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María Luisa Berzosa © Hijas De Jesús

2018 Synod: Maria Luisa Berzosa Wants to ‘Defend the Church from Inside’

Interview with the Only Spanish Woman Religious in the Assembly

VATICAN CITY, OCTOBER 25, 2018 (Zenit.org).- “You are the loudspeaker of the Synod!” Pope Francis said to her, after seeing her on the cover of the “Vida Nueva” review, together with a youth who was carrying a loudspeaker.

Maria Luisa Berzosa is the only Spanish religious woman taking part in the Synod of Bishops on Young People, and she admits that she does so with many anxieties and desires “in the line that there be more inclusion, that we not be so few women, that the Church be more present as People of God and not just as hierarchy.”

“The desire is united to commitment, in the measure that I can, so here I am, betting on that commitment,” she said. “If we women don’t have the door very open in the Church, and a chink opens for us, I enter through it. The chink opened for me this time, and here I am,” she said openly.

“Defend the Church from Inside”

 The invitation to take part in the Synod of Bishops — being held in the Vatican these days and called by the Holy Father to debate the anxieties and problems of young people worldwide –, arrived as a surprise to Jesuitic Maria Luisa Berzosa.

This consecrated woman, of the Congregation of the Daughters of Jesus, collaborates on “Entre Culturas” [“Between Cultures”], which is part of “Fe y Alegria” [“Faith and Joy”]. She was proposed by a friend to take part in the Synod’s 15th Ordinary General Assembly. She is living this experience as an occasion to “talk, fight and defend the Church from inside,” not wanting to feel herself a “spectator.”

Here is a ZENIT translation of Maria Luisa Berzosa’s exclusive interview with ZENIT.

* * *

ZENIT: How are you taking part in the Synod?

 Maria Luisa: I belong to the Commission of Experts. Our Commission’s objective is to listen, to gather all that is said both in the Hall as well as in the Minor Circles and to pass it to the special secretaries. Special secretaries coordinate our Commission, and we are collaborators of those secretaries. Then, in the language groups, in the Minor Circles, <there are> two experts also in each. Then we also help a bit with the process of group discernment and, every day, the Commission of Experts meets and we discuss there how the groups’ process is going, which points are more incisive, which points are more debated . . . We recount what is happening.

We gather information and contribute. We also, obviously, give our opinion. We have also taken part in the groups.

ZENIT: What is your mission with young people?

 Maria Luisa: I’m a volunteer in “Entre Culturas,” part of “Fe y Alegria,” which is in Spain. Then I engage in much formation of volunteers there, who are young people and adults, let’s say because to go out to foreign countries one must be 21 years old. From there on is when I engage in formation; I do much spiritual accompaniment, and there are all kinds of people there.

 For 11 years I was the Directress of the “Fe y Alegria” school in Italy for Latin American immigrants and, at the same time, I worked in “Fe y Alegria” in Argentina. Then, as I was working in Argentina in this Movement, my Congregation asked me to come to coordinate the school.

ZENIT: What message and, especially, what concrete proposals are you going to take to Spain, after taking part in this Synod?

 Maria Luisa: The young people have asked for a lot — and I also see this in my task of accompaniment — to be accompanied, to be heard, to be close, because not only discernment — they said, and it’s true — to decide if you are a Religious or priest, but for many decisions that must be taken in life, and I feel it in the spiritual accompaniment I carry out with people: a career must be chosen; I must decide to be a boyfriend/girlfriend; I must opt to decide or accept a job that entails sending me I don’t know where . . . We are always deciding, no? Then I, if I have to stress something, I would point out listening, which indicates closeness, empathy, putting oneself somewhat in the place of today’s young people. Those of us who are older tend to identify ourselves with what we were or with what already was, and I believe one must be with the young people of today.

ZENIT: A few days ago we saw on the Internet an initiative of Catholic women who ask, concretely, to be able to vote in the Synod of Bishops. What do you think of this petition? It’s being very commented on by all taking part in the Synod. Do you think Francis will change this?

 Maria Luisa: I hope so; at least we’ve worked hard so that those voices are heard. In a press conference, we women religious had in Vatican Radio, I heard that there is a petition with signatures. I had not heard it before. But what I uphold is that to vote, one must first enter — something that is obvious. So, what I am fighting for is that the participation be enlarged. If one participates, one has the full right to vote. Then, it’s very striking — I said it in my group — it’s against witnessing that there are 10 men Religious Superiors and one woman Superior General, who can’t vote, it’s a clamorous disproportion.

I think that if there is another Synod, and there will be, I believe it will be different. There was also talk the other day of a Synod of women, and I say: “I don’t want a Synod of women with this structure,” because if there are going to be 250 Bishops and 30 women (or 20 or 25 . . . ). Then, if they ask me . . . because of course, there is much Canon Law in between, I don’t know, I’m not a specialist, but it would be a Synod of the People of God, of the Church in a wide sense. – the hierarchy, of course, which is a part but not only. Then young people, the elderly . . . where there are young people, elderly people . . . nuns, single people, divorced people . . . That is the Church of the People of God, that synodality has to do with Vatican II; it’s participation; it’s enlargement . . . Synod means “all together,” so, all together! — not only the hierarchy and a minimal proportion. In my opinion, inclusion and enlargement must be pushed.

ZENIT: How does the Pope treat you all in the Synod’s day-to-day?

 Maria Luisa: I have taken some photos these days . . .  all with anecdotes, because he approaches me to greet me! One day I got in line to greet him and have a photo, and then I said: it’s done.” However, the other day he passed and I realized that he was looking at me and he said: “I saw you the other day on the cover of the “Vida Nueva” review. I was put on the cover with a youth with a loudspeaker. Then he said: yes, yes, I’ve seen you. Then we got into the elevator and Baldisseri was there. And we went up and, still in the elevator, he said: “But how famous you are! The loudspeaker of the Synod.” And I said: “No, no! Let’s not exaggerate; its the loudspeaker of young people, who sought me because I have much youth accumulated, for no other reason.” He laughed out loud. And the other day, he was coming out of the elevator, and he was with some companions waiting for me to pass by, and the same thing happened. He had his computer and he said to me: “What are you doing?” I answered: “Working.” He said, “Well if you get tired, this companion of yours, who has a good liqueur  . . . have him pour you a glass.” He was a Portuguese man of Vatican Radio, hahaha, laughing out loud. He i.e. the Pope breaks a lot with protocol; he is very spontaneous.

ZENIT: You said you wanted to “defend the Church from inside.” With this Pope, with this Synod… What things do you think will change?

 Maria Luisa:  I want the participation of women to change, to have it extended, to have it enlarged . . . It can’t be that there is no presence or participation of women, also in the Church’s areas of responsibility because it can’t be only another type of jobs. Then to take part as adult persons inside the Church, as is being done . . . as is being done in society; it’s a slow rhythm but I hope it will be like this. And also that it be a push, but this must now be done in each diocese, in each place, in each parish, for the world of youth — for the world of youth, which I don’t want to see as a ghetto: Ah, these are the young people,” no. A world where we are inter-related, because we are all with young people, with middle-aged people and with older people; those are the stages of life, and <we must> not create ghettos either of elderly, or of young people or of women . . . No, I’m for inclusion, diversity, it’s the greatest richness and, moreover, it’s the reality of life.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester

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