by Alicia Robey, VLM and Aidan Rooney, CM
The other day, four of the missionaries went out for a walk on a characteristically beautiful afternoon in Jimma. Three young boys met them on the road and volunteered to be their guides. Together they trekked up a nearby hill, climbed rocks, and attempted to speak in each others’ languages, frolicked through the mud, and looked out in awe of the beautiful landscape. Ethiopia is breathtaking.
With mouths full of laughter, hearts full of joy, and clothes full of mud they began the journey back home. Suddenly, gasps and screams arose from the road ahead. A few yards away, a man was mercilessly beating a young woman. He wrestled free of his grasp and began running towards the VLM group, whose laughter and joy disappeared – replaced with fear and shock. The young woman briefly ducked behind one of the missionaries, but the man was relentless in his assault. He continued to pound her with his fists, and then, as she cowered on the ground, he delivered hard kicks and then bolted down the street.
The final kicks knocked her unconscious, and as her limp body collapsed to the ground her body lay straight, her face to the sky, her arms outstretched.
A crowd had gathered. Some were tearful and clung to each other. Many rushed to the woman’s side to aid her. Others began frantically talking and sending people in different directions — perhaps to fetch water or summon help. A few of the women carried her to the roadside and laid her in the soft grass. And everyone waited.
The missionaries returned home in silence, shaking and tearful, and recounted the event. Our hosts assured us that the man must have been “mad,” but still, we couldn’t shake the images from our minds. We prayed that night for the woman and fro women everywhere. Soon after, Jenna – one of the missionaries — led us in reflection on meeting the Crucified One. Never was “seeing Christ in the poor” so real for any of us. But there She was.
It’s hard not to notice the subservient place of women in Ethiopian society. Although the Church here has specific goals for “women’s promotion,” it all occurs within the framework of a society and a Church that still values boys over girls, men over women, adults over children, sleek over halt. Mass consists of men and boys having access to the “holy of holies,” and women and girls relegated at best to the choir and the pews. Men can leave their wives with relative impunity, keep one girl-child as a servant and start a new family. She is only twelve, and she is nailed to a cross of near chattel slavery. Education helps, but often She is denied that. Our respective societies seem different on the surface, but we share the same ugliness of the continuing devaluation and abuse of women. She is crucified in our country, too. Physical abuse is not foreign to our “developed” shores. She is crucified when we call Her “human” and we treat Her as a toy. She is crucified when we claim she hs achieved “equality” and pay Her less. She is crucified when we recognize Her “dignity” and ban Her from the altar. The nails are many, driven deeply.
She is the Christ: beaten, abused, exploited, forgotten, belittled, undervalued. We are her brothers and sisters. God, forgive us. We continue to live in the world we have fashioned and re-fashioned, in systems we have chosen and continue to choose. God, forgive us. Until the day of Her rising, give us the strength of active compassion. Give us the courage to remove what nails we can, and to wrest the hammer from the hand that wields it. It is too little to simply bear witness. Miserere nobis, miserere nobis.