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Working together in pastoral care in the 3rd millennium



Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger / Woman Pastor in Roman Catholic Church from Austria

After almost half a century of work of women (with men supporters) for equal rights in the Roman Catholic Church, I would like to invite you to pause for some consideration. Women and men as the people of God have set off to respond to their vocation by priestly ministry and react on the pastoral demands of the third millennium.

The people in Europe are looking at Asia with great interest and try to satisfy their longing for spirituality in the Asian religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and others. Via this detour some of them may find back to the spiritual sources of Christianity. A contrary movement is secularism, where the values of the consumer society has changed little by little in a way to gain religious quality.

Under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, the general interest in religion has certainly not decreased. Only God knows how things will go on.

The priestly ordination of seven women in Austria, Europe, in 2002 was an opening of a door and a signpost for many people to move forward to a new road. What we, women and men on this road, can learn and do together, is exercising pastoral ministry.

Here is an outline of the activities of these women in pastoral ministry, most of them being laywomen, some being ordained priests.

Many women in the Roman Catholic Church as well as in other churches and religious communities are working in pastoral care for people in need. Some of them are salaried employees of the church and earn their living in this way. Many women as pastors minister in an honorary capacity and there are certain reasons for that: Some of them want to and are able to afford to do their ministry on a voluntary basis; others have to take a bread-and-butter job and want to maintain it; some others want to maintain their independence.

I have talked with several women who have been making valuable contributions to the pastoral cares in their communities, but their parish priest insists on putting his name on the announcements. These women must not appear by name on official occasions, or at best in a marginal position. The number of women pastors in our country has increased. They are unobtrusive, not a cost factor and do not appear on any payroll. And some of them are forbidden at all to designate themselves as pastors.

It doesn’t matter how we call ourselves. The fact is that we are accompanying people on their way to God.

Women pastors, together with their flocks, remember the situations which have to be remembered. They talk with men and women about how it has come that our society is off balance. They remind us of the history of suppression and injustice. They remind us of the chances where liberation can come true.

Women pastors have their talks in the supermarket, before the school house, after the gymnastics club evening, in the office, in the streetcar, in their apartments, at the sickbed, in the garden, in the staircase, before the church, in the cafeteria, and sometimes in the parish office rooms. Women pastors offer rooms where people may feel protected and safe, places where people can move self-confidently and steadily. These rooms are not the confessional boxes and rarely the churches.

Women pastors are not scared at the idea of contact with people, not even with women from other cultures. They meet people at the locations where they live and work, where they come and go. They cannot expect to meet them in the divine service, as nobody has invited them to come.

Women pastors are at the places where the people are.

Women pastors sometimes are asked to advice by other women, old women, sometimes by mothers, or women who could be their mothers. They turn to them trustfully, that experience makes them strong, courageous and self-assured. They are not any more afraid of the rivalry between the old and the young. They find their strength in God, who reveals himself to them either powerfully in the storm, or gently as the Holy Spirit.

Women pastors have experienced their own power. People who have entrusted themselves to them, have asked advice from them, this is sometimes surprising. Women pastors have experienced that they can bring about a turn to the better. But they also know about the evil and they pray for guidance through the Holy Spirit.

Women pastors act in entirety; they know about their body which is the cover of the soul. Nature reminds the women every month that growth and passing away, living and dying are parts of life. The body is not the enemy of the soul, but it is the temple of God. This is part of their message.

Women pastors, in various conversations or in thorough consideration, remember words or stories, which can be a bridge to God. They listen attentively and wait for the right time. They go along patiently, until also the woman, the man, the girl, the boy are in search of God with their souls.

Women pastors celebrate situations, meetings, memories, joy and mourning, when the feel that people need that and want that. They celebrate what is to be celebrated. They bless and anoint, they assemble, they remember and share bread and wine. They go along until the people are able to release their hands.

We, the ordained women priests, are a few among these many pastors. We have set off, following God’s call. We make efforts to do our ministry in those places, where God has sent us to. We are on the way to God together with the people, this makes the essence. We are not fearful, even when walking on new paths.

Journal <Theology & Solidarity> Vol.1  2006