself, look at us, women of today’s Cuban Church and wonder, will I be, will we be leaving that same mark?
1 Address by Pope Francis to the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, 16 November 2019, Vatican City.