The attack on Sister Mary John Mananzan, a nun, a human rights activist and a woman leader, is an attack on all of us, all who defend human rights and serve the people. This statement is in solidarity and in defense of our sister, democracy, and just peace, by the ecumenical community who have witnessed the service and life of Sister Mary John, a woman worthy — not of vilification, but of honor and emulation. It has been our delight to fellowship, learn, dance and protest with her.
Sister Mary John Mananzan often tells the story of how she stood with laborers and union members in a picket line to protest against unjust labor practices and wages. At the gates of the liquor company, she recounts that a police team was sent to negotiate and disperse the protesters. One of the officers, seeing her habit and veil, confronted her and asked, ‘Why are you here, Sister? Should you not be praying for the souls of these workers inside the convent instead of joining protests?’ She replied, ‘Do you see any souls around here? I can only see bodies! We cannot be praying for spirits and souls in church, when bodies are suffering outside of the church.’ While this anecdote elicits laughter from different audiences, it exhibits the depth of her spirituality, the strength of her prophetic voice, and the breadth of her love for the Filipino masses.
Mary John Manazan is a highly respected feminist icon, from ecumenical circles to grassroots and people’s movements, to academicians and scholars who struggle for empowerment and liberation. While she has lived most of her life as a nun serving God by serving the poor, she has never romanticized or justified their suffering and instead stands in solidarity with them by magnifying their calls and protesting alongside them in the streets. While she is part of the Roman Catholic Church, which still has an all-male priesthood, she has radicalized the biblical interpretations of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and other biblical women, and deconstructed patriarchal ideologies, particularly in the Church, to lift up the cries of women and empower them. While she has occupied positions of privilege and leadership as a feminism and spirituality scholar, a prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters, and the former president of St. Scholastica’s College, she has been unwavering in her advocacy for the poorest of the poor, indigenous peoples, and the laborers, among others. Ultimately, she is an embodiment of an empowered woman who is committed to the liberation and salvation — both earthly and eternally — of all, not unlike the Christ she follows who though he was Divine became fully human and came to this earth in the greatest act of love and solidarity with humanity.
A few days ago, Mary John Mananzan’s acts of love and solidarity for the poor have been labelled as the actions of a terrorist by an official of the Philippine Government. In past incidences, such red-tagging was followed by human rights violations and killings. Thus, we condemn this labeling as an attack on one of the prophets of our time. Mary John has been unwavering in her commitment to justice and peace, which are concrete expressions of love. Her life and work have never caused terror, but have only inspired faith, nationalism, and a critical consciousness among the people. In this time of great vulnerability, we stand with her and the Filipino people in our common pursuit for peace with justice.
May the God of life and liberation sustain us as we continue to work, so that it may be ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’
Daniel Franklin Pilario, CM, Dean, St. Vincent School of Theology, Adamson University, Manila
Rev. Dr. Lizette Pearl Tapia-Raquel, Union Theological Seminary, Philippines
Dr. Liza B. Lamis, Executive Secretary, International Committee for the Fellowship of the Least Coin, Philippines
Dr. Gloria Mapangdol, President and Dean, St. Andrews Theological Seminary Episcopal Church in the Philippines, Philippines
Dr. Connie Semy Mella, Academic Dean, Union Theological Seminary, Philippines
Dr. Jeaneth H. Faller, Dean of the Divinity School, Silliman University, Philippines
Dr. Ruben C. Mendoza, Chair, Department of Theology and President DaKaTeo, Ateneo de Manila University
Dr. Annelle G. Sabanal, Research Director/Asst. Professor, Asian Theological Seminary, Philippines
Dr. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Krister Stendahl Professor, Harvard University Divinity School, USA
Dr. Kwok Pui lan, Professor, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, U.S.A.
Dr. Hisako Kinukawa, Biblical Scholar and Professor, Tokyo, Japan
Dr. Sharon A. Bong, Associate Professor in Gender Studies, School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University, Malaysia
Dr. Kathryn Poethig, Professor, Global Studies, California State University Monterey Bay, USA
Dr. Mary E. Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER), Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Prof. Tara Hyun Kyung Chung, Interfaith Engagement and Ecumenical Theology, Union Theological Seminary, New York, USA
Prof.Judith Plaskow, Professor Emerita of Religious Studies, Manhattan College, USA
Aruna Gnanadason, Former Staff of the World Council of Churches, Church of India, India
Hon. Rev. Lois M. Wilson, First Woman Moderator, Retired Member of the Senate (Canada), , The United Church of Canada, Canada
As of 2 p.m. of June 29, 2020, more than 140 other theologians and scholars have signed, according to One Faith. One Nation. One Voice, which sent this statement to journalists and bloggers. Sr. Mary John Mananzan’s photo is from Arkibong Bayan.