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By Petra Alexander

Saint Teresa of Avila was the first woman to receive a cap and gown from the Catholic Church.  Up until September 27, 1970 only men whose teachings had enriched the catholic faith were considered “fathers” or doctors of the church, that day Pope Paul VI was heard saying: “We declare Saint Teresa of Avila a Doctor of the Universal Church.” In the last 50 years her life and teachings have been found to be exemplary. What was considered to be her most valuable contribution? It was her life, genuine, rich in human and feminine nuance, striving to truly follow Christ. Her love for the Church, the passion with which she reformed her order. Her virtue when facing all kinds of contradictions and her genuine experience of friendship with God. Teresa was a soul who prayed, but not only did she experience this personally she was able to share it, she has taught many to pray and that is why the church calls her a: “Master Teacher of Prayer.”

The title of Doctor is associated with the academy. However, Teresa never had formal education. When one thinks of women in the 16th century, most did not know how to read or write, their life consisted of taking care of their families subordinated to men. Teresa knew how to read since she was a little girl because her father taught her so that she could read to her mother who was ill, later a convalescing uncle asked her to read to him and to play chess with him. This is how she came into contact with silence, reflection and spiritual ideas. Certain readings marked her life, like Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome and praying the Liturgy of the Hours gave her knowledge of the Word of God. She was a lover of good preachers, and she sought spiritual direction from the “well educated.” When the Inquisition came all of her books were taken away and she heard the Lord say “I will be your Living Book” And so it was. She stayed in constant communication with that “Living Book” (Life 26,5) and from that well sprung forth her counsels for her sisters, her reflections, prayers, poems and letters.

The V Encuentro has shown to us the need for pastoral work directed to Latina women. The Memories and Conclusions in the ministerial area section 17, page 123 indicates that latin women be they immigrants or daughters of immigrants have a deep desire and aspiration to grow and better themselves. The number of Latinas who are educated continues to grow while at the same time we realize that there is a crisis in the feminist identity of latina women. We are far from offering the pastoral accompaniment the Hispanic women need in the church and from forming more Hispanic women theologically and pastorally to serve in the Church. A great work is ahead to offer a process through which Latina women can meet and know that the church needs their gifts, particularly those of reconciliation and healing that they know how to give.

What a great example we have in this woman, in times of crisis and hardship. Saint Teresa meditated on the encounters of Jesus with various women in the gospel and she encouraged other women to do the same. Before a human Jesus she always took the place of the woman who was hunchbacked, of the Samaritan woman, of the sinner who anointed his feet, Martha and Mary…and she spoke to Him of how she felt: “It is enough to be a woman that my wings might fall, even more so if she is wretched and unable like myself… (Life 8,7) “And I said to God: What could I do, a woman with many weaknesses and tied down from all parts (Life 33,1). I can see clearly Lord that you never despised women, instead you always favored them and had much compassion towards them Way of Perfection 3,7). This closeness to Christ confirmed for her her place in the transformation of the Church: “I was determined to do the little I could (Way of Perfection 1,2) “since we cannot preach; let us preach with works, (Way of Perfection 11,3). Everyone saw in Teresa a woman brave and strong, who apologizing for her little education, used her pen to advocate for change, to direct herself towards the authorities of the Church and even the king of Spain. The nuncio Felipe Sega called her: “A restless and wandering woman” words that her enemies used to criticize her and incite doubts over her feminism, and that others used to understand her as a model of a woman who searched and an example of transformation. The courage of Teresa should encourage us Hispanic women in these vital moments both for the life of the family and of society. Let us take by the hand the wanderer of God, who ended her life saying “It is time to walk, I die a Daughter of the Church.”