PRESENTATION TO SOUTH AFRICAN UNION OF CATHOLIC WOMEN’S ORGANIZATION (SAUCWO)
Theme: “I can’t breathe “Day of Prayer”
“I can’t breathe”. These words have resonated around the world after the death of George Floyd in the US, and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
When mama Fikile sent me the Theme, “I can’t Breathe” I was a little taken aback and said to myself I hope we are not going on a “band wagon” to join the voices that are already there. Reflecting on the Theme it became very clear to me that the challenge that our mothers, Sisters, aunts, you as women of different sodalities/organisations this is what you are faced with daily. Another thing that became clear was the additional of the “Day of Prayer” element to this “I can’t breathe”. It made me to think where should I start? As I reflected on this topic, I was particularly struck by last week’s readings, the first reading on Friday – Ezekiel 37, the well-known story of the valley filled with dry bones. As Ezekiel watched, the bones snapped together into full skeletons. Then they were covered with sinews, flesh and skin. But they only became alive when God breathed his breath into them. May be this is how you feel at the moment, feel like “dry bones”.
These are few scripture texts and there are many more you can find which reveals the importance of breath or breathing, if we stop breathing then we are dead, no life in us.
Genesis 2:7 says: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living person.”
Psalm104: 30 “You send forth your spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the earth” Brings Life.
Job 33: 4 “The spirit of God has made me and the breath of the almighty gives me life.”
Breath is the very substance of God. It is the substance of life. It is the Holy Spirit. In many of our languages (for instance in isiZulu) the word for breath and spirit is the same (Moya).
When breath leaves our bodies, we die. Hence the saying: “He/she breathed out her last breath”.
When the President of SAUCWO- Ms. Fikile Motsa requested me to give a word of encouragement to the Catholic women of our Conference area on your Prayer Day during this period of Covid-19; in our short conversation, we both agreed that as women you are faced with great challenges during these hard times, of stress, loneliness and isolation. I easily said yes because for me this was fitting well with the August – Women Month. I thought I could do it early at the beginning of the month, unfortunately I could not manage but we are here today celebrating the August Month together as women of faith in prayer and support of one another.
It always pains me that the month of August says very little about the beauty of being a woman. All what is talked about today is Gender Based Violence. This month has turned out to be a month of statistics of how many women have been raped? How many women have been killed? How many women have been maimed? This is unfortunate! I do believe as Catholic Women we must never lose sight of the beauty and our value of being women in society. The great contribution we play in changing lives in our society. Like those 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings in 1956 for their rights and who still continue even today to fight for the right course and they have handed over the flag/baton to us as we are gathered here today to make a change. It is unfortunate that during this month, we know many women who have lost/ will lose their lives. The bodies of women found in the sugar cane fields in Umtwalume in South Coast in KZN, a 20year old Wits Student and many others that have disappeared or are forgotten. We know many women who are struggling and going through difficult /tough situation. I believe with the important role that women play in our Church/ Society we should be celebrated 365 days, every hour, every minute , every second, not only in August.
I would request that during this session as we look at challenges that make us cry like George Floyd, “I can’t breathe” we must remember the beauty of who we are as women and the important role we play in the Church and Society in our families.
Looking back at the effects of Covid -19 during the lock down period. WE all felt like dead walking zombies, “dry bones” I referred to earlier in the reading from the Prophet Ezekiel. WE felt we were captured, in this concentration camp. For some it might have felt like they were in “gas chambers”. No one was prepared for this.
In this time of Covid – 19, your Theme “I can’t Breathe “Day of Prayer”” it is significant.Breath takes on a new significance. We all have to wear face masks. Hence many of us feel that we cannot breathe properly. One of the first symptoms of Covid – 19 is shortness of breath.
The same applies to social distancing. In Romans 12 verse 5 says; “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” But in the time of Covid – 19 we are forced to maintain social distance from each other, and in fact to have personal contact as seldom as possible, only when necessary.
Because of Covid – 19 all visible signs of our unity as one body in Christ have been obliterated, and we even feel cut off from the very source of life, and the presence of God – our breath.
It seems as if God has abandoned us. Our Churches are closed. Our physical unity is no more. Our breath has been cut off. As a consequence, we see evil flourishing. We read daily reports of a resurgence of gender based violence, and violence against women and children. We read of suicide rates skyrocketing. In Australia there have been more reported deaths from suicides committed during lockdown than from Covid – 19 itself. We read of an exponential increase in mental health problems, because of lockdown and social isolation. We can well ask if God has abandoned us.
As women of faith we know well that God has not abandoned us. It is humanity that has abandoned God. Our world is ruled by greed and materialism. On a global scale, the rich are getting richer while the poor are being oppressed more and more. We have destroyed God’s creation – the very matrix that sustains us and within which we live. Even the Holy Father has said that the increase in diseases and the emergence of new pandemics cannot be separated from the destruction and poisoning of our global environment.
