The first Asian woman presided at the at the 16th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Monday, October 16, for the first time in the history of the Church, said the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, Pablo Virgilio David, in his social media post.
David said the first woman-Synod president who presided on Oct. 14. was Sr. Maria de los Dolores Valencia Gomez, the Superior General of the Congregation of St. Joseph of Lyon.
This means the women will sit next to Pope Francis in the presidential round table at the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican to facilitate the whole day’s work, in the company of the Synod General Secretary, Cardinal Mario Grech, and Synod Relator General, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, said David, who is also bishop of the Diocese of Kalookan.
Naming the petite Japanese lady with smiling eyes to be Momoko Nishimura, consecrated to the missionary community of the Servants of the Gospel of God’s Mercy (SEMD), David said she is a native of Yokohama in Japan, David said they had lunch on Sunday at the Collegio Filippino in Rome.
“Momoko became a familiar face to us her fellow Asian delegates already at our Asian Continental Synod last year,” said David the 48-year-old graduate of Sophia University in Tokyo.
Momoko spent five years as a missionary in Patagonia, Argentina, and has learned to speak fluent Spanish, as well as the Argentinian habit of carrying around what the Argentinians call a “bombilla”, a cup made of metal and wood, used for brewing a caffeine-rich infused drink called “yerba mate” with hot water, said David.
The infusion is sipped through a metallic straw with a filter and even passed on for social drinking, the way Filipinos do the traditional “tagay” with tuba (coconut alcoholic drink).
“During our Synod, Momoko was surprised when she was summoned to the presidential round-table at the Paul VI hall and introduced to the Holy Father while she was carrying her ‘bombilla’ cup and her thermos of hot water,” said David.
“The Holy Father’s eyes lighted up when he saw in her hands the traditional Argentinian drink. Momoko then offered the Pope a sip of mate from her bombilla, and the Holy Father gamely obliged. (Aren’t we glad we’re already past the times of paranoia over Covid?),” said David.
“After a pleasant conversation between them in Argentinian Spanish, Pope Francis reciprocated the sip of mate by gifting Momoko with a box of dried mate leaves,” said David.
He added, “The herb comes from the “Ilex Parauaiensis” plant which is native to Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil. The sweet-smelling mate infusion produced by soaking these dried herbal leaves in hot water has gained popularity all over the world in the last few years, thanks to Pope Francis, and to non-Argentinians like Momoko.”
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