Project Description

Martha Mapasure (Zimbabwe)

is a Catholic theologian and cultural anthropologist from Zimbabwe, currently doing doctoral research at KU Leuven in Belgium. Martha’s research interests are in the correlations of gender and religion, focusing particularly on religious women’s experiences in the church and in the world. Martha is a gender activist and a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.

Martha Mapasure, “I Mourn My Faith: A Single Mother’s Story” in Visions and Vocations:

Everything I was, knew and lived was Catholic. I was born and raised in a strong Catholic family and community. I was baptised and confirmed in the Catholic Church. I was educated by Catholics in Catholic schools and universities from primary level through high school and university. Eager to serve in the Church, I studied theology and after completing my degree I was fortunate to get a lecturing job at a Catholic university. I was involved in many Church activities: giving retreats, reading in Church, singing in choir, Eucharistic ministry – the ministry I loved most. I was also a secretary of the parish council and a parish youth leader. I was a member of several Catholic organisations: Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), St Vincent DePaul, and I belonged to the Society of the Legion of Mary. I was a role model and an inspiration to parishioners, especially other young people like myself. Attending Mass and going to meet with Christ in the Holy Eucharist was my daily bread. I would never have imagined a day without the Eucharist. I loved and enjoyed my work both at the university and at the parish. I was proud to be a Catholic and could never have imagined being a member of any other church. I mourn my faith.

Life was about to change for me. My Catholic pride was soon to be taken away. I got pregnant and I was not planning to get married, so my child was to be born out of wedlock. What does this mean for Catholics? I had committed a grave sin and violated the Church’s law about marriage.  Being the young devout Catholic woman I was, I wondered what I was going to do. What was I to tell my family, my parishioners,  how was I to face those young people who looked up to me, to whom was I going to turn?  Nervous and hesitant, I broke the news to my mother first. I knew she would always support me, no matter what. This time, however, I was wrong. The “sin” I had committed was too grave.  She was very disappointed and angry that I had brought shame, disgrace and embarrassment not only to the family but also to the whole Church.

She tried to persuade me to abort the pregnancy before everyone noticed, and most importantly to free our well-respected Catholic family from shame. I could not believe that my own Catholic mother was asking me to do this. “What about the Catholic law that forbids abortion?” I reminded her. “Oh that, don’t worry about that, my baby, no one has to know, it’s a better sin than having a child out of wedlock my dear, ” was her response. Better sin? I tried to figure out what that meant, if it made sense at all.

I decided to keep my pregnancy. No matter how much I begged my mother for forgiveness for my mistake, she refused to support me and constantly told me that it was not a mistake but a sin, and that I no longer deserved to be a Catholic. I lost my mother’s love, trust and support at a time when I needed her most. I began to mourn for my faith.

The Catholic Church offers the sacrament of reconciliation whereby one’s sins are forgiven by confession. I decided to make a public confession in church on a Sunday Mass. I thought this would bring forgiveness, redeeming and restoring my image, especially as a youth leader. The parish priest vehemently forbade me to do this. He encouraged me to make a private confession instead, and he began to list all the things I was to refrain from. I was to immediately stop: receiving Holy Communion, participating as a Eucharistic minister, reading during liturgy, giving retreats, being a youth leader, being the secretary of the parish council. In other words, I was stripped of everything that made me a Catholic. I could only attend Mass and nothing else. In addition, I was to stop wearing the uniform of the Society of Legion of Mary which is only supposed to be worn by decent and unmarried youths. My heart was broken. I began to feel the loss and to mourn for my faith.

I dreaded going to Mass, especially Sunday services with a huge congregation.  I knew people were gossiping about me every time I entered the church. It was horrific. I stopped attending Sunday Masses and only attended weekday Masses which are mostly attended by old people who really do not have the energy to gossip. I felt lonely, unloved and rejected in the Church where I used to find joy, hope, love and fulfilment.

A church is supposed to be a place where one feels safe, secure, loved and welcome, but my experience was the opposite of this. Everyone – my family, the priest, my fellow youth mates and the community – resented me. The whole Church turned its back on me. I became a stranger, and I felt like an outcast in my own mother Church.

I did not deserve to be treated like this, especially by the Church. I decided to leave. Today I am a member of the Anglican Church, but even though it embraced me as I was and allowed me to participate in the Church and to partake in the Eucharist, I mourned my faith. I still mourn my faith and I will always mourn my Catholic faith.

Young people face many difficulties and challenges in the Catholic Church, especially young females. There is nothing as depressing as becoming pregnant and not knowing what to do. Pregnant women need all the support of the priests, parish council and community, and mostly from the family. Yes, there are church rules and laws which have to be abided by, but as human beings we are prone to error; that does not mean we deserve to be ill-treated and judged.

The Church should be there at all times and in all situations to love and support its members. Many Catholic youths today are afraid to get pregnant, especially without the promise of marriage, but they are using contraceptives which is against the Church law. There is a need to sit down and come up with realistic and useful solutions for young people and this can only happen if the church engages and consult with the youth themselves.

As a parent, I am obliged to raise and teach my child about my faith, which is his faith, so that he grows loving, knowing and valuing his faith. I was fortunate to be raised in a strong Catholic family, and it saddens me that I have now to raise my child in a different faith, the faith that I converted to and was not raised in. It again pains me that my child has to be baptised in a Church different from the one I was baptised in. I would have wished otherwise. I would have loved my child to have had the pride and joy of being a Catholic, to share the rich experiences I have had of being Catholic.  These, however, will remain wishes; I am an Anglican now and this is the faith my child will grow in. I will only have a history to tell my child, of how I was once a strong and proud Catholic and what made me leave, mourning all the practices of my faith.