But we remain people of hope. I believe that this prayer day has been organised as a response to our faith and hope that God will never leave us alone.
Effects of Covid-19 – I can’t breathe
“I can’t breathe” as for the first time some of you had 24 hour supervision of your kids, was not easy at all. At the same time it was good that you could be with your kids.
“I can’t breathe” as for 24 hours having your husband around the house. At times you did not know what to do with him. But at the same time it was good may be after many years that you could bond with your husband
“I can’t breathe” as there was a feeling of isolation experienced during this time. The loneliness we all experienced during this time.
The isolation from our loved ones. Many of us have been infected and affected by Covid-19 as we are mourning the loss of the loved ones, that we could not even bury and give them a fitting funeral.
“I can’t breathe” because of the loss of my job and loss of income.
“I can’t breathe” as my salary is cut
“I can’t breathe” as Churches are closed and no Holy Mass for the last five months.
“I can’t breathe” as there is corruption around. Women involved in the PPEs procurement scandal, what a shame indeed.
“I can’t breathe” as I am not sure whether my child is safe to go back to school. Today when many children have gone back to school. Is my child going to come back safe?
“I can’t breathe” with the injustices around me. Corruption that we are faced with today in our Country. If the government would channel the resource that have been provided to the right course, I would be able to breath.
“I can’t breathe” as I afraid to shout and ask for help
“I can’t breathe” because there is a sense of shame to ask for help because I think / believe that if I make noise I will be seen as a weakling. I will be called weak, not a strong woman. Umfazi uya nyamezela.
“I can’t breathe” as I would rather take the blame for the abuse that I am going through in my relationship, there is no life in me.
“I can’t breathe” as I am ashamed to talk about what is going on in the bedroom. I would rather put heavy make up on the scars that I receive in the bedroom. Today we can even associate the symptoms of Covid – 19 with the punches that I receive in my bedroom, because I feel ashamed to talk about what really eats me up.
“I can’t breathe “as our law enforcement do not help at all. We avoid going to report the abuse, we would rather keep quite. I am avoiding the kind of questions that I will be asked, embarrassing questions.
“I can’t breathe” as I am afraid to stand up for what is right. I would rather collude with the people who are doing wrong instead of coming out and telling the truth.
This “I can’t Breathe,” a day of prayer is a call to all women organizations that we unite in prayer that we become Life giving to each other. That we bridge the isolation that has been created by Covid- 19.
What is it that we can do to help one another to become life giving to each other so that we can all breath and gain life?
As women we can be open to one another. Do share your difficulties, share your inner feelings let us put shame aside.
The unfortunate thing is that, people are afraid to share, especially with the century of social media, people’s privacy has been invaded.
I would call on you as women to stop sharing things that block growth and life giving, sharing about the labels of your dress, the kind of car you drive, the money you spent for your cosmetics, this blocks other women to say “I can’t breathe”.
At times I feel the groups like women sodalities become “Competing Sites” instead of being a sanctuary where women can share freely as they know they will be helped, listened to and given a chance to breathe. I am using the word “sanctuary “purposely.
You should be in a position to create that holy, safe space where every woman can stand naked in front of each other. Tell her story so that you can become her mouthpiece.
Create a sanctuary where a fellow woman knows I am respected and taken seriously by all members.
At times we exert pressure on one another that, “We can’t breathe” we suffocate one another. Let us be a group of women that can stand up and be the voice of our fellow women, our sisters. Women rooted in prayer.
Conclusion Luke 1: 39-56
I would like to end my sharing with the story of the Visitation, Mary visiting Elizabeth. . I like the story of the two women meeting. They were both of no social standing, both of no standard, but both became great women in their simplicity. Both are true disciples of our Lord. If they did it, why can’t we learn from them and do the same to one another. They became a support to one another. I just picture the scene where Mary was told she was going to be the Mother of Jesus. I am sure she could not breathe. You can imagine the gossips in the village when people saw she was pregnant. The look of those eyes. What did Mary do? She knew there was somebody who would not judge her. She needed a “sanctuary” as safe space where she could open up and tell her story, share what was going on in her life. The joy of the meeting of the two pregnant women, pregnant with Good news, news of joy. In our visit, but please don’t put me to trouble during this Covid restrictions that you go around visiting. Find means and ways as to how to bring joy to one another. Technology has availed opportunities that can assist us to avoid loneliness. Bring good news to your fellow women. I believe that Mary did not go to Elizabeth merely to sing her Magnificat. She went there to wash the napkins of little John and help the mother in the house. This is a CALL as we pray that we help us to breathe. If after this prayer session people go home the same we shall have to ask ourselves what have we been doing during time to help those who can’t breathe to go home being able to breathe.
By Sr Hermenegild Makoro CPS
SACBC Secretary General
24TH AUGUST 2020