The primary task of the people of God is to bear witness to God’s great deeds.  We read from Acts 1: 8 ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem … and even to the ends of the earth’.  In this verse, Jesus does not command his disciples to perform certain rituals, he promises them that they would testify to his power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.  Our vocation and identity as children of God are mainly fulfilled in mission, in going out towards other people proclaiming the love of God to humanity.  

For me, bearing witness starts from the family.  It is in the context of the family that many of us first learnt who God is, and to prayerfully seek God’s will for us.  No wonder the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church speaks of the family as ‘the domestic Church’ (Lumen Gentium #11).  Reflecting on the family as the domestic church gives me a good foundation to share my experience of the role of women in the Church.  In Nigeria, the women are often the soul of the domestic church and the life of parishes.

I come from a traditional Catholic family from the Southern part of Nigeria.  We were ten in the family – my parents and eight children and I learned the basics of faith from this family.  In many ways, my mom was both mother and administrator of the home – my dad was a teacher and my mum was a housewife.  She was always present at home – getting us ready for Mass, for Catechism classes, taught us the basics of the faith and made sure we understood.  My dad was there but in a different capacity.  My parents, by both word and deed, taught us the Christian faith and how to live it.  Among other religious practices, we prayed as a family every morning and night.  My father brought each ‘reluctant child’ to the place of prayer while my mother patiently waited.  As soon as we were ready, my mother started the prayer most times, while my father concluded.  As we grew older we were also given opportunities to lead or end the prayers.  My dad was the choir master in the local parish but at home my mom led the singing.  From this, I learnt that some roles are reversible.

However, in the parish, this was not always the case.  The priest took all decisions on his own and led all the prayers and if the priest was not available, the men were in charge.  This reflected the situation in the society at that time.  However, as the political, economic and social landscapes began to change, more and more women moved out into the workforce.  In the wider society, many women compete favourably with their male counterparts for important positions both in the private and public sectors.

Today, I see many women play vital roles in the life of the Parish – beginning most importantly with giving life and nurturing that life in the ‘domestic Church’; women’s voices are beginning to be heard – sometimes because they are in the majority and sometimes because they insist to be heard.  A strong voice for women is the Catholic Women Organisation (CWO).  This organisation, started in 1965, is an umbrella body of all Catholic women in Nigeria.  Their aim is to serve as a medium through which the Catholic Women of Nigeria may speak and act as a unit for the good of our country and the world at large.  Also, the Nigeria Conference of Women Religious gives religious women a platform to address issues.

Women participate in the work of salvation, which includes missionary work, activation of less-active members by home to home visitation, involvement in Basic Christian Communities, reaching out to children, caring for the poor and the needy, assisting bereaved members in different ways as well as raising money for the Church.    In some parishes female altar servers exist but how they serve is mostly determined by the ‘boys’.  In Nigeria, many women are pastors in the Pentecostal Churches.  While not many women in the Catholic Church, might want to be priests, they would like to be involved more in decision making especially about what concerns them.  There is room for more to be done in the formation of women to take up more roles in the Church otherwise, the Church runs the risk of being seen as an old fashioned Church and more women will leave.  If the women leave, they leave with their children.  And we don’t want that.  Hence, I consider the call to reflect further on our way of being Church a timely invitation.