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SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 18: Too Much Sugar; We Wept; Two Men of Interest

The synod continues under the cloud of violence Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, and more. Participants pray daily for justice and peace and hearts break as more and more innocent lives are taken.

One of the things Colleen Dulle reported during her podcast, “Inside the Vatican,” is the exhaustion level of the participants at the synod.  It clear that the demanding schedule is catching up with them.  Cardinal Hollerich made a similar observation and suggested that, “unlike the last week of school,” (participants chuckle) we have to continue our efforts earnestly and with vigor.

Too Much Sugar

Yesterday, toward the end of the press briefing, Cindy Wooden (another shero of mine) of Catholic News Service asked a question that reflected the frustration that many feel about the carefully controlled information coming out of the synod.

Writing for Catholic newspapers with readers who invested in this process, at the end, I’m going to tell them that the symbol of what was accomplished is the round table?  I mean they want to know that the issues they raised and that are listed in the Instrumentum Laboris or issues that are being taken seriously, even passionately, and this idea that well, you know look at our round tables I don’t think that’s going to satisfy people who invested in this process and who are not in the room and are not being able to see the results of the round the small group work there.  There are people who are seriously concerned about the status of women in the church or an attitude of welcoming or not welcoming LGBTQ people.  I mean those aren’t just journalistic inventions. Those are issues that were raised repeatedly at the local, diocesan, national, and continental level and to write it off as a journalistic question I think is, not very nice.

There was applause after her comment/question.  Cindy is a veteran journalist who is well loved and respected.  She is always respectful, but she doesn’t suffer fools and I think she has a lot of support because of her integrity.

Ruffini went into defensive overdrive, but it probably wasn’t anymore satisfying to her than it was to the rest of the room.  Orobator added that the issues were being discussed seriously and passionately; the Bishop Anthony Randazzo twisted her words in order to chide her; and Professor Köhler-Ryan counseled “patience.”

Cindy Wooden isn’t the only journalist asking tough questions and looking for something beyond the sugar.  Christopher White was able to learn about the controversies regarding LGTBQ inclusion from anonymous contributors.  And the story t0ld within the synod of an LGBTQ youth who committed suicide caused heartfelt, emotional reactions from members.  But this kind of sharing, beginning with experience and expressing emotion is just what some of the old timers do not like.  Loup Besmond de Senneville writing for La Croix found that there are a number of individuals who are not satisfied with the process.  From his article, it sounds like the usual suspects — the ones who are digging in their heals about this process and complaining about the fact that people with hearts share their stories and express their emotions.  They seem to be saying, “No, thank you.  Let’s have some safe, detached theological reflection.”

…Old Synod hands, who are quick to point out that the main problem is that theology is being neglected during the discussions. The “conversation in the spirit” used during group work, the method introduced by the organizers, requires Synod members to speak about their personal experience, rather than to address major concepts – in short, it’s experience over ideas.

“The level has dropped a lot,” complained one Synod father, who is not taking it lying down. He said he feels “restricted”, even “infantilized”.

Critics inside the Synod assembly say a second problem is that the emphasis is placed on emotion. From the outset, discussions have been prepped by numerous personal testimonies, some of them describing dramatic situations.

Such was the case of a Spanish layman and president of an association for people with disabilities who spoke on behalf of this whole section of society, which he felt was insufficiently integrated into the Church. Then there was a young woman who very movingly explained that her lesbian sister committed suicide after being rejected by the Church. The assembly’s youngest member – just 22 years of age – was also given the floor. 

All of them were warmly applauded after they spoke. And that applause left some people in the assembly more than a little annoyed.  Read more at: https://international.la-croix.com/news/religion/discordant-voices-inside-the-synod/18524

What is clear is the old guard at the synod who are “annoyed” by tears and stories of real life, are likely also annoyed when Timothy Radcliff eloquently opens hearts to the stories that matter making it possible to touch  and know the very heart of the God who is radically in love with each one of us.

Let’s Talk About Participation, Governance and Authority: New Module (B3)

As is the usual process, when a new module begins, the synod hall is open to the cameras.  B3 is the module that focuses on participation, governance, and authority.  This will be a critical couple of days with many difficult conversations.  I am sure tempers will flare as the old guard is challenged.

