Molly in Africa

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Women Can't Be Disciples"

At Holy Thursday Mass yesterday, I was curious what I would see.

For the past (I don't know how many) years, I've only know the way we celebrate it at St. Nick's. We sang songs with lyrics like, "Do you know what I have done for you?...If I have washed your feet, so you must do as I have done for you." We all removed our shoes and stood in lines around the church to wash someone's feet and then have our feet washed by a different person. While I've always enjoyed participating in this experience, I think I've liked watching everyone else more- watching the young mother and her daughter gently washing an old man's feet and then carefully drying it in a towel; watching women and men- young or old, able bodied or disabled, sound of mind or mentally unwell, related or strangers- bending to serve one another.

Yesterday I sat in a church 50 feet from my house here in Karonga and watched as 12 men were chosen from the men's side of the church to get their feet washed by one person (one of the Brothers). I wondered (aloud to Kat) if the women would have their feet washed next or if they just wouldn't be washed. After the 12th man's feet were washed, boys jumped up and grabbed the 12 chairs from the front of the church and carried them away.

After Mass, I walked home with my friend Frank, who had been one of the 12 whose feet were washed, and he said, "I got to be a disciple today." I congratulated him and then asked why there were only men up there- no women- and he said, "Women can't be disciples." I told him we had to chat about that. The two of us sat on the veranda with Matt, Kat and Kat's mom (who is currently visiting us) and discussed his statement and why all of us (eventually including Frank) thought that statement was false.

What continues to surprise me here- specifically about gender roles but it could apply to other things too- is how often the questioning of inequality just doesn't exist. Why not include women? Why not include the ones who can't afford it (the poor)? the disabled? the students? the non-Catholics?

I think the way Kat's mom sarcastically wrapped up our conversation on Thursday fits for all of it- "Women can be disciples, we just can't get our feet washed." How many times do we include people, but not for everything? It happens here all the time, but it happens at home too.