Samstag, 24. November 2012

Impulse Women as leaders of communities in Asia (Cora Mateo)

Vollversammlung 23./24. November 2012

1. Expression of gratitude

Thank you for inviting me to give a sharing of our Asian experience on the role of women in Small Christian Communities or Basic Ecclesial Communities. The invitation came through Dr. Norbert Nagler of missio-Aachen and it brought back to memory the many years of supportive relationship with missio in Aachen as well as missio-Munich. Misereor also helped in the beginning years of our efforts, way back in the 90s, and here I am before an august body representing the lay people of Germany who through Missio and Misereor, have been our partners. You represent all those generous people, those who believe it is worth extending help to the many different places in the world. In behalf of the millions of lay people in Asia who have benefitted from your support, I thank you most whole heartedly. Please extend this thanks to your people and tell them that it has certainly been an experience of the universality of the Church, we all belong to one big family caring for each other.

II. The Asian Bishops and the concerns of women:

My work for the last 26 years has been with the FABC[1] - the Federation that brings all the bishops of Asia, in particular, in the Office of Laity and Family. In the beginning the bishops had only the Office of Human Development who had been mentioning the plight of Asian women to raise the bishops’ awareness mainly on the need to denounce and offer solutions regarding injustice issues, oppression, exploitation etc. of women. The Office of Laity and Family (OLF) established in 1986, focuses more on the need to recognize women’s presence and her contribution to Church’s mission. To prepare the Bishops of Asia for the Synod on the Laity in 1987, the 4th Plenary Assembly was on the “Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and Society.” One section was on “The Vocation of the Laity and the Plight of Asian Women.” The Bishops declared then: “The Church cannot be a sign of the Kingdom and of the eschatological community if the gifts of the Spirit to women are not given due recognition, and if women do not share in the freedom of the children of God. They expect significant responsibilities in the ministries and decision-making processes of the Church.”[2] This gathering was followed by by a Think Tank meeting in 1988, to plan the main tasks and the Office of Laity and Family focused on Youth, Formation and Women

During the Plenary Assembly in 1990, the bishops reflected on the Church in Asia towards the third millennium and the challenges for renewal it needed to face – the renewal at the level of being, not just talking (or writing), not just doing, but “being Church.” In their final statement, the Bishops put emphasis on Vatican II’s Church as a communion: “The Church in Asia will have to be a communion of communities, where laity, Religious and clergy recognize and accept each other as sisters and brothers… they support one another and work together, united as they are in one mind and heart… It is a participatory Church where the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to all the faithful -- lay, Religious and cleric alike - are recognized and activated, so that the Church may be built up and its mission realized.” [3]
Three Consultation meetings were done in 1993 for: 1) Formation and later called AsIPA[4] , 2) Women and 3) Youth.  While the AsIPA effort was on organizing international and national formation courses, and the Youth section started the series of Asian Youth Day and Asian Youth Ministers’ Meeting, the Women’s section started the series of meetings for bishops called “BILAs[5] on Women,” where the bishops listened to women, reflected and made recommendations to take up the issues and to bring about change. They were first at the continental level, later become regional to be able to deal on concrete issues and make more feasible plans. These are strategies and recommendations that gave ideas on how a particular bishops’ conference or a bishop in his diocese, can make decisions and implement them. The meetings on Women started in 1995 and contributed gradually to the change of mind set among the bishops reflecting on steps and procedures to put into life the declaration made in 1986: “due recognition to women” and the 1990 statement on “recognizing and putting to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to all.”

III. The formation process coordinated by the AsIPA Desk of the Office of Laity and Family, started to give series of formation focusing on a formation that would contribute to the rooting of the faith in Asian culture and meet contextual needs. The acronym reflects the main features of this methodology. It is:

Asian =          the situation of Asia: young, vast majority of poor people, the long tradition of Asian cultures and religions, the similar history for most countries of being colonized and baptized into the Christian faith, and putting into life the vision articulated by the Asian Bishops.

Integral =      putting together the spiritual and the social, the individual and the community, the body and the “soul,” the leadership of the hierarchy and the leadership of lay people.

