Women Of The Church And The New Papacy: Make Our Voices Heard

They are neither anti-religious rebels nor feminist iconoclasts, but three nuns and a Catholic theologian. Here's how they think Pope Francis should face the female question.

"Like good wine forgotten in the cellar..."
"Like good wine forgotten in the cellar..."
Giacomo Galeazzi

ROME - The conclave is a mechanism entirely reserved for men, even though the pope elected will also be the spiritual guide for more than a half-billion Catholic females.

The only women involved in the process were those in the Casa Santa Marta – where the voting cardinals at and slept – and they all took the oath of secrecy. The Pari o Dispare organization, which strives for equal rights between the genders, pointed out this singularity with irony.

Back on March 8 – International Women’s Day – the cardinals discussed the role of women during their General Congregation meeting before the conclave that was held to lay out the priorities for the Church and new pontiff. Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, presented the women translators in the room with mimosas – the traditional yellow flower given on the annual celebration in Italy.

The gesture falls far short for the small communities within the Church who are asking the cardinals to “welcome women, married or not, who prove to be suitable for community service, even at the highest levels of Ministry.”

La Stampa spoke to four women – three nuns and a university professor. Here are their views on women’s roles in the Church, as the world's 1.2 billion Catholics look ahead to the new papacy of Pope Francis.

Sister Maria Barbagallo, General Superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
If I had been able to talk during the congregations, I would have said that women are essential to the new evangelization that Benedict XVI began. We feel that we are a living part of the Church, even when our role is recognized. Women do not chase after positions of power. In fact, our service to the Church is qualified but not self-interested – I have wanted to say to the cardinals that women in the Church can do more. Not only at the pastoral level, in preaching and charity, but also at the decision-making level. We can lead the rising Evangelism with a female sensibility, in order to discern the spirit of the times.

Jesus always had women around him. Saint Hildegard of Bingen confronted popes, bishops and abbots. In the U.S., Saint Francesca Cabrini overcame the sexist prejudices of the Church. Today, if there were women in positions of power, there would be fewer scandals in the Church like those of child abuse or Vatileaks. With a maternal sense we defend the right to life.

Even though we can become the president of the republic, but not the pope, we offer innovative contributions in the philosophical, spiritual, and mystical spheres. Men often walk around problems; we know how to overcome the bureaucracy. This is a world that must be looked at with the serenity of a God who is father and mother.

Lucetta Scaraffia, Professor of Contemporary History at the Roman La Sapienza University
During the cardinals’ meetings, the role of women was addressed. In society there is confusion between women's empowerment and women's liberation from her biological maternal destiny. The Church has continued to defend the female specificity, that of motherhood. Until the 20th century, the Church had given women more opportunities for development than the rest of society – just think of saints or the founders of lay congregations who travelled freely and managed large budgets. Then, in the last century, the situation was reversed, and the Church today does not recognize the equality of women within it.

Still, when it comes to defending women, the Church is always at the forefront. The changes in Western societies that opened spaces to women that had been previously reserved for men caused a revolution in the configuration of sexual roles. It introduced the question of whether the role of women should be expanded, also for the Catholic Church. It is a problem of equality that the Christian tradition has seen very clearly from the very beginning.

Sister Giuliana Galli, Vice President of the Compagnia di San Paolo
God created man and woman. Women are the carrier of life – without them there would be no evolution. So, more than just traditions, it is the word of God that counts: "The Word became flesh." And it became flesh through a woman.

"It was the women who took care of corpses; they mended the sheets and prayed on the Shroud." However, society and the Church still find it hard to enhance the role of women. Indeed, the most reactionary and closed environments towards female participation are the Church and finance. But a house without a woman falls into disrepair; it is cold, it doesn't breathe. The female contribution to the Church is like good wine forgotten in the cellar.

Evangelization is full of life. So, who better than a woman to bring this fullness to life? Are they worried that women will speak of just sentiment and love? We speak of love too much these days. A colossal hypocrisy has defaced the meaning of the word in the private dimensions of relationships, as well as publicly in institutions like the Church. There is the urgent need of a lay "11th Commandment": Though shalt not mention love in vain, in order to retrieve the radicalness of meaning of an abused and mistreated word.

Sister Maria Trigilia, World Delegate of the Salesian co-operators
Vatican II may have seemed like a "sexist" conference, however after the Council there were many visible changes. The 23 women who took part in the proceedings, starting in 1964, were auditors. Historical research has recognized the weight that these women – who were allowed into the room with a black veil on their heads, and whom the Synod Fathers called "mothers" – urged Vatican II to examine the real problems of the status of women and of women's rights. It is also because of this that in the Catholic Church nowadays there are female theologians – thanks to the Council, the male monopoly on theology has ended.

Joseph Ratzinger (the birth name of Benedict XVI) underlined the presence of women. The woman's mark is more central and fruitful than ever. Ratzinger's lesson has to be remembered – looking at Mary and imitating her doesn't mean orienting the Church towards a passivity, based on an outdated concept of womanhood, condemning it to a dangerous vulnerability in a world where what matters most is primarily domination and power. The way of Christ is neither that of domination nor of power as it is understood by the world. This "passivity" is actually the path of Love, it is a royal power that defeats all violence, and it is passion that saves the world from sin.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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