Cardinal Hollerich offered both encouragement and caution as they move into the final topic for the synod.

The last module touches us very closely, because it invites us to reflect on the potential of the institution of the Synod itself as a place in which to experiment in a special way the dynamic relationship that links synodality, episcopal collegiality and Petrine primacy. And it asks the groups that will address it to also express an evaluation on the experiment of the participatory extension to a group of non-bishops, chosen as witnesses of the listening and consultation phase.

These are delicate issues, which require careful discernment: in this session we begin to approach them, then we will have a year to continue to deepen them in view of the work we will do in the second session. They are delicate because they touch the concrete life of the Church and also the growth dynamism of the tradition: a wrong discernment could sever it, or freeze it. In both cases it would kill it.

We Wept

Timothy Radcliffe led us all further into the heart of God when he described what was at stake at the Council of Jerusalem when Paul became a fierce advocate for Gentile inclusion into a very Jewish community.  And Radcliffe helps us reflect on who has been excluded as “Gentiles” today.

…The Council of Jerusalem lifted unnecessary burdens from the Gentiles. ‘For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things’(verse 28). They are freed from an identity given by the old Law.

How shall we lift burdens from the weary shoulders of our brothers and sisters today who often feel ill at ease in the Church? It will not be through anything as dramatic as abolishing the Law. Nor will it be through such a fundamental shift in our identity as the admission of the Gentiles.

But we are called to embrace a deeper sense of who we are as the improbable friends of the Lord, whose scandalous friendship reaches across every boundary. Many of us wept when we heard of that young woman who committed suicide because she was bisexual and did not feel welcomed. I hope it changed us. The Holy Father reminded us that all are welcomed: todos, todos, todos.

How Did the Aussies Do It?

Today, Bishop Shane Mackinlay reflected on the widely reported Plenary Council in Australia where many of my reform minded friends live and where a large number of participants walked out when the bishops refused to approve language about the equality of women and men.  Mackinlay related this story to the assembly:

There were 280 members, with about 60% specified by canon law and the remaining members being proposed from parishes, dioceses and other groups in the Church…

During our second assembly, we had a moment of crisis, which has been widely reported. This was in voting on the initial version of the decree relating to the equal dignity of women and men, which failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority amongst the bishops on either of the resolutions that it included. This reflected a range of concerns and reservations across the assembly, rather than a simple division between any two camps for and against, whether that be bishops and lay people, or women and men, or whatever. In the assembly’s consultative vote on the previous day, the first resolution had only just achieved a two-thirds majority, and the second resolution had failed to achieve it. In both the consultative and the deliberative votes, the vast majority of those not supporting the resolutions had voted placet juxta modum (signalling that they had reservations or would like to see amendments), rather than non placet.

There was widespread distress when the vote was announced, as we faced the prospect of the Council saying nothing about the place of women in the Church. We decided to suspend the planned agenda, to give space for concerns from all perspectives and all members to be articulated, initially through conversation in the spirit in our table groups, but then also in the whole assembly. Eventually we established a special drafting group, and returned to the topic two days later, where a revised text was passed overwhelmingly. The positive resolution was only possible because of the shared appreciation by all members that it was critically important to address this issue, and because of their clear commitment to ensure that we worked together towards a document that was more finely articulated and carefully balanced. The members showed great generosity in persisting in dialogue despite the grief and hurt that many had felt after the failed vote. In the interim, the quality and depth of our conversation and reflection had changed, and I think the remaining documents that we considered were significantly improved because of it. This may also be one of the reasons for the broadly positive reception of the decrees by people across the Church in Australia, who have recognised them as being faithful to the long process of consultation, preparation and discernment.

I have reflected often since then about what happened in us on those days. Those present had already spoken freely and openly, and had been listened to respectfully. But, in retrospect, I think we had mostly spoken from our heads, setting out ideas that we had considered frequently and that were already well established in our minds. After the crisis, people spoke much more from the heart, with a vulnerability that exposed them personally, putting themselves on the line to describe their lived experience of how they were personally affected.

And this courageous speaking was received with a different quality of listening. Instead of recognizing familiar arguments and rehearsing objections, we listened better to what was said as being deeply personal, and we had greater openness to appreciating it, learning from it and being changed by it. This asked of us a humility to recognize that we might not have the final answer ourselves.

