There is no turning back…

Sr. Laura Vicuña Pereira Manso, Patricia Gualinga & Yesica Patriachi at a discussion round and press conference at the Vatican

Amazonian women provide diaconal service to the present Church in the immense Amazonian territory. On June 1, 2023, three women—Yesica Patiachi from Peru, Patricia Gualinga from Ecuador and Sr. Laura Vicuña from Brazil, vice presidents of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) and of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (CEAMA)—were received in an historic audience by Pope Francis to dialogue and reflect in communion and unity on the recognition of the ministry of women in the Church of the Amazon, and on the diaconal service women provide in countless remote communities, both far from large urban centers and on the peripheries of the big cities.

The audience lasted forty-five minutes, during which they discussed the ministry of women in the Church of the Amazon from a socio-environmental, socio-educational and socio-pastoral point of view.

Below is a first hand account that they wrote together on this encounter with Pope Francis whom they referred to as “abuelo Francisco”, a term of endearment and respect for elders.

The Amazon region is experiencing the reality of the advance of an economy of destruction. This so-called “development” destroys the fauna, flora, biodiversity and socio-diversity present in this rich biome, which is at the same time very fragile and complex. The advance of mineral extraction, the logging of forests, and large companies jeopardize the physical, cultural and territorial integrity of the native and Amazonian peoples who have inhabited this territory for millennia—above all, the peoples who live in isolation and at risk of extinction, the free communities. Yet another issue we brought to the attention of abuelo Francisco is that of the constant threats against and assassinations of those Amazonian indigenous men and women who raise their voices and defend their forests and territories from third-party individuals, who defend their economic interests in the name of development and extractivism.

We did not fail to address the great problem with which we are faced in Brazil of the increase in violence and human rights violations against indigenous peoples, brought about by the approval of Bill 490 by the Federal Chamber of Deputies, which is a great threat to constitutionally guaranteed rights. We asked abuelo Francisco to speak to the Brazilian government and the Federal Supreme Court in favor of the native peoples and against the Temporary Framework, which is being processed in the national congress and awaits sentence in the Federal Supreme Court.

Regarding the socio-educational needs, we stated that in the Amazon there are more than 490 native communities, 140 communities living in isolation and at risk of extinction, countless traditional communities and urban peripheries, and more than 300 languages that are threatened by the lack of intercultural and bilingual education. We also mentioned to our abuelo that when native communities are visited, the greatest demand they make of the Church is access to education, both regular, basic education (primary and secondary) and higher education (technical and university). During this dialogue with our abuelo, we highlighted the Amazonian Intercultural Education Network (REIBA), which is a proposal from the region to meet the educational needs of the Amazonian native communities through the Amazonian Ecclesiastical Network and the Amazonian Ecclesiastical Conference, with the Amazonian University Program (PUAM).

This immense socio-cultural wealth promotes life and the care of our common home.

From the socio-pastoral perspective, countless communities and pastoral and ecclesial organizations are energized by women and men who genuinely live the faith, in their proclamation of the good news of the Gospel and in their denunciation of the structures of death that prevent people from living fully and with dignity.

In the dialogue we had with abuelo Francisco, we presented the need for the Church to make an institutional recognition of the diaconal service that women provide to the Church in the Amazon—a diaconal service that goes out to the peripheries, being a Church of outreach, the Samaritan, and Magdalene—in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the defense of life, rights and land.

Abuelo Francisco expressed his concern about the existing clericalization in the Church, from the ordained ministers and the clerical positions of lay men and women, who assume different ministries in the Church. He asked us, “Who comes first, Mary or Peter?” to tell us that the Church is woman and mother, that we cannot lose the feminine and maternal dimension of women, which is the great contribution of the ministry of women in the Church.

During our dialogue with abuelo Francisco we talked about the different realities that are already unfolding in the Church of the Amazon, of women who assume ministries in the revitalization of faith, as catechists, welcoming migrants, in defense of life, rights and land, and so many others. This is the institutional recognition that we need in the Church, because many points of tension and rupture could be avoided if this institutional recognition existed. Unfortunately, if we have a bishop or priest who recognizes and values the service of women in the Church, we have a beautiful path, but otherwise, we have tensions and invisibility of the diaconal service of women in the Church.

