Am I my sisters’ keeper? What do you say in this Year of Faith?
Cain said to his brother Abel ‘Let us go out to the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ Genesis 4: 8-9 ,
加音對他弟弟亞伯爾說： 「我們到田間去！」當他們在田間的時候，加音就襲擊了弟弟亞伯爾，將他殺死．上主對加音說：「你弟弟亞伯爾在哪裏？」他答說：「我不知道，難道我是看守我弟弟的人？」 創四8-9
The question posed by the biblical narrative of the murder of Abel by Cain, his brother —“am I my brother’s keeper?”— still resounds throughout the ages and into our 21st century. This “second” biblical sin is rooted in “family” and the “trust” that follows the invitation into the field of betrayal. It brings to light the internalization of violence within the family, the evasion of responsibility for violence: “am I my brother’s keeper?”— and its globalization as Cain goes into the world as “a fugitive and a wanderer.”
This story plays itself out each day in the “culture of violence” that has become the fabric of life for many women in Asia. We need only recall recent events: Malala, the young girl shot by the Taliban for her efforts in promoting education for young girls, the unnamed woman in India, dragged onto a bus, gang raped, thrown on the street with her boyfriend with no one to help, the three women activists murdered in France and, for us here in Taiwan, we note the “pink” safe areas for women on our subway and train stations and the public notices calling attention to sexual harassment. These are just a few examples of the violence against the countless unnamed women in our world.
As ponder the question: “what do these women have to do with us,?” the reality slowly dawns that these women ARE us . . . albeit with different skin colors, cultures, religions and families. For who among us has not fought to have her voice heard? Who among us has not struggled in some way with sexual harassment and/or sexual violence? Who among us has not resisted the strictures that culture and religion place on women’s role in family, society, church and world? And so, Malala and all the unnamed women who are confronting violence against women are truly our sisters.
Exploration of the genesis of this culture of violence against women uncovers the not widely acknowledged fact that Christianity, along with other religious traditions in Asia, struggles with patriarchal bias in scripture, theological treatises and precepts. In our own Christian history, the assimilation of a dualistic anthropology from Greek culture into the heart of Christianity expanded into a hierarchical, gender dualism which led to the patriarchal social construct that women are naturally inferior to man. Ambiguity about woman’s ability to “image” God in herself appears as early as the second-century. Augustine’s assertion that woman: “does not possess the image of God in herself, but only when taken together with the male who is her head,” and Aquinas’ regard of woman as “a misbegotten man” are only two of the claims that results in male control over woman’s body. This leaves her defenseless against sexual and other forms of violence and unable to claim for herself the dignity of her womanhood. This privileging of male over female continues to show itself in the spiraling culture of physical, psychological and spiritual violence against women – and it is a part of all of us.
In her book, In Search of Belief, Joan Chittister writes movingly of the creedal affirmation “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” She relates her experience of being “junior home room advisor the year when the brightest, most socially active and most promising students in the class were inducted into the National Honor Society (NHS).” Five places in the NHS were reserved for students from their school – three girls and two boys were chosen. Chittister relates how the headmaster changed the order of induction to give the boys a higher place explaining that “girls don’t need an education as much as boys do. And boys need role models to encourage them to study.” Chittister went to the induction ceremony and never said a word. She writes “It took years for me to realize it, but Pontius Pilate and I become cohorts that afternoon.” Pilate is all around us, encouraging us to “choose personal safety over personal integrity.” “Pilate” assuages our conscience and tells us that we need not disturb ourselves and seek justice for Malala and all those like her. The “Pilate” in us mutes our moral outrage against the crimes against women, which take place each day in homes and cities around the world.
Pope John XXIII, in his 1958 encyclical Pacem in Terris, affirmed women’s “increasing awareness of their natural dignity [and that] far from being content with a purely passive role or allowing themselves to be regarded as a kind of instrument, they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.” (Is this not what Malala was intent on doing and the reason for which she was marked for assassination?) In 1995, Pope John Paul II apologized to women for offenses against them by the Church. He acknowledged that unfortunately we are “heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent . . . and been an obstacle to the progress of women” [and prayed] that “this regret be transformed, on the part of the whole Church, into a renewed commitment of fidelity to the Gospel vision.”