Many have since described the disruption and new possibilities that it opened as an experience of the Holy Spirit. It certainly was an experience of parrhesia – both courageous speaking and humble listening; and there is no question that it was critical in enriching our communion.

The man who led the Truth Commission on Clergy Sex Abuse in Australia, Francis Sullivan seems to agree with the bishop on his assessment of the Plenary.  There was no revolution; implementation matters; but, it was a move in the right direction.

The Plenary Council even ended up shifting the church towards the prospect of women deacons, within the normal authority structures of the church. It is a modest step forward, not a revolution. The universal church should learn from this flexibility and generosity.

The Australian Plenary Council was a huge operation by any standard and flew in the face of apathy, skepticism and some outright opposition within the Catholic community to reach a successful conclusion. The outcomes must now be explained and “sold” to the wider community. The decentralized structure of the church means that a considerable proportion of the implementation will be in the hands of diocesan and parish leaders.

But in what was a relatively modest array of motions, the 277 council members managed to shift the dial on church reform, embed new shoots for change and instigate models of governance to unshackle the grip of clericalism.

I think anyone who has worked for reform in the Catholic Church knows how painfully slow the process can be.  But, I am not only hopeful, but confident that we are going to see movement toward a more expansive, inclusive church.

Notes from the press briefing today.

Christiane Murray of the Vatican Press office announced the guests at the panel today which included  Bishop Pablo Virgilio S. David of Kalookan, Philippines, Cardinal Leonardo Steiner, archbishop of Manaus, Brazil, and Archbishop Zbigņev Stankevičs of Riga, and the
Wyatt Olivas from the United States, the youngest participant in the synod at the age of 19, He is a student of the University of Wyoming in Laramie and has participated as a missionary in the Catholic Youth Program sharing his faith with Catholic youth throughout Wyoming. In addition, he’s a catechist in his own diocese of Cheyenne, witnessing the synodal process from the beginning.

There are no women guests are on the panel today.

Sheila Pires shared that all the participants of the Synod will be attending a moment of prayer in St. Peter Square in remembrance of migrants and refugees tomorrow evening.  She also shared that they had received news from Luca Casalini, the special invitee to the assembly who joined the panel to talk about rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean sea.  He shared the new of two boats, one with 47 and the other with 69 migrants, brothers and sisters from various African countries. And among them was a seven year old girl, Jessica, who was arriving from Cameroon with her mother. And then the second boat had many women and children mainly from South Sudan. So the youngest there in the second boat was only two months old, and they’ve all been rescued.

It was lovely to hear the words of the two prelates from the Amazon and the Philippines – both with the Francis vibe — both witnessing to the experience of synodality in their countries and the work of women in their regions.

I was especially touched by Bishop Pablo Virgilio S. David of Kalookan, Philippines who offered a counter response to the Latvian prelate.  Pointing to the ongoing kerfuffle about gender, sexuality, and pronouns that seems to be so alive in the Northern hemisphere, Bishops Pablo explained that it is different in his region.  There, people are “just human beings.”  And their language reflects that.  The same word is used for both man and woman. I admit I smiled joyfully as he spoke,  especially thinking of the people I have heard get their shorts in a bunch over pronouns.

Two men of interest

Almost every day, there were questions about women’s roles and LGBTQ inclusion.

Man # 1: Today, I was fascinated by the response of one prelate, Archbishop Zbigņev Stankevičs of Latvia, who confessed that he has been converted to a more pastoral attitude under Pope Francis, but still cited the Catechism, the theology of John Paul II with a big dollop of Hans Urs von Balthasar as a foregone conclusion.

Archbishop Zbigņev Stankevičs of Riga Latvia addressed the roles of women today and the suggestion that the church could bless same sex relationships.  Much of what he said makes me cringe, but it is also interesting to see how he describes his pastoral conversion under Pope Francis, but still rests in his certainties.

I come from Latvia, which is, um, not a very big country. Less than 2 million inhabitants, 20% of them are Catholics. When we received the invitation to participate in the synodal process, there were mixed feelings about it and some initially rejected it. And some were convinced that it would just be something formal that would happen without considering the reality of life.  But a year ago Cardinal Grech came to Latvia and he helped us. He explained to us what the synod is. And so this is just an introduction I wanted to make.