We told abuelo Francisco that we do not want priestly ordination: we understand that there are different ministries and vocations, and each person undertakes these in accordance with the vocation and charism that the Spirit offers the Church. However, we do need this institutional recognition [regarding the diaconate], because for the native communities the Word is sacred and in the non-indigenous world what counts is the Scripture. As Yesica Patiachi stated: “Abuelo, we must put something in writing about the recognition of the ministry of women in the Church.”

We are aware of the changes that have been taking place in the Church, and abuelo Francisco brings this new breath of the Spirit and this spring air to the Church, but we need to go into deeper waters.

We left the serene and respectful dialogue very happy, because abuelo Francisco told us that “regarding the changes that have been taking place in the Church, there is no turning back.” We need to unite and let ourselves be guided by the breath of the Spirit, to be a Church that goes out to the peripheries, a serving, Samaritan, Marian, and Magdalene Church, that goes out to meet those who are poorest, to truly have a Church with an Amazonian face, with new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.

We visited eight Dicasteries (photo gallery) and presented the mission of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon to each one, as a concrete fruit of the Synod of the Amazon and juridical and canonical recognition by the Holy See and the Church and the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, as a complementary organism in the evangelizing action of the Church in the Amazon, in search of new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.

This was undoubtedly a historic moment for the Church in the Amazon and for the universal Church that seeks to make paths of synodal, pastoral, ecclesial, cultural, ecological and social conversion—and thus, to be faithful to the tradition founded in the first communities, in the following of Jesus Christ, in the Second Vatican Council, and in the Magisterium offered to us by Pope Francis and his predecessors.

We would like to highlight the commitment of Father Julio Caldeira who prepared the program and contact with the dicasteries and the media, along with Lucia Capucci, Alessandro and the executive secretary of CEAMA (Fr. Alfredo, Aura Patricia and Viviana) and REPAM (Bro. João and Rodrigo Fadul). [We are grateful for] the warm welcome we had in Rome, from the moment we arrived, with the generous presence of Sister Sueli from the Congregation of the Lourdina Sisters and her community, who welcomed us for a delicious lunch and organized a pick-up for Yesica from the airport the next day. Our thanks to Sr. Antonietta Papa and her sisters of the Congregation of the Missionary Servants of Mary, who welcomed us during the days spent in Rome. To the Franciscans (Friar Daniel) who offered accommodation in Assisi. To Tisiana and Regina of the Laudato Si group, who took the time to accompany us through the streets and places of the Franciscan and Clarian charism in Assisi, and for the delicious lunch with the community of migrants that they welcomed in their home. Gratitude to Brother Ronie, who gladly took us to the airport to return to our homes.

And finally, our thanks to the leadership of CEAMA and REPAM; without this support and commitment, the trip and the audience with abuelo Francisco would not have been possible. To all those who accompanied us with their prayers, our immense gratitude.

Picture of Patricia Gualinga, Laura Vicuña and Yesica Patiachi

Patricia Gualinga, Laura Vicuña and Yesica Patiachi

Yesica Patiachi from Peru is vice president of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM). Patricia Gualinga from Ecuador and Sr. Laura Vicuña from Brazil are vice presidents of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (CEAMA).
Photo by Pilar Timpane

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“Our St. Phoebe Day celebration was a Catholic mass at its best—coming together, unified at the Eucharistic table, getting nourished through meaningful ritual, prayerful and relevant songs, a challenging message on synodality from scripture, and engaging and honest testimonies from two women in our community. St. Joan of Arc parish today did what Jesus did years ago—fed souls and gave people hope.”
St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community
Minneapolis, MN
“Together, we are grateful that the ministry and example of St. Phoebe enlivens our community to participate in exploring the unique gifts of women in our faith community. Here at Cranaleith, we feel strongly about creating space for all those seeking wholeness and transformation for themselves, their communities and society. This retreat was an opportunity for us to do just that.”
Cranaleith Spiritual Center
Philadelphia, PA
“The icon of St. Phoebe is still present in our Chapel today, where we are able to remember her witness and ask her to intercede on our behalf.”
Rosemont College
Rosemont, PA

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