Equality in the Church - How Two Fahr Monastery Sisters Tick

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For both sisters, it will be the second Rome journey of their lives. Sister Andrea Felder (78) and Sister Fidelis Schmid (86) from the Fahr monastery will take part in a conference in Rome at the beginning of October which demands the women's right to vote in bishops' synods.

Even sisters of the Benedictine community not far from Zurich will travel to Rome in ten days. On October 3, three days before the start of the Amazon Synod, they will take part in an international meeting of women religious with leadership responsibilities. The meeting is organized by the international initiative ‘Voices of Faith’ that demands a right to vote for religious women in bishops' synods and asserts that at the two previous synods the right to vote had also been extended to non-ordained Catholics and that therefore priesthood was no longer a criterion.

Prioress of the Fahr Monastery, Irene Gassmann, will take part in a panel discussion at the meeting. Sister Andrea Felder, who has been the Prioress' deputy for seven years and entered the Fahr monastery 53 years ago, will also come on the trip. And Sister Fidelis Schmid, former Prioress, who has lived in the community in the Limmat Valley since 1957.


Reform discussions at Fahr Monastery

The position of women in the Church, the ordination of women, compulsory celibacy, the admission of "Viri probati" to the priesthood and other questions are a worldwide topic - what is the future for the Catholic Church? Sister Andrea Felder said in an interview in the so-called Abbot's Room of the convent that this was also intensively discussed in the Fahr convent.

"We talk about such things in recreation, hear what this or that churchman says about this or that subject." Furthermore, the current table reading in the monastery is dedicated to the book "Catholics and the Second Vatican Council". Thus one learns that at that time many women had made submissions to the Council, says Sister Andrea.

The nuns support the goals of the conference. "I think it is good that women have the right to vote in bishops' synods. Women sometimes have completely different views than men.

Sister Andrea Felder advocates reforms in the Church. "There must be something going on in the church." She also appreciates Prioress Irene Gassmann's commitment to women in the church. But the Benedictine also says very clearly: "I gladly take part in this conference. But I don't go to Rome to demonstrate". The voice of the 78-year-old sounds militant.

Some women demand equality in the Church in a certain way. "It is not always the way forward when women demonstrate with a mitre on their heads," she says. She says that in that way women were the only left to talk to themselves and men were left on the other side: "Rather, everything has to be done in love and justice, in exchange. Men and women should meet each other.

Sister Andrea Felder does not like the spotlight, describing herself as reserved. Also that "we at the Fahr monastery are always in the spotlight", she says, gives her some trouble. It would be better if monasteries worked together for the rights of women in the church. She admits, however, that this is difficult due to the ageing of most monasteries.

Fidelis Schmid has no trouble with the public attention that the trip to Rome brings with it. You don't have to worry about that, she's already there, says the 86 year old and smiles mischievously. In addition, the aim is not to raise the monastery's profile. "Rather, it is a matter of showing oneself as nuns: We are still alive. And we are open to change."

Religious have intensively dealt with the problems of the Church. It is important that "we too can express our opinion about what could, might and should change in the Church". The meeting organized by "Voices of Faith" offers an opportunity for this. In a different image of a monastery," she is convinced. Sister Fidelis describes the fact that women religious do not have the right to vote in bishops' synods as "a huge shortcoming". Religious brothers are allowed to vote independently of their education because they are men, and religious women are not. She is pleased that her successor, Irene Gassmann, will appear at a panel discussion in Rome and that the community will accompany her. The participation of a community would have a greater effect than if only one sister travelled to Rome. "This results in our voice collectively echoing an important message - for women religious to vote based on their experience and commitment, not just because they are women’. She repeats: "Not only because they are women." A nonsensical rule. This must be shown to all "these great men in Rome" - again and again until they see it, says Sister Fidelis.

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Beautiful churches and the Pope is a highlight for both. It is their second journey to the centre of Catholic Christianity .One would like to have it a little more conciliatory, the other knows that without tenacity on the part of the women nothing happens. Even if the two nuns tick differently when it comes to the commitment to equal rights in the church, the trip to Rome is a highlight for both. It is their second journey to the centre of Catholic Christianity.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE SISTERS JOURNEY TO ROME: https://voicesoffaith.org/fahr-monastery-sisters-1

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