But in connection with the last few days, we have looked at the topic of co-responsibility in the mission, how to share the tasks and duties at the service of the gospel. We have worked intensely, and I would like to give you a synthesis or my summary, let’s say, of what we have done.

The main task of the Synod, the first part is listening to everyone, not just Catholics, but also other Christians, and the representatives of the other religions, the marginalized persons, and also nonbelievers. And try to recognize what the Spirit wishes to tell the church to today.  

Then, how we can expand the kingdom of God in the contemporary world, which is very different. I’m 68 years old, and I can tell you that when I was young, the world was completely different. Also, in the past 30 years since we have been independent, things have changed considerably. And here the gold key, this is the expression we used at the Second Vatican Council, “Awaken the sleeping giant.” It means to awaken the sense of core responsibility for the evangelizing mission of the church in every baptized person. And there is a great challenge. 

First of all, in terms of formation, the formation of bishops, priests,  because their task main task consists in looking to the faithful and recognize their gifts, their charisms, and awaken these charisms if they have not been awakened yet, and help discover and make them, grow and, and, and implement them in the service of the church. So this was a very important dimension.

The second one is a special gift that women have and women as a gift. We spoke about women, the genius of women because women have special gifts. But first and foremost, women are called to maternity, not just physical maternity, but also spiritual maternity. So a woman should not be in competition with men, but it is important to look at their complementarity because a man, a male, to discover his identity needs a mirror. A mirror is Christ himself. But as far as the visible human mirror is concerned, it is a woman who helps the other person to discover his or her identity. And the task of women, all is also represented by this maternal dimension that allows the other, allows me to discover my gifts, drawing inspiration to higher gifts and going beyond challenges. And this is mutual, as a woman said in our group today is, is complementarity and also appreciating women in the sense of giving them more room in the church without changing what is in the gospel and what is part of the church’s tradition. So this is more or less what we talked about today.

Now, I hate to break his bubble, but I am no longer interested in being a mirror for men. And while I love women’s instincts for connection, nurturing, and relationship, we are gifted far beyond our “maternal” roles.  Further, it is true that women are geniuses. And as such, they no longer accept the patriarchal notion that they are cut out for supporting roles.  Geez, women are so much more than that!

Man #2: I am also fascinated and touched by the words of the youngest member, Wyatt Olivas, the lay member from Wyoming who seems to hold conservative views, but who also a) seems to be amazed at the synodal process, b) says he is uncomfortable at times, but is learning from others, and c) wholehearted trusts that the Holy Spirit will guide the synod.  Given my own conservative, small town upbringing, I have a heart for his experience. I also tried to put myself in his place, wondered what the impact of the synodal experience would have been for my own faith journey at that age.  I know that I was so steeped in homogenous narrow frameworks where fear ruled, but I was also a bit of a rebel in my world.  Still, it took years and years of theological education and mentoring to unlearn that programming.  I feel a real connection and tenderness toward a young person who is open to such a floodgate of new ideas.

In case you missed it

Synod participants on pilgrimage last week visited the Catacombs of St Domitilla and learned about The Pact of the Catacombs signed during Second Vatican Council. In 1965.  Forty bishops from around the world gathered in the catacombs and signed a pledge to forsake power and riches and live like the neediest among their flock.  Within a few months, the pledge ended up being signed by approximately 500 bishops. One of the original celebrants of the mass and the last surviving bishop of the Pact who died in 2023, Monsignor Luigi Bettazzi, had recounted the story in 2015. At that time he told Sylvia Poggioli that Pope Francis, with his emphasis on serving the poor, is a living symbol of what the bishops were seeking to accomplish.

Bettazzi recalled that “A group of bishops organized the meeting at the Catacombs of Domitilla … most of us learned about it by word of mouth.”  By signing the Pact of the Catacombs, the bishops pledged “to try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport.  According to the Pact, “We renounce forever the appearance and the substance of wealth, especially in clothing … and symbols made of precious metals.”

