Brazilian missionary Sr. Ivoneide Viana de Queiroz recently preached at our monthly St. Phoebe Prayer for a Synodal Church on the Gospel of Luke 1:39-56. During this December 3 service – led by the Women and Ministeriality Thematic Core Group of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon-CEAMA – Sr. Ivoneide prepared us for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 by reflecting on the solidarity, missionary outreach and prophecy of women. –Ellie
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Lk 1:46-47)
With this expression by Mary, I greet each of you at this special time when we gather to pray with St. Phoebe during this month in which we also celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In this reflection, I would like to establish a relationship between the biblical text of Luke 1:39-56, St. Phoebe, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the ministry of women. I propose a reflection based on three aspects: solidarity, missionary outreach and prophecy.
Regarding solidarity, I highlight in the biblical text the feeling of empathy experienced by Mary who is in solidarity with her cousin Elizabeth when she knows that she is about to give birth. Undoubtedly, Mary put herself in her cousin’s place, felt her needs and went out to meet her. We can imagine how much Mary went out of her way to care for Elizabeth in those very demanding days: the last days of her pregnancy and the first days after the birth of her child.
We know little about St. Phoebe, but we imagine her as a woman staying in the homes of other women, in the so-called “domestic churches,” and being supportive in various ways; after all, it is common for women to put themselves in the place of the other, to understand what is happening to the other and, more than that, to offer help and care.
With regard to Guadalupe, how do we perceive her solidarity, empathy and compassion? It is very clear! It is enough to see in the indigenous features of her face, her identification with the people. Her whole mantle is full of symbolism that indigenous theology can explain. The eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe reveal mercy and compassion for the marginalized, the needy, the suffering, the poor and the forgotten. There are many details in this beautiful story, but let us keep one phrase that shows the solidarity, care and tenderness of the Virgin for Juan Diego: “Am I not here, I who am your mother?
On the ministeriality of women, we of the Women and Ministeriality Thematic Core Group of CEAMA (The Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon) usually reflect on the significant presence of women’s action in defense of life where it is threatened. We consider all forms of life in our Common Home. There are many movements, many groups and pastorates coordinated by women who are sensitive to the situation of human and environmental vulnerability. This is solidarity, love, empathy and care.
As for the missionary outreach, we affirm that solidarity leads to stepping out of oneself and into missionary outreach – in the words of Pope Francis, a “going out to the geographical and existential peripheries”. Sensing that Elizabeth was in need of care, Mary left the security of her home and, without hesitation, fearing neither the distance nor other difficulties, she hurried to Elizabeth’s house, crossing the mountains of Judea (Lk 1:39).
As for St. Phoebe, how good it is to know that she was always on the journey! St. Paul relied on the courage and dynamism of this woman who was often sent out to the communities. Is this not “a Church on the move”?
On Guadalupe, we learned in the reflections during the September pilgrimage to Mexico City that her hands (the hands of the image of Guadalupe) give us the impression of producing a rhythm, of touching, of dancing and, therefore, suggest that Mary is in movement. This means that we cannot remain still, static, but must act. And so are the women in their mission in the Church of the Amazon; they are always in motion, in the most diverse ministries in search of an inclusive Church, on the move and synodal.
Regarding prophetism, which provokes a change in the structures, let us remember that Mary lived in a patriarchal society in which men had the first and last word. They learned to read and write in the synagogues, while women had the domestic space, silence and invisibility. Besides going out alone, crossing the mountainous region of Judea towards Elizabeth’s house, an uncommon attitude for a woman at that time, we can say that there is no song more prophetic than the Magnificat. In it Mary proclaims the transforming action of God in social relations, and she expresses her indignation against injustice in this world. She denounces how pride, the misuse of power and the concentration of goods rob the dignity of God’s children. The changes announced by the Magnificat in the socio-political and economic spheres are great: the poor and humble are exalted; the proud and self-sufficient are cast down from their thrones; the rich, greedy and insensitive are sent away empty-handed.
Thinking of St. Phoebe, in terms of prophetism, we believe that she was a very courageous woman for accepting the mission of going out to the communities in those first centuries of the Church when there was a strong persecution of Christians. We also highlight Phoebe’s prophetism in a Church where silence and submission were customary for women. With Phoebe in the Church of Cenchreae, it was different. We must keep her example very firm among us.
On Guadalupe, the desire to overcome the power structures is very visible when we imagine an indigenous man in front of the bishop. What credibility did Juan Diego have? It has never been easy to confront these entities. In the CEAMA thematic core group, Women and Ministeriality, this is also our struggle. We seek recognition and appreciation for our ministries, and we continue confidently in search of a Church in which all belong through baptism – “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).
May St. Phoebe and Our Lady of Guadalupe intercede for us!
Sr. Ivoneide is a religious of the Franciscan Congregation of Maristella and a missionary in the Brazilian Amazon. She is working on her PhD in Theology at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná (PUCPR), and recently published an article in Portuguese on how female religious life is at the forefront of evangelizing action in the Amazon, not sparing efforts to defend all forms of threatened life.