Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ February Prayer Intention for women who are victims of violence.
February brings several important considerations. Of course, there is Groundhog Day. On the other end of the spectrum we celebrate the Presentation of Jesus and we will begin our Lenten Journey. It is Black History Month which should call us to revisit the pastoral letter on racism, Open Wide Our Hearts. Despite all of these special days and times, our shops and stores proclaim one thing only and that is Valentine’s Day. This is considered a celebration or romantic love. It is a time for roses and chocolates and tender messages in greeting cards. Commonly, husbands and wives, engaged couples and men and women who are dating go out for dinner, all as signs of their love and devotion to each other. Yet, our Holy Father asks us to pray specially this month for those women who cannot celebrate a loving relationship. He calls us to …pray for women who are victims of violence, that they may be protected by society and have their sufferings considered and heeded.
Bishops’ Letter on Racism
To begin, let’s take a quick look at the Bishops’ letter on racism. Therein we read, “This is the original meaning of justice, where we are in right relationship with God, with one another, and with the rest of God’s creation…Whether recognized or not, the history of the injustices done to so many, because of their race, flows from the “lust to dominate” the other.” For our purposes here, we can change the word “race” to “sex”. This is at the root of the problem of violence to one another and particularly to women. There is a failure to live in relationship and this is a drive to dominate. Clearly this is a topic worthy of consideration.
First, we need to understand the facts about women who are victims of violence in our country. So here are some statistics.
- 1 in 3 women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing).
- 1 in 4 women have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner.
- 1 in 7 women have been stalked by an intimate partner to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
- On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
- Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
- 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female.
- Victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of 8.0 million days of paid work each year.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
This data surely saddens the heart of God and paints a clear picture of sinfulness alive and strong in our society. We also need to keep in mind that these heartbreaking statistics only show us the reality of our own country. Expand this set of calculations to the women of the world and we have much to mourn and pray about.
If the statistics opened and sensitized your mind to this issue, then perhaps the drawing below can help to open your heart to the suffering we are to recognize and bring to prayer.
This drawing by Marcin Bondarowicz, a Polish artist, was created for the International Cities of Refuge Network. A close look reveals that the face of the young woman is neither brown, nor black, nor white. The eyes could be Asian, Middle-Eastern or Native American. Unlike much art that speaks to women as victims of violence, this piece does not depict wounds or bruises. It only shows eyes perhaps reddened by tears—eyes that observe us from a place of pain, fear and loneliness. The many hands nearly covering her face could be those of men or women, they could be hands of any race. The function of the hands appears to be to cover, to hide, to stifle the woman’s expressions, words, ideas or even life breath. This is a stark rendition of the reality faced by those women described in the statistics we have considered. Let her face, her eyes be in our prayers. Whether we know victimized women personally or not, let this universal face of women remain before us this month as we answer the call to prayer for her healing, her rescue, her justice.