Rome, City of Stone
by Christina Moreira Vázquez
The first thing that overwhelms and astonishes someone who has never set foot in the Vatican – I already knew Rome but I had always refused to visit the manly Vatican State - is its stony, gray material and its elliptical design that provides a sense of grandeur for what, in the end, is nothing but a small plaza with supports, as they would say in my country.
My partner Janice Sevre-Duszynska and I arrived on an overwhelmingly hot Saturday, with lodgings and a mutual search through the streets of Trastevere to stop where we were dining. It is so important to see each other face to face in order to love and appreciate each other. I had met her briefly in Pennsylvania at the ordination of the bishops.
Before I met her I had time to savor a Eucharist celebrated in Santa Maria in Trastevere, according to the rite of Saint John Chrysostom, a liturgy that I had studied at the faculty but had not ever heard sung. It sounded like a beautiful God who works his way in deeply, yet one who is at the same time distant and tremendous; one cooked up by a few men who understood those elaborate rites and who served up the result of their liturgical labors. I was only able to contribute my ears, an attentive heart and my sense of Mediterranean irony about how far my dear and beloved community was, the one where we can smell each other, see each other's eyes and share parts of our lives and even sometimes give each other the flu and the joy of a good snack ... although it is true that we do not sing so well.
During those Roman days, the feeling of time travel was always present, with questions about whether it was the classical, high medieval, late medieval period... maybe, but not much more. It was entering the Trastevere and feeling transported far away. At the same time, with open eyes, I would occasionally mumble: "Here and now I'm a priest and that will never change." Whenever I met with my partner Janice every morning in the garden of the inn for breakfast, the certainty was complete because one person may have hallucinations but not two of them. Perhaps that is why the Lord commanded his disciples to go in groups of two...
One day she came with a large envelope in her hand, it was a Tuesday, the eve of the jubilee of the priests, and said "Today we are going to the Vatican." In that pilgrimage we were both witnesses to the presence and light of the other, materialized, sweaty, not as well-groomed as we would have liked, or hungry, or jumping for joy. On that day we felt carried on the shoulders of a thousand generations of women of God who snuggled us; we were remembering their names as we walked through the courtyard of the building of the Curia. We did not miss the joke about the establishment of the firefighters, on the patio we were crossing: "If a single spark of the fire of the Spirit lights up, they will put it out, just in case," I joked.
From eleven o'clock until 6:30 pm we were walking and looking, standing in line under a sun of justice, being checked, registered and guided, at times misguided as in a twisted treasure hunt... until, at last, to the office where we were received, with love and respect, -again I repeat to myself, "here and now, in the heart of what was and is the center of the Christian world, we are clergywomen and we occupy these seats in peace." I will always remember that trio who understood each other in Spanish and English. I have in mind Janice’s testimony, her plea for our cause that is not ours but that of the motherly Ruah, her evoking of many friends’ names and faces before the Monsignor, always attentive and responsive, Janice reeled them off like a litany, I was struck by your face, Janice, my companion, full of love and hope, I will never forget it. The great Lady Magdalene was also coming up. A few days later her celebration would be officially proclaimed as a feast day and no longer as a memory, one more saint in pantheon. We will never know if our visit had any influence on this, what matters is our joy that it happened.
While Janice was providing her details in the role designed to facilitate the task of Francis if he decided to call us, and I expected my turn to provide mine, I spoke with our host. In our common mother tongue I told him how I felt about receiving such a big punishment only for wanting to serve the Lord and his people; among other things, I said "that cannot be punished just because we are women."
The next day, at the Jubilee Mass of the priests in St. Peter's Square, during communion I remembered and gave thanks. They knew we were there; Janice and I had our albs on, purple scarves that were gifts of the WOW women to alleviate the confiscation of our stoles by police just before entering. They knew who we were and they gave us communion. This data will be recorded in history and will not also be deleted. I said to the television that from that moment I considered my latent excommunication to be eliminated, and that of all my companions. I felt a complete reconciliation, also in the spiritual dimension.
I also felt the length and difficulty of the path that lies ahead of us. When my daughter asks me from Spain if all goes well I say "they just took away our stoles" and she says "Mom, it is not as if they were guns!" This is how it is; the men of stone understand stoles as instruments of power, that is why they cannot allow us to use them, and they are angry because in our ordinations we can be seen with the stole over the chasuble. Someone recently told me "that's not right." True, it is not liturgical but is it liturgical to usurp the power and place of the Lord when He is the one who celebrates and calls us? Is it lawful? These and more questions give an idea of everything we need to dust, clean, polish, renew and perhaps discard. What does not work to serve, simply does not work.
At Mass, while I concelebrated strictly following the brochure and joining in prayer with the people present, from the last chair near ours, to the top of all the scaffolding, and also with those people who were absent, both alive and dead, I felt in communion despite it all. I am aware, sisters, that we have come a long way and we are light years ahead of all the institutional trappings anchored in the stone of its massive gray and sad columns; but I feel able even of loving that church, as one loves a grandmother of years and memories, who loses her marbles and gives you the dessert fork to eat the soup. You smile and you get up to find the spoon. These people are neither worse nor better than we are.
I did not attend the Mass as an activist without further ado, my intention was to act from the heart and from my faith, so I did and, I confess, I felt homesick and wanted to be received as a daughter and sister because there we would fill everything with flowers, we would remove the barriers and the guards, we would figure out how to plant trees so that people could be in the shade and even lie on the grass for snacks and to talk. We would find a way for people to participate and make their voices heard in the celebrations. We would organize right there, where our martyrs gave their lives, some talks and discussion groups, social gatherings and circles always open on issues of life and faith, social and political, with coffee and rolls and water available and also daycare and catechesis for the children. You would hear upbeat music and NOBODY, EVER AGAIN, would be excluded. And you know what? If not there it will happen elsewhere; it is happening and they are missing it all.
The Kindom has already approached us and it has come to stay.
Thank you sisters for your support, for your prayers and your confidence, for having facilitated in so many ways these moments and this story; we have all been in Rome, I attest to that. Thank you also to the sisters and brothers in heaven whom we have called upon and who have responded.
Thank you, Janice, my teacher, may your light continue to shine, I have not finished learning all you have to teach but give me time. It was a fully shared sisterhood. A treasure.
Thank you Divine Mother, because at no time did your care and encouragement fail us. Thank you because you love us and that alone is true.
Christina Moreira Vázquez, ARCWP woman priest
A Coruña, Galicia, July 14, 2016