While watching a scientific documentary on the TV, a 10 years old girl asked her parents with a bewildered tone in her voice: “If above the clouds there is the space, where does God live? Where is heaven?”. As the time passed, Imola figured out that God lives amongst us and following the steps of her presbyter father decided to devote her live to the Lord by becoming a priest. Her chosen career path stroked me as a revelation given that in my short life span, I have neither met nor seen a female priest. Even though this fact might sound unearthly to those faithful members of the Protestant church, readers need to acknowledge that for most people around the globe this is a unimageable and distant achievement because most religious institutions still do not allow women to opt for leadership roles. However, this seemed not to have been and an obstacle for Imola Tokar who is currently exercising her duties as an assistant priest for the Protestant church of Săcueni.
When the heart calls
Born and raised in a Hungarian speaking community of Brasov along her younger brother, Imola fondly recounts the day when her altruist passion became her life mission. “One day our teacher entered the class and asked everyone to take out a piece of paper because there was going to be an exam. It caught us all by surprise since this class was not graded. You will write anonymously a few paragraphs explaining what do you want to become when you grow up – he said.” Once they all finished the teacher read the children’s work out loud and encourage them to guess who was its author. “When the teacher read mines, all my classmates shouted all at once: That is Imola! She wants to help people and lead them to God!”. Her praiseworthy devotion toward others lead this once teenager to procure a teaching position at her Sunday school, and even managed to cross frontiers when travelling to the United States for three weeks to participate together with other young church representatives in the cleansing and reconstruction of New Orleans1.
Even though Imola has expressed her interest to continue travelling and experiencing new cultures, her favourite pastimes have taken a back seat temporarily. Amid laughter she confessed “I really enjoy going on mountain hikes now and then with my family and friends, but my favourite hobby nowadays is to sleep! Since my daughter was born, I have not had much of it.” This family of three came into existence when Imola met her husband while studying theology at the Protestáns Teológiai Intézet in Cluj Napoca. They say that faith can move mountains but so does love, and so when her husband obtained his parish in Csokaly, Imola moved with him and found her current position at the Protestant church of Săcueni.
An evening with the Pope
Throughout the 20th century Protestantism not only they began to vest in women real responsibilities within the Church, but also allowed them to become ordained ministers on the same terms as male applicants. These practices have unfortunately not been applied to every known religious denomination and thus, over the past decades there have been an increase in every religion of the number of feminists and woman theologists who are actively engaging in efforts to achieve gender equality from a perspective of faith.
This is why I decided to ask Imola whether given the chance to meet with the head of the Catholic Church, how would she convince him that women are as valid as men to become priests? According to our interviewee, in a world primarily dominated by males, women pastors and theologians respectively are able to bring a specific feminine sensitivity to their ministry and contribute to influencing liturgies. Sometime a community “needs a women’s eye and heart because they can have an impact in other ways that a man’s heart and eye cannot. Moreover, every woman in the community; regardless of whether they are priests, carry within a motherhood instinct that prompts her to pray not just for themselves but for their family and the whole of the community. This is why I also hope that soon enough male priests are able to marry so that they can create a family, and in this way, have close to them a women’s heart.” Imola is aware that people think women are not strong enough to be a community’s leader, but she claims that there exist many examples that show how females are also capable of facing and solving challenges.
1 American city affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Andrea Sofía Sánchez Almeida