The Pact was soon forgotten with hardly a mention in the history books about the Second Vatican Council.  One reason, suggested Bettazzi, was that “Pope Paul VI was afraid that too much emphasis on the church of the poor would spill into politics. It was the peak of the Cold War, it could appear the church was leaning toward one side.”  Or more specifically, the communist side.

Church historian Alberto Melloni says the pact is probably one of the Catholic Church’s best-kept secrets. “The Pact of the Catacombs is the outcome of long effort at Vatican II to put poverty at the core of the council and this effort failed,” he said.

But in one part of the world — Latin America — the pact did not disappear.  Erwin Krautler, the bishop of a Brazilian diocese in the Amazon for 34 years, advocates for the rights of landless peasants and indigenous people. He upholds the principles of the Pact of the Catacombs. “This pact is an expression of what we call these days, theology of liberation,” he said.  Liberation theology is a Catholic grassroots movement that spread throughout Latin America in the 1970s but was scorned by Popes John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI, who said it was inspired by Marxism. The Vatican disciplined many of its proponents.

Melloni, the church historian, said the Pact of the Catacombs that inspired liberation theology undermined centuries of tradition that had put the Vatican at the center of church power.

What would our church look like today if this had actually taken hold?

The Catacombs’ Pact of the Poor and Servant Church

We, bishops,

– gathered at the Second Vatican Council;

– recognising the inadequacies of our lives with respect to evangelical poverty;

– encouraging each other to avoid any appearance of exeeptionalism or presumption;

– united with all our brothers in the Episcopate;

– counting above all on the grace and strength of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the prayers of the faithful and the priests of our respective dioceses;

– placing ourselves in thought and prayer before the Trinity, before the Church of Christ and before the priests and faithful of our dioceses;

– humbly conscious of our weakness, but equally determined and fortified by the grace that God gives us, commit ourselves to the following:

1) We will seek to live according to the ordinary manner of our people, in the current sense of the term, with respect to housing, food, means of transport and everything else that springs from this. Cf. Mt 5,3; 6,33s; 8,20.

We definitively renounce both the appearance and the reality of wealth, especially

– in our way of dress (sumptuous fabrics, loud colours)

– in marks of distinction made from precious materials, which should in reality be evangelical signs made from “neither gold or silver.” Cf. Mc 6,9; Mt 10,9s; Acts 3,6.

3) We will not possess real estate, goods, bank accounts etc. in our own names; to the extent that this may be necessary, we will place everything in the name of the diocese, or of charitable and social works.. Cf. Mt 6,19-21; Lk 12,33s.

4) Whenever possible, we will entrust the financial and material administration of our dioceses to a commission of competent laity, conscious of their apostolic role, so that we may become less administrators and more pastors and apostles. Cf. Mt 10,8; Acts 6,1-7.

5) We refuse to be addressed, orally or in writing, by names or titles which signify prestige and power (Eminence, Excellency, Monsignor…). We prefer to be called by the evangelical title of Father. Cf. Mt 20,25-28; 23,6-11; Jn 13,12-15.

6) In our behaviour and social relations, we will avoid anything that may seem to confer privilege, priority or any preference for the rich and powerful (including banquets, offered or accepted, class distinction during religious services Cf. Lk 13,12-14; 1Cor 9,14-19.)

7) In the same way we will avoid fostering or pampering the vanity of anyone in order to seek reward or solicit donations, or for any reason whatsoever. We will invite our faithful to consider their donations as a normal participation in worship, the apostolate and social action. Cf. Mt 6,2-4; Lk 15,9-13; 2Cor 12,4.

8) We will dedicate whatever is necessary of our time, reflection, heart, means etc to the apostolic and pastoral service of people and groups of workers and the economically weak and underdeveloped, without prejudice to other people and groups in the diocese. We will support those laity, religious, deacons and priests who the Lord calls to evangelise the poor and the workers, sharing the work and life of labourers. Cf. Lk 4,18s; Mk 6,4; Mt 11,4s; Acts 18,3s; 20,33-35; 1Cor 4,12 e 9,1-27.

9) Conscious of the demands of justice and charity, and their mutual relationship, we will seek to transform aid activities into social works based on justice and charity, which take into account all that this requires, as a humble service to the competent public organs. Cf. Mt 25,31-46; Lk 13,12-14 e 33s.