教宗若望二十三世在他1958年的通諭地球上的和平（Pacem in Terris）中，肯定婦女「日益意識到她們既有的尊嚴〔以及〕不再甘於完全被動的角色，或是允許她們自己被當器物來看待，她們要求在家庭及在公開的生活中，有屬於人的權利與義務」（這不正是瑪拉拉想要做的，也是為她引來殺身之禍的原因嗎？）1995年，教宗若望保祿二世就曾為教會對婦女所冒犯的事而道歉．他承認，我們很不幸地「承擔了一個相當程度支配著我們的歷史．．．而成為婦女進步的阻礙」〔並祈禱〕「這樣的沉痛，在整體教會的這方面，能夠轉變為對福音觀點的忠誠再承諾」．
Indeed, we are all bound in the common bonds of our humanity as the cry of God: “where is your sister?” strikes deeply in our hearts and brings profound moral issues to the fore. The question: “where is your sister?” is not one for women alone rather it is one for all of us – women and men together. In this special Year we are called to enter once again the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, explore the Gospels and the Creeds of our faith and become more faithful followers of Jesus who lived in the reality that we are our sisters’ keeper.
The Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes) opens with words that articulate the church’s desire that “the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men and women of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well” (GS, 1). These testimony, given by the church to the world-at-large, challenges us as followers of Jesus to proactively confront this violence against women and restore to them the place and dignity that has been given us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.
In this same spirit of Vatican II, the 1998 Synod meeting of Asian Bishops gave voice to the “grief and anguish” of the women of Asia. In his Post-Synodal Exhortation – Ecclesia in Asia – Pope John Paul II wrote that “The Synod voiced concern for women, whose situation remains a serious problem in Asia, where discrimination and violence against women is often found in the home in the workplace and even within the legal system” (EA, 34). John Paul II called on the church in Asia to promote human rights activities on behalf of women. He wrote that “the contributions of women have all too often been undervalued or ignored, and this has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity.” These words are not to be taken lightly.
The opening faith declaration of the Creed, which we profess at each Sunday’s Eucharist – “we believe in one God, creator of heaven and earth . . .” affirms the creation of both male and female in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27). When this declaration is taken seriously we are able to hear the “blood” of our sisters calling out to us (cf. Genesis 4: 10) – and we also hear the Lord crying out: “I am Jesus who you are persecuting!” (Acts 9:5) Can you not hear my cry? When women are taken seriously as imago Dei (image of God) and imago Christi (image of Christ), their wounds will be acknowledged as the wounds of Christ. When their voice is heard as Christ’s voice teaching us today then, there is a chance that the “culture of violence” embedded in our world will begin to give way to a “culture of life” for all. Then the “Malala’s” of our world will increase and multiply and the voices of the violated women of our cities and nations will be heard and disturb our complacency. There will be no more need for “pink” safety areas for women at night, “women only” train cars or public service announcements calling attention to sexual harassment. This 21st century is a time of grace in our lifetime when we are called to partner God in turning the Calvary of “grief and anguish” of the violated women of our time into the new life of Resurrection.
我們每個主日彌撒當中宣讀信經時的開頭，～「我信唯一的天主，天地萬物的創造者．．．」就確立了男人與女人是以天主的形象與肖像而創造的．（創一26-27）…當這樣的宣示有被嚴肅看待，我們就聽得到我們姊妹的「血」在向我們訴冤（比較創四10）～而我們也聽得到上主呼喊的「我是你們所迫害的耶穌！」（宗九5）你們聽不到我的呼聲嗎？當女人被嚴肅地以天主的形象（imago Dei）以及基督的形象(imago Christi)看待時，她們的傷口就被認為是基督的傷口．那麼當她們的聲音如同今天耶穌教導我們的聲音一樣被聽見，這深藏在我們世界裏的「暴力文化」，就有機會開始對所有的「生命文化」讓步．到那時，我們世界中的「瑪拉拉們」就會增多並且繁衍出不同類型的「瑪拉拉們」，而我們城市裏國家中受踐踏婦女的聲音，才會被聽見而攪動我們所粉飾的太平．到那時，就不再需要另在夜間為婦女設置「粉紅」安全區、「婦女專用」車廂、或是公共場所有公告注意性騷擾的服務．當我們受召來伴隨天主，將我們這時代受踐踏婦女的哀傷痛苦髑髏地，轉變為復活的新生命時，我們此生所處的這二十一世紀便是一個美好的時代了．
Antoinette Gutzler January 2013, Taiwan