Pope Francis recently spoke on the vocation and mission of Catholic women, describing the important role they can play within the church and society. The pope was speaking to participants of a study seminar arranged by the Women’s Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity on the 25th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic letter, “Mulieris Dignitatem.” This letter was the first in papal teaching devoted entirely to the theme of women in the church. It was in this letter that John Paul first called women to become an active and present feature of the Church community.
Reflecting on this letter, Francis stated that the role of women is valuable to him and how he wants to focus more on this issue, speaking with women and hearing their voices and concerns. He went on to say how he believes the Church itself to really be a “woman” or “mother.”
The pope explains this by focusing on the important and unique role God has provided for women to play in the church; that is, entrusting the human being to the care of women. It is the woman who carries God’s creation, children, within her womb and who brings these children into life. It is also women who care for these children as well as all of us, leading us back to God and continuing the source of life. That is what provides the woman with a very special place in the church and allows her to have crucial role for building community and offering service. It also allows women to command respect and truly perform acts of service, rather than servitude.
The pope goes on to mention how this also allows women to have a special relationship with God, recognizing the love, mercy and tenderness God has for us, his children. What the pope is mentioning here is that it is the women who truly lead us to God and help us to recognize God’s grace in our daily lives. Through the care and compassion shown toward us, but also by their examples of guidance and service, they help us realize our true purpose in life, which is giving ourselves to build up the Kingdom of God and make Christ ever more present in our world.
These comments do reflect earlier statements made by Francis, expressing his overall view that women should become more involved and play a more active role in the Church. At the same time, however, Francis has been fierce in his opinion that women should never be ordained to ministry. He remains steadfast just as his predecessors did in stating how the special role of a priest should continue to be reserved for men.
Francis even recently excommunicated Australian priest Greg Reynolds, who was advocating for women to become ordained as well as advocating same -sex marriage. This example shows that Francis is not really changing anything within church teaching or doctrine, but that he just wants to bring important issues to the spotlight and discuss them more, including the issue of women in the Church.
Francis has also stated that women should take on important positions and should open their doors to God’s grace, which will guide them toward fulfilling and completing the will of God.
Along with their roles as mothers and givers of life, there are a number of ways women can serve. These include visiting the sick and imprisoned, offering care and nurturing for the poor and downtrodden, and acting as missionaries to go out and proclaim the good news of the Lord. Francis also addressed ways in which women in positions of authority, including elected representatives, can use their will to fight for causes grounded in faith and loyal to church teaching.
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