Mothers and daughters navigate the future of faith

Ellie Hidalgo received the Robert M. Holstein Faith Doing Justice Award from Ignatian Solidarity Network Director Chris Kerr and ISN Board Member Andrea Hattler Bramson at Xavier High School in NYC on May 10, 2023.

Ellie Hidalgo’s remarks on receiving the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Robert M. Holstein Faith Doing Justice Award in NYC on May 10, 2023

Thank you Colleen [Dunne] for your wonderful introduction. Many thanks to Chris Kerr and Kelly Swan and the team at Ignatian Solidarity Network for lifting up the work of Discerning Deacons from the moment we began, by inviting me and giving other diaconal women the opportunity to reflect on our Holy Scriptures in visible and meaningful ways through their wonderful Rise Up and Lenten scripture series. 

Thank you to Loretta Holstein whom I’ve known from my years in Los Angeles. I’m very honored to receive this award. And Fr. Ted Gabrielli, former pastor at Dolores Mission, who first introduced me to the remarkable work of Ignatian Solidarity Network.

Casey Stanton & Ellie Hidalgo, Co-Directors of Discerning Deacons

Thank you to my brilliant and beautiful co-director Casey Stanton with whom I am deeply privileged to work and dream and design as we’ve collaborated on this effort of Discerning Deacons. And there are lots of discerning deacons in this room, and I thank all of you. 

Thank you to BA Donnelly from Catholic Women Preach who has opened up the imagination of women preaching.

Thank you to Phyllis Zagano for her many decades of expert scholarship that has informed our work. 

And a shout out to family and friends, including my sister Rosie Hidalgo and my cousin Laura Hamm Amigone who are here tonight.

Sisters Rosie and Ellie Hidalgo with their cousin Laura Hamm Amigone at the May 10 ISN event

I am profoundly grateful to the women of Dolores Mission Church in East Los Angeles. During my 12 years in parish ministry they taught me the joy of encountering God’s beloved community when we stand at the peripheries, and reach out to talk to teen at risk for joining a gang, cooking dinner for the homeless, welcoming new immigrant families or holding sacred spaces for parents whose children have died from violence or parents whose children are incarcerated. 

Fr. Greg Boyle, former pastor of Dolores Mission who founded Homeboy Industries, likes to point to a meditation by St. Ignatius in which he says: “See Jesus standing in the lowly place.” Because it’s in the lowly place where we encounter a God who is much greater, mas allá, than our often too tiny image of God. 

Dolores Mission is a glimpse of what’s possible when clergy and lay women and men walk shoulder to shoulder to respond to the needs of a neighborhood and in so doing, respond to the needs of a country.  

But for women to be more fully affirmed in their giftedness in their families, in their communities and even in their parishes takes courageous conversations. In my own Cuban-American family we’ve been learning how to engage in these courageous conversations. 

After my niece Carolina was confirmed as a teenager, she begged her parents not to obligate her to keep going to Mass. You see, my niece found it increasingly painful and unbearable to walk into a church where preaching was only proclaimed by men. As good as these priests where, good and holy men, it was upsetting to my niece to never hear the Gospel proclaimed from the perspective of a woman. No Mary Magdalenes and no Phoebes allowed to share the Good News. 

“I can’t find God in Church when I’m feeling so angry and rejected,” Carolina told her mother. “They haven’t set up a space to welcome me the way I believe God would welcome me.” 

The family was faced with re-thinking Sundays. And it looked like this. Carolina would choose a spiritual book that interested her to keep nurturing her soul which was important to her parents, and on the way to Mass, they would drop her off at Starbucks. 

Who knew you could encounter God at Starbucks? 

Surely, another Holy Spirit workaround! 

Something about this arrangement worked. Today, Carolina, a college senior, loves her internship of cooking dinners with community members and formerly incarcerated people to engage in lively conversations about how to help people transition from prison to civilian life.

My niece is finding joy standing in the lowly place and building community that is more inclusive and welcoming – much like what Jesus did. 

Ellie Hidalgo speaks at the May 10 event at Xavier High School in NYC

Women play a vital role in passing on the faith to the next generation. But when 99% of Catholic Churches will have a male preacher this Sunday in a world where 50% of the Catholic population are women, it’s time for our daughters and granddaughters, our sons and grandsons to see us naming out loud a problem we’ve endured quietly in our hearts. Because what seemed normalized to my devout Catholic Cuban grandmothers, and became uncomfortable for my mother, and has become unacceptable for me, is unbearable for my nieces and for many of our daughters. And this will have untold consequences for the future of Catholic ministries. 

The chasm has been growing between the institutional Church and young people, but we know it doesn’t have to be that way. Young people hunger for holiness. They hunger to know that God walks alongside their passionate commitment to make the world a better place. They hunger to see the Church engaging in courageous conversations so that we can move forward together into the future. 

That is the hope of the global synod listening process. Discerning Deacons is helping to animate this very synod listening process within our families. Within our parishes. Within our dioceses. Listening at the peripheries – including women who inhabit the prophetic edge, but who hunger to contribute to the central conversation. We are building capacities for listening, dialoguing, discerning the will of the Holy Spirit, and building consensus about how God is calling us to be Church in the third millennium. Rethinking women’s participation has emerged as a critical and urgent concern around the Catholic world. And Pope Francis encourages the faithful to notice the workings of the Holy Spirit in this creative tension. 

I want to thank Ignatian Solidarity Network for its commitment to ignite and to kindle the desires deep inside our young people for justice, solidarity and integral living that cares for our common home. For discovering God anew in the lowly places. 

I’ll close by sharing the words of Pope Francis when our Discerning Deacons delegation traveled to Rome for the opening Synod Mass in 2021 joined by women in ministry from the Amazon region of Latin America. We presented the Holy Father with an image of St. Phoebe, named diakonos by St. Paul during the early days of Christianity. As we talked to Pope Francis about the ministry of women in the Americas, the pope’s words to us were “Firme, Adelante!” Go forth steadfastly. I share those words with all of you today: Firme, Adelante! 

Thank you!

Note: This year’s 2023 Ignite event by Ignatian Solidarity Network honored Ellie Hidalgo and Jack Raslowsky (President of Xavier High School, NYC) with the Robert M. Holstein Faith Doing Justice Award; Catholic Mobilizing Network with the Legacy of the Martyrs Award; and Michael Libunao-Macalintal & Teresa Marie Cariño Petersen with the Moira O’Donnell Emerging Leaders for Justice Award. 

Photos courtesy of Ignatian Solidarity Network 

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“We raised so much awareness from our event, of both the ongoing Synod and of St. Phoebe and her ministry. Together, we learned of the power of the intercession of St. Phoebe, and how significant her feast day can be to carry the message of women’s roles in the Church.”
The Church of St. Francis Xavier
New York, NY
“The most meaningful parts of our celebration together included a standing ovation following the witness reflection, the power and strength of the reflection itself, and the procession at the start of mass. In the procession, young women carried in and presented symbols of St. Phoebe including an icon, the commission of St. Paul, a deacon’s stole and a pitcher of water to symbolize our shared baptism.”
St. Barnabas Parish
Chicago, IL
“Preaching on the Feast of St. Phoebe, and supporting and training other women to preach, was a joyful and invigorating experience. It is beautiful to see women claim the truth that they are called and gifted, and equally beautiful to see the People of God’s receptivity to women’s preaching, ministry, and leadership.”
Rhonda Miska
St. Phoebe Day Witness at St. Thomas More Catholic Community in St. Paul, MN; Founder and Co-convener of the Catholic Women's Preaching Circle; Catholic Women Preach Advisory Board Member

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