By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
ROME — As the Vatican’s meeting on the Amazon draws to a close this week, one group is using the occasion to seek new roles for women in leadership, hosting a prayer vigil on Oct. 23 in support of women’s ordination to the priesthood and the diaconate.
“Without women there would be no Catholic Church in the Amazon region,” said Miriam Duignan, a spokeswoman for Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW), the organizing umbrella group that organized the event.
The gathering took place along the banks of the Tiber River, just steps away from where on Oct. 21 two individuals had created a frenzy in Rome after raiding a Roman church to steal a statue of a naked pregnant woman which has been used in several of the synod’s ceremonies and tossed it in the river.
Critics of the statue have accused the Synod’s organizers of supporting a pagan symbol, while the Vatican has insisted the statue is a representation of life and fertility.
“We want to remind everybody that women are already working in priestly ministry and diaconal ministry across the Amazon region,” Duignan told reporters before a group of seven women recited a series of prayers and joined together in singing, “Sister, Carry On.”
Holding a banner stating “Empowered women will save the Earth; Empowered women will save Church,” the individuals donned bright purple and green attire, noting that not only are they the colors of the suffragette movement, but green was chosen to be in solidarity with the ecological justice movement and purple is the traditional color of the women’s ordination movement.
As Pope Francis has convened bishops from the region to consider how the Church can more effectively respond to pastoral needs of the Amazon – where in some remote villages, a shortage of priests has led to Catholics only receiving the Eucharist once or twice a year – the proposal to ordain viri probati, established men within the community, some of whom are married, has dominated much of the headlines.
Participants of Tuesday’s gathering said they wanted the Holy Father not to “skip straight to organizing yet more men,” which they said would “supplant” the women who are already “doing the work” of pastoral ministry in the region.
“It is a matter of urgent justice that the role that women are playing is recognized,” said Duignan, adding that they would like for Francis not only to green light women’s ordination to the diaconate – a discussion he expressed openness to since establishing a committee to study the topic in 2016 – but also women’s ordination, a debate which the pope has previously said the Church has closed the door.
Earlier this year, he said the commission couldn’t come to a conclusion, and encouraged the members to continue to study the question.
Those on hand on Oct. 22 argued that the women in the Amazon region are already serving that function and pleaded for Francis and the synod’s participants to formally recognize it.
“Now we as a church must finally deliver justice for women and ordain women,” Duignan said, adding that the Church must stop “quibbling over medieval, manmade, technical differences between what the sacramental rite can and should be and what men and women can and should be and how they’re different.”
“They are not different when it comes to allowing women to do the work,” she said.
The Synod of Bishops on the Amazon is set to conclude on Oct. 27, and the final document is widely expected to recommend some form of ordination for married priests and to include some reference to women deacons.
After the first reports from the Synod’s small groups were released, the various working language groups appeared to be divided on the question of women deacons in the region, with one group deeming it “necessary and urgent” and others calling for more study on the question.
“Start in the Amazon,” Duignan concluded her remarks. “It will go elsewhere, but it has to start somewhere.”