10) We will do our utmost to ensure that those responsible for our government and for our public services make, and put into practice, laws, structures and social institutions required by justice and charity, equality and the harmonic and holistic development of all men and women, and by this means bring about the advent of a new social order, worthy of the sons and daughters of humankind and of God. Cf. Acts 2,44s; 4,32-35; 5,4; 2Cor 8 e 9 ; 1Tim 5, 16.

11) Convinced that the collegiality of the bishops finds its greatest evangelical significance in meeting the challenges faced by the human masses, who suffer the effects of physical, cultural and moral misery – two thirds of humanity – we commit ourselves:

– to participate, according to our means, in the urgent investments of the episcopates of poor nations;

– to call on the international organisations, while bearing witness to the Gospel, as Pope Paul VI did at the United Nations, to establish economic and cultural structures that no longer create cause poor nations in an increasingly wealthy world, but which will enable the poor masses to overcome their poverty

) We commit ourselves in pastoral charity to share our lives with our brothers and sisters in Christ – priests, religious and laity – in order that our ministry will become a genuine service.

Therefore, 

– We will strive to “review our lives” with them; 

– We will seek out collaborators who will aim to become animators in the way of the Spirit, rather than in the ways of the chiefs of this world; 

– We will seek to be more humanly present, more welcoming…; 

– We will show ourselves to be open to all, whatever their religion. Cf. Mc 8,34s; Acts 6,1-7; 1Tim 3,8-10.

13) On returning to our respective dioceses, we will make this resolution known to our people, asking them to help us through their understanding, collaboration and prayers.

“MAY GOD HELP US TO BE FAITHFUL.”

An Essential Reading for the Synod

Synod participant, Fr. Orobator’s 2015 Voices of Faith speech about the kidnapped Chibok girls.  I believe that this is a Gospel truth that should be part of the required reading (and listening) at the Synod.

Well, I stand here clearly the odd one out, but I feeling deeply grateful, humbled, and blessed to share this platform, which with such a diverse and global group of accomplished and distinguished women.

And I want to say that personally I salute and honor the causes and the commitments that each and every one of you represents and promotes in our world, in our church, and in our communities.

The invitation from Chantel to this event came by way of what perhaps should have passed as a very inconsequential initiative. As you may recall, in April of 2014, the dreaded and infamous group known as Boko Haram abducted and kidnapped 276 school girls from the village of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. And that event triggered a global outrage and solidarity, outrage against a brazen act of religious banditry and jihadist zealotry. Solidarity for the innocent abductees and their families.

The resulting global social media campaign hashtag :bring back our girls” attracted high profile support.  Now callous and and depraved as that act seemed at the time and still does 388 days later, I felt strong indignation and frustration precisely because of the known challenge and the indifference that characterize the response of the Nigerian government.

Now being a Jesuit, I considered my role in ministry to denounce injustice and social ills that violate the message of the Gospel, which is a message of peace, of compassion, of care, of solidarity with the most vulnerable. My faith compels me to speak out and to act on behalf of justice. So I wrote an open letter to the President of Nigeria. Mr. Good luck, Jonathan demanding his immediate resignation on account of a gross derelectin of his constitutional duty to protect the Chibok girls. I was quite aware of the risk involved. My superiors were also aware and informed. I knew I could have been arrested and intimidated by the government, but it was a price worth paying for the cause of justice, which I deeply believe in as a Jesuit.

Initially in my letter to the President, I contended that the reaction of the president and commander in chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria would’ve been significantly different, that is urgent, resolute, and relentless had one of those abductees being the president’s daughter.

Well, come to think of it, I argued what parent will go to sleep, occupy herself or himself with petty political chores while their daughter languished in the forest stronghold of a murderous gang? What parent would do that?

Yet on deeper reflection, the sad reality was not that these girls were not daughters of wealthy and powerful politicians. It was simply that they were girls. Girls, people who society and culture consistently conspire to downgrade their social premium and human dignity to that of second class citizens.  Children, as it were, of a lesser God. You see, unless and until we confront the misguided belief that the girl child simply does not count in the order of gender priority, the impunity of groups like Boko Haram, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, and their trademark fanaticism will continue a while longer.

