German Catholic women are pushing for the inclusion in the Church’s calendar of saints of a forgotten New Testament female apostle.
– Junia, “prominent among the apostles” according to St. Paul but airbrushed from later Church tradition
Two weeks out from the Church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day November 1, the Catholic Women’s Association of Germany (kfd) – the largest Catholic women’s organisation in the country, bringing together nearly half-a-million members in 4,000 parishes nationwide – called on the German Bishops’ Conference to lobby for a Catholic commemoration for the apostle Junia.
In his letter to the Romans (16:7), St. Paul recognised Junia as a steadfast Christian witness persecuted and imprisoned with him and who was moreover “prominent among the apostles” and “in Christ before I was”.
But despite that New Testament testimony, Junia suffered the indignity in subsequent biblical translations and interpretations of having her name transformed into that of a man – “Junias” – and of being invisibilised in Church tradition.
Only in recent years has her name begun to reappear in some, but not all, modern Bible translations.
– “Even today Junia encourages many women to take their vocation seriously”
Not content with her still modest showing in modern Bibles, the women of the kfd are seeking to go even further with the official recognition of Junia’s Christian example, and are pushing to have her feast day included among official Catholic celebrations.
Despite her mention in Paul’s epistle, Junia is not to be found on any of the Catholic Church’s different regional calendars of saints.
“One reason is certainly that for many centuries it was assumed that Junia was a male apostle, and so far no believers have been found who venerate Junia and who have advocated for her inclusion”, lamented kfd national chairwoman Mechthild Heil in a press release.
To do justice to the great female saint, the kfd proposed that Junia’s memorial could be fixed as a first step on the calendar of the Church in Germany, or on that of the wider German-speaking area.
The kfd proposed that Junia’s Catholic feast day could take place on May 17, on the day the saint is remembered in some Orthodox Churches.
Were the Catholic and Orthodox feast days for Junia to coincide, “that would also be a unifying and valuable sign in the ecumenical dialogue of the Churches”, observed Heil.
But regardless of when, the important thing is that Junia is celebrated by Catholics, continued Heil, since the saint “even today… encourages many women to take their vocation seriously”.
Proof that the figure of Junia continues to inspire Catholic women in Germany is the fact that in September this year the kfd changed the name of its magazine for the first time in 103 years – from Frau und Mutter (“Woman and Mother”) to Junia.
Further evidence of the motivation Catholic women are finding in the person of Junia came this last May 17, when under the auspices of the kfd 12 Catholic women gave sermons in 12 Eucharistic celebrations around Germany in the first-ever ‘Women Preachers’ Day’.
Junia was specifically chosen as the figurehead for that Women Preachers’ Day. “to bring this apostle forward as an important witness to our demands for a gender-equitable Church”, explained at the time kfd member and homilist Ulrike Göken-Huismann.
“If there were men and women in the early Church who were allowed to be apostolically active, why is this no longer the case today?”, Göken-Huismann asked.
The laywoman continued, appealing to the example of Junia:
“Why does the Catholic Church not see itself in a position to admit women to all services and offices, when it was obviously so in the early Church?”