Ecclesia of Women in Asia

Forum of Asian Catholic Women Theologians


based on Notes by Virginia Saldanha


Morning Session:

After the morning liturgy, during which the participants acted out and meditated on woman's life-giving menstral cycle (Link to the morning liturgy) Evelyn Monteiro opened the day’s session by talking about the significance of the EWA I 2002 banner and how it had been put together. According to Sr. Evelyn, each EWA 1 participant brought a triangle of handwoven cloth from her home-country and attached this to the shapes of women holding hands around the globe. The banner had been brought to EWA from Taiwan, where it had been in the custody of Continuity Committee Member, Sr. Antoinette Gutzler.

Morning Plenary Pastor Lim Hee Sook was then introduced by Sr. Gratia (Song Jong-rye). Pastor Hee Sook commented on the papers she had been asked to review and an open forum followed. Although most of the papers for the previous day's workshops were covered, open-forum comments were not to be steered away from Sharon Bong's "Queer Revisions of Christianity," til the end of the conference, the most talked about paper. On the issue of lesbian nuns, Silvina said that like nuns with heterosexual orientations, the lesbian nun is expected to keep the vow of chastity and so despite her sexual orientation, can be accepted as part of a community. Reflecting on her own experience, Chris Burke said that deep friendships in the community could be good. Often there is a tendency to judge such friendships as having a lesbian sexual orientation though this may not be so. The problem with the vow of celibacy is when too much focus on the friendship takes a person away from the community life and her focus on God. Rosaline shared that like loneliness, feelings of non-acceptance, etc. is what pushes sisters into special friendships. 25 years ago, friendship was never explained the way we’re trying to do now. According to Evangeline, the body of women is linked to sin, sex, sexuality, and morality. Sexuality is not seen as a celebration of the body but as a morality issue – why? We need further reflection. Sr. Soon Hee opined that new interpretations on vows are necessary. Chastity should talk about relationships – be linked with God’s commandment to love. Julia considered the paper on “Lesbian mum/nun” as a critique of the Christian image of Virgin – the negative attitude toward sexual identity of woman. The Church encourages idealization of the sexuality of women but also negates the sexuality of women. Shienta: said that with all due respect to those who have spoken, she wanted to know if we have a collective stand towards lesbianism. Also, why there was laughter after the statement “I am not a lesbian”?!

Workshop Schedule:

Morning session:

Group 1.

a. The Gender Identity of the Reader of Ezekiel Chapter 16 Does Matter, Julia Ong, Singapore;
b. Pauline Body in Corinthians, A Metaphor of Whole Human Being and of Christian Community, Nozumi Miura (Japan).

Group 2.

a. Can God Wear High Heels? A Conversation Towards a Better Understanding of God’s Nature, Marylou Menezes, India/USA.
b. The Universe as Body or Womb of God: Theologizing on Difference and Interdependence, Jeane Peracullo, Philippines

Group 3.

a. Land of the Karmasutra, Valerie D’Souza, India;
b. Bodily Representations of Hindu Goddesses, a Feminist Perspective, A. Metti, India.


Special Interest Workshops. After the scheduled morning workshops, the women divided into special interest groups based on their present status as either single, married, or religious. These groupings responded to a deeply felt need for each to talk of personal experiences and views on body and sexuality. It was a time for no holds barred questions and sharing that deepened the sense of sisterhood among the participants. The picture at left shows the group of married women engrossed in conversation. Unfortunately, no notes of the discussions are available.

Afternoon Session.

Group 1.

a. The Body, a Testimony to Discipleship (John 19:25-27), Cecilia Claparols, Philippines;
b. The Passion of the Womb, Astrid Lobo-Gajiwala, India.

Group 2.

a. Facing the Reality of Clergy Sexual Misconduct in the Church, A Step Toward Justice and Healing, Nila Bermisa, Philippines;
b. The Antiquenas: Sexual Leaders, Silvina Tejares, Philippines.


2nd Plenary – 4.30 p.m.

After the workshops during which the last four papers were presented, the plenary gave the women an opportunity to share their thoughts. Christine Gudorf commented on how the issue of constructionism comes up over and over again and said women need to grapple with this. What does it mean to be a woman? If we do not know what it means to be a woman, how do we work with women, with the oppressed? What are the boundaries that we create? If we say we work with victims of rape, do we also include men who are raped? We have to keep extending the boundaries. Pushpa pointed out that what has been coming up directly or indirectly is “Can we have Asian Feminist Perspectives?” We keep hearing about reconstruction/ deconstruction of religious stereotypes and scriptures that prevent the emergence of Asian Women Perspectives, also the relational perspective of self and embodied perspectives in Asia where Asian traditions celebrate women on the one hand while we have the reality of so much violence done to women on the other.

Pastor Lim Hee Sook wondered about many things in the Catholic tradition, especially about sexuality. How do we reinterpret our perspectives in the Asian tradition? Cecilia said that the human person has to be understood from the standpoint of the different dominant religious perspectives and traditions. We need to look at Asian anthropologies for a start, Agnes added, saying that she is doing a study on ethnic Philippine tradition which speaks of 2 souls in the body in a non-dualistic perspective. The first soul is the breath of life and the second soul refers to both character and power. Annette however asked about how the concept of person is shaped in the different countries, considering the differences in culture and tradition. Jean expressed her belief that only post modern Christianity can dialogue with different Asian traditions. Only when we begin to see that things do not exist without being relational can we enrich our own tradition. The challenge to Christian minorities in countries of Asia should be to look for these relational aspects. In response, Julia said we are much more pluralistic than we know. The Chinese say that Taoism disciplines the body; Buddhism disciplines the heart; and Confucianism disciplines society; I wonder what the Chinese could say is disciplined by Christianity!

According to Chris (Burke) the face of evangelization is dialogue. It is articulating a new way of being a body/sexuality person. The whole sense of God is bound to the world especially our bodies. We can say that God is at the core of everything .To this, Sr. Soon Hee added that we have to expand the meaning of body/sexuality; inter-relate it with eco-feminism and the whole world. The universe is filled with the law of communion. Picking up Sr. Soon Hee's idea of cosmic connectedness, Siriporn pointed out that Jesus assumed the sins of humanity, combining the sacred with the profane, thus giving us dignity. We need to appreciate this in our life.

Day's End. After the last session, the participants were more than happy to go out and shop at Yogyakarta's famous Marliboro (?) Street. The hardworking members of the CC had to attend another of their endless meetings to talk about the day's activities, plan the next day's, and consider the future of EWA. With the selection of the new continuity committee members scheduled the next day, it was necessary to spot potentials among the participants. Was it an accident or was it tension when Evelyn, who saw she could not escape becoming the next EWA Coordinator, broke one of the glasses during a break? .Sometimes there were too many things to think about and always, the weight of the conference rested on already tired shoulders. In the picture at left, Chris is not yawning as Intan lays a friendly hand on her shoulder. Chris is saying her most delicious Australian OUCH as Intan uses strong Indonesian fingers to knead the hardness out of the conference program coordinator's muscles. (Agnes said Chris looks like she is having an orgasm. OOOPs!!!)

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