Guest Column: Fr Oskar Wermter sj
IN ancient Israel, men were known to have total control over their women; just like in Saudi Arabia today where women fight for the privilege of driving cars.
What chance would a woman have to be a leader; even a saviour of such an oppressed minority?
Among the Jews captured in Jerusalem to be slaves in Babylon, there was a beautiful young woman called Esther.
The King of Babylon made her his wife, since her beauty matched his power, wealth and splendour.
Haman, one of the great nobles of the Babylonian empire, wanted to see the Jews wiped out in a brutal genocide.
But Queen Esther, though regarded a weak woman, took up the fight for the lives of her people.
Her caring love for their suffering gave her strength. She stood before her Lord and prayed as a daughter of God: “My Lord, our King, the only one, come to my help, for I am alone, and have no helper but you.” (Esther 4: 3).
In fact, the King of Babylon would not massacre the Jewish people, the people of his great love, Esther. Haman was put to death.
Israel rejoiced. Esther’s great trust in the God of Israel, indeed the God of the universe, had not been in vain.
Many men believe that our God, who is also called our Father, will only listen to men who are created in his image, not to women.
But women often enough do God’s work. Women invented nursing and practiced it, until today.
They did not go to war, but they bound up soldiers’ wounds and, put back on their feet, enabled them to go back to their families.
There was an American woman called Dorothy Day who had a more radical solution to the problem of war.
Her country was proud of its military strength and fought many wars.
But Dorothy had a conscience that would not allow her to fight in armed conflicts or give her support to soldier friends.
She told them that her conscience made her say “no” to violence and bloodshed, genocides and politics by means of lethal weapons.
She was an American patriot, but could not continue the tradition of American cowboys and their obsession with guns, which caused the mass slaughter of the indigenous Indian population and then later black migrants from Africa.
As a woman, she had no position of leadership in the church, but churchmen could not ignore her voice.
As a journalist, she knew how to demonstrate her convictions in public.
When all the bishops of the church met in Rome (1962 -65), Dorothy and some like-minded women friends sat on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, lobbying the Bishops for a radical stance on peace and demanding that all warfare be banned.
Esther saved the people of Israel from their foes. Dorothy made “conscientious objection” to “bearing arms” a necessary option for disciples of the nonviolent Jesus.
Many times she went to prison for her conviction — one woman alone, leading an alliance of her sisters, made her mark on that militarist country.
Who does not know Mother Theresa? First she was a teacher in a convent school.
There were no beggars in that school for well-to-do girls. But Theresa could not ignore the big crowds of beggars and starving people on the streets of Calcutta.
Theresa was not a political nun. But she taught political leaders a lesson, not so much by long speeches, but by her obvious love for neglected babies and old and homeless people.
She painted a picture of India, its poverty and wealth. She did not scorn the rich, but loved the poor.
She made a statement that was heard round the globe. She and her companions spoke for the voiceless.
Let me conclude by telling you about a friend here in Zimbabwe, Elizabeth Tarira (1951-2012).
She lived and worked in a rural mission hospital, extended it and added a school for the training of nurses.
Apart from her medical degree as a doctor, she had a diploma in public health for her work with government. Surrounded by very sick rural women, she finally became very ill herself.
She fought cancer for ten years. “Not one of my patients has the expensive drugs I am using,” she told us.
She decided to spend her last days as close to her beloved patients as possible.
She was laid to rest next to her hospital. She will not be forgotten. Her message will last. Will we listen to her and take care of her dying friends?
Love is beautiful. In that sense Elizabeth was a ravishing beauty.
Fr Oskar Wermter sj is a social commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.