Pastoral =      recognizing the gifts of the Spirit to all, with special attention to preparing the lay people in their co-responsibility for the mission of the church

Approach =   Gospel-based, Christ and community centered, adult method of awareness raising and linking faith with life, facilitating a personal and group search.

We formed a team of trainers: the Editorial Board which later became the AsIPA Resource Team (ART), who would continue to supervise and produce new modules and respond to requests from different countries for training courses. For some topics, we use the Lumko[6] books. At the national level we also encouraged them to form their own teams. We have been to practically all the member Conferences in Asia and in 6 countries, there are already national teams. All the national or diocesan teams from all the countries meet every three years and we recently just concluded the 6th AsIPA General Assembly in Sri Lanka last month, on the theme: Go you are sent forth” (Mt.10:5) - following Jesus in mission Small Christian Communities serving and ministering.

IV.       Women in the SCCs/BECs, their presence and their contribution as “the lifeblood and the workforce of the BECs. ” [7]

Just as one Asian bishop quoted in the early years: “if women do not come to church, we will have to close our churches,” referring to their presence and participation in parish activities, the same can be said about women in SCCs/BECs.

The present director of SCCs/BECs of Nagpur Archdiocese in India, mentions in her report: “women play a very important role in SCCs, 75 % of the animators are women, SCC meetings are attended mostly by women.[8] Another director said that women are the ones who maintain the SCCs.

From a survey done in 23 BECs of 3 Archdioceses in the Philippines, they concluded that the majority of BEC members are women (77 %), majority of the women are married (67 % of the respondents)[9]

In S. Korea, like other places, most participants of the SCCs are women and the leaders of the SCCs are all women. But at the district level and going up higher, the leadership is given to men. Dr. Roh states: “For, indeed the majority of leaders and attendance of SCCs are women like other situations of the parish activities. However, notwithstanding women’s active participation and various services to the Church, most roles in the parish that women fill are still limited to secondary works—marginalizing women’s roles from the leading roles of planning and decision-making.”[10]

The above observations can be applied to practically all the countries in Asia, where big majority of those who parti-cipate and get involved in SCCs/BECs are women.

V. What are specific traits of the, leadership style of women towards this “new way of being Church” that demands a new form of leadership?

The study made by Dr. Roh Joo Hoon on the leadership of women in SCCs/BECs of Jeju Diocese, S. Korea, describes very common aspects of women leadership in other Asian countries. [11] She describes how women volunteer to the different ministries within the SCCs and the service itself becomes the expression of “serving leaderships.” With the Gospel sharing as basic prayer for SCCs/BECs, the Christ-life form of leadership also gradually manifests itself: recognizing the talents and potentials of the members, enabling them to emerge and hence become a rotating form of leadership. Since there is mutual respect and trust among the members, there is a sharing of responsibility and they feel encouraged to volunteer. Dr. Roh also describes their leadership as “partners and companion” – the “embracing leadership” capable of listening, of waiting and gradually bringing about transformation for oneself and for others to live the Word and to follow Jesus more closely. For many women who are encouraged to share from their personal experience and not demanding ‘expert’ knowledge on the Bible, the Gospel sharing has given them a sense of self-worth and the courage to speak about their inner feelings and with enhanced self -confidence. The nurturing traits of women make them sensitive to needs and to respond without much ado and at the same time, this welcoming attitude makes them atmosphere setter in small communities.      

Leadership of women in the parish can be with different expressions. Much of it takes on cultural patterns even without proposing it. For example harmony as a commonly accepted value in East Asia, makes people consider a non-confrontative way of proposing and asking for change. To cite one concrete example: one woman has an effective leadership in a parish, she being tribal with a matriarchal background and at the same time sensitive to the priest. She does it in an accepted approach of being “gentle, indirect and yet making the final decision.” She assures that the priest has his customary role, affirms him and she communicates regularly with him, so he is able to follow up everything even if he is not around, since he is in charge of 2 other stations. She also plans with him the training courses, who to invite, what topics, etc… even if practically most of the suggestions come from her. She and her team design the program. She is also a member of the diocesan committee for the formation of catechists and makes it a point to bring along a new catechist when she joins training courses. She takes advantage of offers for further training and exposure to other dioceses and other countries when there is a chance to learn more and see actual, proven and tested practices aside from listening to talks. At one time, she even told the young leaders and heads of parish committees: “You also need to train your priest!” Her parish priest recognizes her talents and capabilities and gives her full support. It is an example of collaborative co-responsible leadership.    

