1. Main
  2. Learn
  3. Life
  4. Religion

Latin America's first women priests challenge Church

Latin America's first women priests challenge Church Latin America's first women priests challenge Church

 Olga Lucia Alvarez, a Colombian septuagenarian, says it is her vocation to be a Catholic priest, and she is not going to let gender or excommunication stop her from preaching the gospel, AFP reports.

Alvarez is the first Latin American to be ordained by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP), a US-based group dedicated to challenging the Church's policy against ordaining women.

Since she was ordained in Sarasota, Florida, in 2010 -- prompting her automatic excommunication by the Vatican, which holds that such ceremonies violate Church doctrine -- three other Colombian women have joined her, subverting traditional religious values in Latin America, the world's most Catholic region.

"They say only they are the representatives of Christ? There's no basis for that. We have all been created in the image of God. We are all equal," said Alvarez, 73.

"It's not about power. It's about service."

Dressed in a white cleric's robe with a purple stole, she celebrated mass on a recent Sunday at a house in the eastern hills of Bogota for about a dozen men and women.

Alvarez, a bespectacled woman with short brown hair that belies her age, grew up in the city of Medellin, where in 1968 Latin America's bishops held a historic conference seeking to transform the Church in the spirit of the Vatican II reforms.

Nearly five decades later, she says the Church has not gone nearly far enough with reforms.

"I respect the Eucharistic prayer. The rest has to sprout forth from the community," she told AFP.

She leads her congregation through Bible readings and traditional hymns, following the same script as Catholic churches worldwide.

But she does not deliver a sermon. Instead, Alvarez stands among her congregation in a circle instead of before them, and she takes communion last, not first.

The group prays in unison to what they refer to as the "all-powerful father and mother."

After mass, Ramiro Franco, a 43-year-old electrical engineer, said he considers Alvarez his spiritual guide.

"She officiated at my wedding, she baptized my youngest son, she celebrated the oldest one's first communion. I trust her completely," he said.

Franco urged the Vatican to be "more open-minded" on the issue of women in the priesthood.

"I don't see any reason why a woman can't be a priest, a bishop or the pope," he said.

    Automatic excommunication 

 To the Vatican, however, the teachings of Jesus reserve the priesthood for men, and anyone giving the sacrament without the Church's blessing is automatically excommunicated.

"Groups like this aren't part of the Church," said Father Juan Alvaro Zapata, director of the Department of Ordained Ministries at the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, a country where three fourths of the population is Catholic.

"It's not as if women have to become priests to serve the lord. There are other ways to collaborate in building the kingdom in heaven."

Even Pope Francis, whose calls for change in the Church have won him the support of the Colombian women priests, has rejected any reconsideration of Vatican policy on ordaining women.

That has not stopped the ARCWP, whose first seven priests were ordained by a male bishop on the banks of the Danube River in 2002 and which now counts 210 female priests in 10 countries across Europe and the Americas.

The only in Latin America, however, are Alvarez and the three fellow Colombians who followed in her footsteps: Aida Soto, ordained in 2011, and Judith Bautista and Marina Sanchez, both ordained last year.

To Bautista, the movement is broader than just the issue of women clerics.

"I believe the spirit is called to a renewal, not only on women in the priesthood, but on inclusiveness in the Church," she told AFP.

Nobel prizewinner proposes a new city in KZ
New abnormal snowfalls expected in Kazakhstan
Huge glacier retreat triggered in 1940s
Hyperloop construction begins in Las Vegas
"Moonlight" to top Spirit Awards nominations
Oil prices fall due to investors uncertainty
New dwarf galaxy discovered around Milky Way
Kanat Islam becomes a top ten WBO boxer
World oil prices continue to rise
Kazakhstan expects warming - Kazhydromet
Merkel to seek fourth term as chancellor
Sale of Tintin drawings set to break records
US, EU stocks fall as markets focus on dollar
Pacific leaders urged to defend free trade
EU warns eight nations on budget deficit
Universiade-2017: Athletic Village is ready
Bob Dylan can't make Nobel ceremony
Messi will never leave Barca - club president
Google, Facebook take aim at 'fake' news
Aerosmith announces Europe 'farewell' tour
Putin, Trump to normalise US-Russia ties
At least 10 hurt in southern Turkey blast
6.2 quake hits western Japan
OPEC agrees shock oil output cut
Israeli ex-president and Nobel laureate Peres dies
Germany blocks WhatsApp data transfers to Facebook
32,000 arrested in Turkey coup probe
Youth to the fore as Milan fashion week opens
Xenophobia threatening peace in eastern Germany
Four-in-10 Japanese are virgins: poll
Sweden re-militarises Baltic island of Gotland
China to launch second space laboratory: Xinhua
More than a billion stars mapped in Milky Way: ESA
Boxing: Golovkin eyes Saunders after stopping Brook
Kazakhstan shifts PM to security chief
Oil prices gain despite rising OPEC supply forecast
US to give Philippines military planes
Singapore wages war on Zika-bearing mosquitoes
Italy quake death toll nears 250
Viral photos add fuel to French burkini debate
18 dead as Italy struck by powerful quake
Japan's first lady visits Pearl Harbor
Pokemon's a no-go on Bangkok's roads
July was Earth's hottest month in modern times
Pakistan rock climbers scale new heights