So I have come to the conclusion that the abduction of the Chibok girls is a consequence of a prior violation of the fundamental human rights of the girl child, especially the right to education. And statistics on this matter don’t lie. Sub-Saharan Africa records the lowest enrollment ratios of girls and the lowest rate of completion for girls in primary and secondary education compared to boys.

There are underlying factors I believe, that militate against the education of the girl child, and we may not overlook or ignore these factors. Many are the societies in sub-Saharan Africa that still peg the value of the girl child to the economic return projected on her physiognomy, like the color of her skin, the tone of her skin, or even her statue, even when educated. As in some parts of Nigeria, her market value is calculated in function of the level of our education.

You see, the frustration of girls’ dream for education emerges from the same combination of cultural prejudice, religious fanaticism, sectarian hatred, and put together all of these militate against the chances. However, little of the girl child in quest for education for integral development and social transformation.  We are all familiar with the slogan that “the development of the nation is premised on the imperative of educating the girl child,” “educate the gird child and educate the nation.”  While repeated with regularity and frequency, this slogan only seldom translates into reality because the equation is so heavily rigged in her disfavor.

The forces are arrayed against the education of the girl child are legion and they’re formidable. And to quote the British Prime Minister David Cameron, in the aftermath of the horrific massacre at a school in Peau by Pakistan Taliban in December of 2014, I quote, it is horrifying that “children are simply killed for going to school.”

In my experience, the horror of such attacks carries a very significant gender quotient because the odds, the risks, and the toll rise significantly when those children are girls.

Although the perpetrators of this kinds of terror easily and very frequently anchor their brutal assault of the educated girl or woman or on religion, I remain convinced that the gods are not to blame.

And this is my second conclusion that the drivers of a destructive gender-based violence run very deep in the collective sociocultural psyche. Truth be told, any society that relegates women to a secondary status and alots to them menial tasks creates the propitious conditions for gender-based violence and morally depraved ideologies to emerge and to thrive.

In the final analysis, I find it profoundly disturbing. Not only the fact that the educated girl or woman is perceived as a threat to such ideologies, but also the sad realization that such depraved ideologies rendered the educated, independent, and competent African girl or woman, almost an endangered species.

It will take, I believe, an equally compelling counter narrative to prize open the stranglehold of sectarian ideologies, banditry, and zealotry that weighs heavily on the fate of girls and women, especially in developing countries.

Now, promoting this counter narrative is key to a change in mentality. We need strong and bold voices of faith, voices of hope, voices of charity, voices of women rereading and reinterpreting, the secret text of world religion, challenging centuries old patriarchal and misogynistic hermeneutics to which societies and cultures have almost become accustomed. And modeling in creative and innovative ways, the possibilities and potential of an indestructible and creative female spirit, unfettered, unbounded by expectations of a dominant male class.

Finally, back to our Chibok girls, let me be clear. I do not claim to be a voice for those girls. I can only imagine their pain and who knows, regret at the fatal costs of dreaming to be educated Nigerian women as daily they bemoan their fate and the loss of that dream.  Daily they cry,  daily they lament held captive by people who fear and mortally combat the well-educated African girl and woman.

If we listen carefully, there are millions of Chibok girls in our world. There are millions of Chibok girls in our world who are shut out of the house of learning by conspiracy of cultural complacency, gender discrimination, and political shortsightedness.

There are millions of Chibok girls whose dream for education have been truncated by atavistic mentalities that consider women tradable commodities, useful currencies for maintaining our machinery of gender superiority. There are millions of Chibok girls whose fate challenge our claims to unrivaled globalization and technological progress in the 21st century.  There are millions of Chibok girls whose single gifts will forever be lost to humanity because of our shortsightedness.  Because of terrorists who turn our schools into avatars of civilization, any civilization. These are the girls we need to bring back. These are the girls who call on our conscience to bring them back. And I content that as a race, notwithstanding our unparalleled progress, we still remain largely uneducated in the act of honoring the dignity of women, reverencing her unbound spirit, and upholding her rights to social goods. And I contend that unless and until we excel in this kind of education, our world will remain unfinished, incomplete, and violated. We need to bring them back. 

May Fr. Orobator find the space to proclaim this truth — this Gospel – at this synod.

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