VI. Where are we now?

The many statements made by the bishops at the continental level have been resource documents for decisions and plans made by Episcopal Conferences in Asia and reference materials for the studies of our priests and theologians. Meanwhile, the efforts and example given by the Asian Office of Laity and Family in recognizing women and inviting them to hold important positions have somehow become a ‘model’ of how women can be recognized and their talents put to use. At the Asian level, we have Ms. Wendy Louis of Singapore who is presently executive secretary of the FABC OLF, was the first woman and lay director of Singapore Pastoral Institute. Ms. Estela Padilla who got her doctorate in pastoral theology, is the only laywoman among priests who reflect at the national level on the theology of communion and participation for the SCCs/BECs in the Philippines. Ms. Roh Joo Hoon of South Korea is the first laywoman to be executive secretary of their Episcopal Commission for SCCs/BECs and is presently the executive secretary of AsIPA Desk for the whole of Asia. Another person worth mentioning is Ms. Chen Li-Wen of Taiwan, who is presently residing in Switzerland, a resource person for training of Chinese speaking priests and pastoral workers in China, Singapore, Philippines and Taiwan. India has followed by designating recently the first laywoman Regional Director of SCCs/BECs.

VII. Conclusion: What have we learned through those years?

-     Change takes place very slowly and much more within the church especially aspects affecting women’s presence and contribution and putting much care on certain sensitive topics. Much patience is required and there must be steps to provide for continuity. It is important to invite young women into your teams.

-     Continuous formation is needed to raise the awareness of women, to put to use their own talents and to feel confident within church structures, even at the beginning one is alone. Women need to speak for themselves, not to be shy about their talents, and claim their rights, without being confrontative – doing it in our Asian way.

-     The formation of our church leaders and priests is also important and statements from the Asian gatherings of bishops have been contributing to advancing theological reflections.

-     The theology of communion which opens the church to the participation of all, needs to be further developed and we also encourage our women to study theology and be qualified to teach in seminaries and centers of formation.

-     Being in a team offers much support and ideas are consolidated integrating different aspects related to important issues and approaches. There must be at least one priest as a member of the team. And the team is not just for reflecting and doing, but for growing into the spirituality of communion rooted in Christ.  

-     There is a mystery of a call and personal growth in faith and trust in God “who chose us” must be nurtured and courageously manifested at all time in our service and leadership.

-     And finally, we have Mary, the chosen mother of Jesus who said “yes” to God and to her partnership in the redemptive mission, who announced and denounced, who thanked and praised God in her Magnificat: ”My soul magnifies the Lord!”[12] as someone to look up to and to invoke.


[1] FABC = Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference first conceived in 1970, is a fraternal gathering of Bishops in Asia that meets once every 4 years to reflect together on common concerns and to make recommendations which are carried out by the different Offices,

[2] FABC 4 Final Statement, #3.3.5

[3] FABC 5 Final Statement, #8.1.1-2

[4] AsIPA = Asian Integral Pastoral Approach as an acronym for the method of formation.

[5] BILA = Bishops’ Institute for Lay Apostolate

[6] Lumko Pastoral Institute inSouth Africa.

[7] Report and general observations:Philippines survey Women in BECs by Dr. Emmanuel de Guzman and Dr. Agnes Brazal,

[8] Report of Ms. Janice de Mello (Archdiocese of Nagpur, SCC Director)

[9] Survey made in 23 BECs done by Bukal ngTipanCenter in thePhilippines

[10] Thesis project of Roh Joo Hyun for Doctorate in Ministry


 [12] Luke 1:46

Cora Mateo Former Executive Secretary of FABC Office of Laity and Family