By Genevieve Pollock
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 5, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Two women who have been invited to participate in the Synod of Bishops for Africa are expressing enthusiasm at being able to add their feminine genius into the mix.
Spaniard Myriam García Abrisqueta, president of “Manos Unidas” (United Hands), is one of these women who was asked to join the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which began Sunday in the Vatican and will end Oct. 25.
Abrisqueta explained to ZENIT the responsibility that she feels in participating as an auditor in the synod, and sharing her particular experience in working in Africa.
Her Catholic organization gathers volunteer women in the effort to combat poverty, hunger, malnutrition, sickness, lack of education and underdevelopment.
The majority of the development projects that it finances are in Africa, which counted some 305 of these last year.
Abrisqueta stated: “This continent is the one we work in the most. It makes sense, given that we are dedicated to development and many are the areas of Africa in which there are very harsh situations.”
She noted that to be a woman in the Synod for Africa is a responsibility. She stated that she is going to the event “with an attitude of listening and of deepening of our bonds” and “of hearing the Church.”
“The Synod is an excellent occasion to widen horizons and acquire more complete and universal points of view,” Abrisqueta added.
She affirmed: “I am excited by informal contacts outside the auditorium. To be able to be in contact with such a large representation of a continent is not something one can experience every day.”
Abrisqueta reported that in the Synod she plans to back what Benedict XVI wrote in the encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” on integral and genuine development.
She cited the Pope’s writing about the problem of food insecurity, and the need for long-term solutions, “eliminating the structural reasons that cause it and promoting the agricultural development of the poorest countries through investments in rural infrastructure, irrigation systems, transport, organization of markets, formation and diffusion of appropriate agricultural techniques, capable of using human, natural and socio-economic resources in the best way, which can be obtained preferably in the place itself, thus to ensure also their long-term sustainability.”
Abrisqueta continued: “The Pope also points out the need to involve the local communities in the choices that are made. And these words reflect wonderfully well the model we try to implement in Manos Unidas.”
In recognition of the organization’s work, the Pontiff greeted the president as well as a group of volunteers on Wednesday. He also recently appointed Abrisqueta as a member of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.
The feminine element
Another participant, Sister Elisa Kidanè, general councilor of the Comboni Missionary Sisters, will attend the synod as an “expert.”
Speaking last Thursday in Rome, at the Palazzo Valentini, in a conference on the importance of the bishops’ gathering, Sister Kidanè stated that “many of the failures of missionary work in the 20th century were to be ascribed to the lack of consideration of the feminine element.”
She appealed for women, especially those who are “subjected to many forms of injustice” or are “assigned an inferior role” to be given the chance to “exercise our role as educators, promoters, [and] protagonists of life.”
“I do not feel that I am and I do not pretend to be the spokeswoman for the women of Africa,” the missionary explained, “but from my little experience I am certain about what we want.”
She made a request that women be looked upon “with the eyes of Jesus,” who “knew how to recognize in women loyal co-protagonists of his plan of salvation since it was to [a woman] that he entrusted the ministry of proclamation of the good news, that ‘Go and tell them that I am risen.'”
Sister Kidanè appealed for “equal opportunities of professional formation for sisters and laywomen,” that the vision of women would be broadened, so that they would be seen as more than only mothers or sisters.
The sister clarified that these requests are not made “for a mere feminist demand, but because, as mothers of the continent, we feel the urgency of raising our voice.”
She continued: “We can no longer see our sons and daughters treated as a laughing stock of countries that until yesterday stole our raw materials, and today cast us into the sea, like expired or used merchandise.
“We have had enough of global meetings, of summits, where one talks and talks and talks, but in fact little or nothing arrives in our houses.
“We would like our pastors also to admonish those who engage in illegal traffic in weapons, diamonds, oil with our governments leaving our people on the street.”
Sister Kidanè expressed the desire the “special feminine genius” will be able to contribute to the synod’s pastoral plans, because, she said, the “sisters and mothers of Africa carry our continent on [their] backs and in [their] heart.”[Reporting by Jesús Colina and Mariaelena Finessi]