Just Joan - Joan Huguenard

Did I hear someone say, Occupy the Vatican?

One must wonder if those fellows in Rome have noticed yet; things are different in the twenty-first century and the “pray, pay and obey” mentality is no longer the dominant theme among Catholics around the world.

This month in Ireland, for example, the Association of Catholic Priests sponsored a gathering of concerned folks to discuss the future of the church, expecting perhaps as many as 200 attendees. However, more than 1,000 priests, religious and laypeople showed up.

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) of May 8, 2012 tells us “Dublin’s Regency Hotel was packed to capacity, with many at the event forced to stand. Speaker after speaker pleaded for a more open church centered around a spirit of dialogue. Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who was recently forbidden to write by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, maintained a discreet presence and was greeted by many well-wishers.”

About a fourth of Ireland’s priests in active ministry belong to this association that acknowledges many Irish Catholics hold views contrary to the teaching of the church and are itching for reform. Thus the association is calling for another look at the church’s teaching on sexuality and a “redesigning of ministry to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.”

Another way to say it is that we are itching to get back to the teachings of Vatican II.

As we shared last week, the Vatican’s recent crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the thousands of sisters they represent is generating vigils, pot luck suppers, marches of protest, tributes and celebrations of dedicated nuns and their irreplaceable gifts of service in love throughout the world.

Local activities also received mention in the NCR. Excerpts: “Postcard writing to bishops and a scheduled movie spotlighting the sisters’ work are on the minds of the Emmaus Faith Community, an intentional eucharistic group that meets at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Kenwood, Calif., near Santa Rosa.”

“Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America,” a documentary produced by the LCWR, was attended and discussed by over 100 concerned Sonoma County residents.

NCR continues, “The Emmaus community has a worship community of 35 regular members with a mailing list of 100. Co-founder Cindy Vrooman, a former sister and retired teacher, said “We just pray, support each other and do good works. Emmaus is made up of members who welcomed the ecumenical council in the 1960s for its hope and promise. It was an exciting adventure that was too abruptly abandoned,”

At a rally in Kansas City, supporters signed a disputation on the power and efficacy of the Vatican’s statement.

In Louisville, KY, members of the Nun Justice Project planned a series of vigils to support Catholic sisters. At the first, 78 protesters observed an hour of silence in front of the Cathedral of the Assumption. We have room here for significant portions of the powerfulprayer read at the start of the vigil, written by organizer Helen Deines, a retired professor of social work:

We members of this Archdiocese of Louisville stand here on our cathedral steps today to express our solidarity with our sisters, the women religious of this archdiocese and our country. We do so in solidarity with other concerned citizens around the U.S., who are also gathered in prayer…Through the years – centuries, in fact – of their presence in this archdiocese, we have experienced these dedicated women as the founders of our Catholic schools and universities, and then as our teachers in them, and as scholars, women who lead the church to recognize the divine presence in our lives.

We have recognized women religious as the founders of our hospitals and hospices, and then as our doctors, our nurses, and our healers from all kinds of ailments of mind, body, and spirit. We saw them lead these institutions, serving rich and poor alike, unfailingly respecting life, long before federal funding made Catholic health care institutions wealthy.

We have watched them establish social agencies of all kinds—in the cities, in the country, in the hollows, in the deserts—and then serve the poorest and least valued of our community, offering clothing, food, warm places to stay, and most important—dignity and hope to all God’s children.

We have seen them serving as administrators and pastoral ministers in so many of our parishes, “keeping the place going” and being the personal “listening ear” of the church for us as we needed to talk over private concerns, family life issues, how to cope with a sick family member, losing a job or a house, or an empty nest, or a teenage daughter. “Sister” has always been there for us.

We have experienced women’s religious congregations demonstrate leadership in advocating for peace and justice, even facing arrest, harassment, and imprisonment while doing so.

We have seen them serve as lawyers representing migrant farm workers, as policy experts testifying about poverty and care of the planet in Frankfort and Washington, and as model caregivers for our elders and those with disabilities.

We have turned to them for guidance as spiritual directors, clinical psychologists, and theology professors.

We have honored them (or averted our eyes) as martyrs. They have fed our spirits and challenged us as artists, speaking of the divine without words.

We have watched them leave their convents and serve global missions for long periods of time, often returning with sisters from those countries to minister in new ways.

In whatever they do, the women religious of this country have worked with quiet humility, asking for little in return. These are the women who model what it means to live our faith!

So we ask you now to go deep into your own hearts, recalling the women religious who have drawn you here. Use this silence in your own way to lift up and support women religious. I will return at 10 minutes before 6 to send us forth. And remember, during these vigils our silence loudly proclaims again and again: In 2012, we are all nuns.

As Deines reflected on the vigil the following day, she described it as “an ever-widening circle of really building up the church in the way that the church needs to be built up.

“It wasn’t a vigil against something, it was a vigil for something,” she said, “a time of solidarity and to demonstrate our respect for women religious.”

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