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Religious in India urge change in patriarchal mindset

Religious in India urge change in patriarchal mindset

India’s major religious superiors ended their triennial meeting Feb. 1 with a call for the church to abandon its “patriarchal mindset” for a gender-sensitive culture of collaboration.

Some 575 superiors representing 125,000 men and women religious in the country unanimously endorsed a “vision for gender justice and collaborative action” in the church.

“Gender-sensitive church” was the theme of the five-day national assembly of the Conference of Religious India, held in Kochi.

A statement released after the meeting said the “core challenge for the church” with regard to gender justice “is the change from an internalized patriarchal mindset to a participatory and collaborative culture where women and men can work together for promoting justice and fraternity within the church and society.”

The assembly called for competent women, religious and lay, to be appointed to positions of responsibility in ministries at national and local levels.

The assembly appealed to superiors of women’s communities to encourage members to develop themselves through theological, biblical and canonical studies. This, it added, would help the women develop “a holistic approach” to spirituality that respects “the feminine and masculine elements of human growth and faith.”

The assembly also decided to initiate dialogue between religious and the bishops’ conference to come up with policy directives in the next two years aiming at achieving gender justice at all levels in the church.

Montfort Br. Mani Mekkunnel, executive secretary of the Conference of Religious India, said it would organize training camps at some 45 centers in the country to promote partnership and gender justice in the church.

Montfort Br. Mani Mekkunnel, executive secretary of the Conference of Religious India, said it would organize training camps at some 45 centers in the country to promote partnership and gender justice in the church.

Calcutta Jesuit provincial Fr. George Pattery criticized the way the triennial meeting itself was conducted: “Men religious chaired most of sessions while the women religious listened. We should have given more space for women religious to voice out.”

Speaking with UCA News at the assembly, several superiors of women’s congregations said the church in India treats nuns as subordinate to priests.

According to Sr. Marie Noronha, provincial of the Society of the Sacred Heart, some priests “still live in an unrealistic world and try to bulldoze their views on us.” She said her congregation closed a mission center in Maharashtra state, western India, when a priest insisted that the nuns follow only his directives.

“We need democratic platforms to express and share our concerns and meet challenges,” asserted the nun, who is based in Mumbai. The church’s traditional structure does not ensure women religious’ participation in strategic planning or in leading the church, she said.

Many nuns are not “well informed,” noted Sr. Teresa Kottooran, provincial of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. “It’s our mindset that stonewalls changes and imprisons us in the traditional structure.”

Noronha credited collaboration with nongovernmental organizations with helping the sisters become more assertive. “Our nuns get enlightened when they work and live in a different reality,” she said.

By UCA NEWS

Kochi, India

COPYRIGHT 2006 National Catholic Reporter

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