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Chiles ambassadør i Vatikanet: We need to support each other

18. april 2015

(Vatican Radio)  “It is necessary for a woman not only to be listened to, but also for her voice to carry real weight, recognized authority, in society and in the Church.”  Pope Francis ‘ words at last Wednesday’s General Audience were still reverberating in St. Peter’s square as Chile’s first woman ambassador to the Holy See, Monica Jimenez de la Jara was leaving Vatican Radio studios from her first interview in English with the Pope’s radio station.

Listen to Tracey McClure's interview with Ambassador Jimenez:

Ambassador Jimenez observed that in a world where women make up half of humanity, “men have to share with us the family roles and we women have to share with them the public role in society and of course, in the Church.”  But many times, “women are afraid” to assume roles of great responsibility, she noted, and stereotypes typically mislead men into offering women positions “that are not leadership roles.”  

As the former rector of the Catholic University of Temuco south of the Chilean capital, Santiago, Jimenez learned first-hand the challenges that come with being the first woman at the helm of a prestigious Catholic institution in a male-dominated environment.  A widow and mother of five, she is also a former Minister of Education.

Upon arriving to take up her post in Rome in June 2014, she sought out Sr. Mary Malone, the first female rector of a Pontifical university: the Antonianum.  “We [women] need to support each other,” says Jimenez.  Sr. Mary Malone, whom she describes as “great,”  “is opening roads” for other women in the Church, she adds.

Rome Conference on Women in the Church to be held at Pontifical University Antonianum

To highlight some of the achievements of women in society and the Church, both women are organizing a Rome conference at the Antonianum on 28 April to examine future prospects for women in the Church from the perspectives of women from Africa, North and South America and Europe.  “We have to invite other women to assume roles in society and in the Church,” says Jimenez. “We can have any position, we can have the capability for that.”

Though Jimenez and her husband both were very active members of the Chilean Church, she says Chile’s bishops’ chose her, “not him – not a couple – they selected me,” as President of their Justice and Peace Commission - a position she held for ten years. 

Jimenez believes stereotypes about women are to blame for the fewer numbers of women in roles of responsibility. “We have to break the stereotypes and we have to say ‘we can do it!’ and society must believe in us.  For example, in Chile, the bishops believed ‘Monica can.’”  

Her various roles in academia, in the Church and in government, she explains, had made her a familiar and respected face.  So when it came to nominating a new president of their commission, “the bishops said, ‘Why not?’”  “They broke the stereotype,” she smiles.  “They said, ‘well, why not a woman like an organizer and president of the Justice and Peace Commission?’” Over the years, her activities for the Chilean Church also brought her into close collaboration with the Vatican curia.

With the first Latin American as pontiff, Jimenez is asked how women are viewed in South America.   She recalls that the continent currently boasts three female presidents - of Argentina, Chile and Brazil. “But I think that in all the continent [and elsewhere] it is difficult for women.”  She points to presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton who’s running for the second time for the U.S.’s top job, as an example of how difficult it is to be admitted into the all-boys club.

But, she’s confident that times are changing, and highlights that Germany and South Korea are also run by women leaders.  Women such as these have demonstrated that women can take up weighty and authoritative roles in society and in the Church, she stresses. 

“We are in the 21st century – we are not in the middle ages so we have to think about what is happening to women in society today and how we, Church, have to change to be part of the society,”  and that “Church is part of society.”

28 April Seminar Programme

President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, together with Sr. Mary Malone will deliver opening remarks at the April 28thconference.   Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has also sent a video message for the event.

Cettina Militello of the Pontifical Theological Faculty Marianum will speak on “Women in the Church: past models and current challenges” and an international panel discussion led by Flaminia Giovanelli, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace will examine challenges and achievements of “Women and the Catholic Church in the World.”

The morning session will conclude with an open debate and will be followed in the afternoon by Spanish, Italian, English and French language working groups which will discuss the topics “what needs to be done to expand the position and contribution of women in the Church” and “the next steps to be taken.”

At the end of the day, the Ambassadors to the Holy See from Chile, the U.S., the United Kingdom and the European Union will present their conclusions.

We hope to continue the discussion each year

“We hope to have, once a year,  a discussion like this. Because we need space - a moment where we can discuss [these issues].  And we hope we will have many, many men in the seminar – because it is not only a problem of women, it’s a problem of men.  We both discuss our position in society and in the Church,” says Jimenez.

“We would like to make a difference.  I would be very happy [if] after this conference…the Vatican, for example says, ‘yes, we believe: women can assume more important roles in the leadership of the Church.’  I hope we can make this difference.  Cardinal Ravasi [the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture] is going to be with us – I hope other bishops and priests can be there because it is really a very important issue in the Church today.”

It is an issue which perhaps Pope Francis himself was thinking of at last Wednesday’s Audience when he said we must begin thinking about  “the way in which Jesus Himself regarded women, in a context that was far less favorable than our own, casts a powerful light illuminating a road that takes us far, on which we have travelled only a short distance. It is a road we must travel with more creativity and boldness”. 

(Tracey McClure)

Wikipedia: Mónica Jiménez