, 23 August, 2020 / 10:32 PM
A Catholic Bishop in South Africa has lauded women who assume ministerial roles in the absence of their Clergy and urged the Church in the Southern African country to find ways of encouraging more women to take up leadership positions in the Church, including enrolling for theology classes.
In a message shared with ACI Africa to celebrate August, the Women’s Month in South Africa, Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp Diocese spoke widely about the role of women in the early Church relative to their position in the Church today.
“Women’s month challenges us to examine ourselves in relation to women. We must ensure that women are included in the heart of the Church so that we can enjoy the fullness of human reflection, male and female in the formation of our moral, doctoral and pastoral life,” Bishop Phalana says in a video clip he shared on the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15.
He adds, “Women must also be encouraged to be trained in theology and in other Church disciplines. This is our weakest point in Southern Africa.”
According to the Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Klerksdorp Diocese, other countries in Africa perform better than South Africa when it comes to encouraging Lay women and Women Religious to train as Doctors and Professors of Canon Law, Scripture and Theology.
“We still have a lot of work towards encouraging Women in South Africa to follow this path and it is perhaps time for the Church in Southern Africa to create a special scholarship for women and girls who would like to go and pursue those studies so that we can have this kind or resources in our Church,” says Bishop Phalana.
He adds, “We must also encourage women to write. We need more Catholic Women writers.”
The message to commemorate South Africa’s Women’s Month, Bishop Phalana says, is a call for everyone to celebrate the role of women in the country’s liberation.
“We celebrate the sacrifices of women in fighting for justice and fighting for equal rights. We are inspired to listen to their experiences with others during this time,” he says and adds, “I am proud to say that in our diocese, women play a very significant role. They are part of our leadership structures in our diocese.”
According to the South African Prelate, women in South Africa are the majority in the Diocesan Pastoral Council where the Chairperson is a woman. It is also women who make up the huge chunk of the Diocesan Laity Council and in all its sodality forums, he says.
“I consult with these different structures when I have to make important decisions concerning the Diocese and I can share with you without any shadow of doubt that I have learnt a lot,” Bishop Phalana says, and continues, “Our consultations are very constructive and they shape the direction and the orientation of the diocese in that way.”
The Prelate says that including women in leadership “does not make the Presbyterial Council weaker. It doesn’t make the college of Consultors weaker because we have opted for a collaborative type of leadership where the laity and particularly women play a significant role.”
In liturgy, young girls in Klerksdorp Diocese are allowed to be altar servers, the Prelate says, adding that women are allowed to be extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, funeral ministers and catechists.
As extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, the women lead liturgical services in the absence of a Priest or a Deacon. They preach and give communion to the People of God.
The women also lead funerals services which, according to Bishop Phalana, is a very important ministry.
“During funerals they (women) are there comforting the bereaved, ministering to them and preaching the Word of God and leading burial rites… They are the ones who are there with the dying, giving them the bread of life especially in cases where the Priest is not present,” he says.
“We value these women and we acknowledge during this month of August, which for us as Catholics is very important, being the month of the Assumption of Our Lady, the Patroness of Southern Africa. We appreciate their total self-giving, their generosity of heart and their sacrifices,” says Bishop Phalana.
He notes that in some outstations in the Diocese, Priests can only visit the people once or twice a month, and that during such times when the Priest is absent, women lay ministers lead services and where there is a tabernacle, the women also give Holy Communion.
The Prelate who advocates for gender equality discourages the feeling of domination of one gender against the other which, he says, manifests itself in the Church.
“I do not believe in domination, especially the domination of women by men. I believe that that is not the will of God. We become poorer as a Diocese without experiences of women,” he says.
“There is no room for domination and aggression against women in our Diocese. I know that the Churches’ traditionally adamant patriarchal position excludes women from any major leadership and decision-making role within the Church,” Bishop Phalana says.
He calls on the Church in South Africa to listen to the cry of women in the Church, especially those that use English language, which he says is sometimes sexist in its hymns, “in our texts and in our prayers.”
According to the Bishop of Klerksdorp, Pope Francis is very sympathetic to the issue of inclusive language and has directed Bishops’ conferences in the English-speaking countries to deliberate on the issue and to guide the Church going forward.
“We must work with the right relationships and the Catholic Church has a lot to do in this area. We cannot tolerate the liturgy of males. It must be a liturgy of men and women who are equal members of the Body of Christ. We are a Church that speaks of justice and must first be just in our actions,” says Bishop Phalana.
He adds, “Let us check sexist language and perhaps work at eradicating it. I know that we are sometimes caught in this ideological war in the Church, which is manifesting itself strongly in America where there is war between those who are open to inclusive language and those who are adamant that we keep on using language that is exclusive.”
He says that those who champion for exclusive language feel that inclusive language is the work of the devil and a sign that the Church is succumbing to feminism.
He hints on songs that collectively refer to all Christians as “sons of God” and argues that such songs are not language-inclusive.
According to the 59-year-old South African Prelate, the traditional role of women in the Church has been to pray, to pay, to obey, to clean the Church, to arrange flowers and wash the altar clothes and to go home.
“Today, however, the Church has roles open for women and thank God they are exercising those roles in our Diocese,” he says, hinting on positions such as proclaimers of the Word of God, extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, altar servers, Catechists, Parish finance committee members as some of the roles women can participate in.
He further notes that in the past ten years, the Church has seen more and more appointments of women in the Vatican Dicasteries and Holy See Departments, with Pope Francis establishing a commission to explore the role of women Deacons in the early Church.
“Can women become Deacons in the Catholic Church where ordinations are reserved only for men?” the Prelate poses, and adds, “Pope Francis is really interested and has put this commission together perhaps to see such possibilities within the Catholic Church.”
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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