“You’ve heard she’s going to Boston College next year?” she said, gesturing toward me, as we stood around the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard this afternoon. She was referring to my decision to start a PhD in Systematic Theology at BC in the fall.
“Yes I have heard!” said the other woman. “You’re entering the battle ground!” she exclaimed. “I’ve heard what the bishops have done to Elizabeth Johnson at Fordham.” She was referring to the recent negative statement from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops concerning the work of Prof. Johnson, one of the leading Catholic feminist theologians of our time. Although much of the theological world has dismissed the legitimacy of any and all of these claims made by the USCCB, the statement has stirred a great deal of controversy nevertheless.
“There is still hope, though!” the first woman replied. Still hope for the future of feminist theology in this church.
“Really?”said the other.
“Yes, yes, there must be! We must hope.” Hope.
Once we found our seats the event moderator introduced Dr. Kiran Martin, the founder of Asha India, an organization in Delhi committed to transforming the lives of the 1/3 of Dehli’s population living in the urban slums. Dr. Martin recounted her story: As a young medical student, she decided to visit Delhi’s urban slums; despite living in the city her whole life, she had never visited these areas in her city. There, she found herself amid a cholera outbreak and felt compelled to offer her medical services to the sick children there. Once she established regular medical services in these communities, she realized they needed housing renovations. Once those began, she realized they needed property rights. Then, she realized they needed opportunities for higher education, and so on.
What began with a single woman, offering what she could for the betterment of a community in need, has resulted in a large, holistic, and exceptionally influential NGO that works with some of the poorest of the global poor.
“Asha,” she told us, “is Hindi for ‘hope.'” She had called her life’s work, “Hope.”
If this woman, with this monumental mission, can call this work, “Hope,” then perhaps I can claim it for my small work, too. Perhaps I, too, can be one woman, merely offering what I can for the betterment of one community. Perhaps that is how hope can survive, maybe even thrive, in the day to day.