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Women are essential to the Church's mission

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 13 July 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. All of Christ's followers can and must be active members in the Church by virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, and for married couples, by virtue of the sacrament of Matrimony. Today however, I would like to stress several points regarding the role of women, who are certainly called to their own most worthy and important collaboration in the Church's mission.

As do all the faithful, they share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ. They express specific aspects which correspond and are suited to the feminine personality. Precisely for this reason they receive charisms that open concrete ways for their mission.

2. I cannot repeat here all that I wrote in the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (August 15, 1988) and in the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (December 30, 1988) on the dignity of woman and the anthropological and theological foundations of the feminine state. There I spoke of her sharing in the life of human and Christian society and in the Church's mission with regard to the family, culture, the various states of life, the various areas of human activity, the various experiences of joy and sorrow, health and illness, and success and failure, which are part of everyone's life.

According to the principle enunciated by the 1987 Synod and taken up in Christifideles Laici: "Without discrimination women should be participants in the life of the Church, and also in consultation and the decision-making process" (n. 51). Consequently, women have the possibility of participating in various diocesan and parish pastoral councils, as well as in diocesan synods and particular councils. According to the Synod's proposition, women "ought to be associated in the preparation of pastoral and missionary documents and ought to be recognized as co-workers in the mission of the Church in the family, in professional life and in the civil community" (CL 51). These are all areas where the involvement of qualified women can make a great contribution of wisdom and moderation, courage and dedication, and spirituality and fervour, for the good of the Church and society.

3. The whole ecclesial involvement of women can and should reflect the light of Gospel revelation, according to which a woman, as the representative of the human race, was called to give her consent to the Incarnation of the Word. The account of the annunciation suggests this truth when it tells us that only after the fiat mihi of Mary, who consented to be the mother of the Messiah, did "the angel depart from her" (Lk 1:38). The angel had completed his mission; he could bring to God humanity's "yes," spoken by Mary of Nazareth.

By following the example of Mary, whom Elizabeth shortly afterward called blessed for her having believed (cf. Lk 1:45), and recalling that Jesus also requested a profession of faith from Martha before he raised Lazarus (cf. Jn 11:26), the Christian woman will feel called in a unique way to profess and give witness to the faith. The Church needs resolute, consistent and faithful witnesses, who, in the face of the widespread doubts and disbelief on many levels in society today, will show in word and deed their commitment to the ever living Christ.

We cannot forget that, according to the Gospel account, on the day of Jesus' resurrection, the women first gave witness to this truth. They encountered doubt and perhaps a certain skepticism on the part of the disciples, who did not want to believe but in the end shared the women's faith. That moment too revealed the more intuitive nature of woman's mind, which makes her more open to revealed truth, more able to grasp the meaning of events and to accept the Gospel message. Down the centuries there have been countless proofs of this ability and this readiness.

4. Women have a very particular approach to handing on the faith and thus Jesus himself summoned them to evangelize. This happened with the Samaritan woman, whom Jesus met at Jacob's well and chose for the first expansion of the new faith into non-Jewish territory. The evangelist notes that, after personally expressing her faith in Christ, the Samaritan woman hastened to share it with others, enthusiastically but also with that sincerity which encourages the assent of faith: "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" (Jn 4:29). The Samaritan woman limited herself to asking a question and to drawing her fellow townsfolk to Jesus by the sincere humility that accompanied her account of the wondrous discovery she had made.

In her behavior we can glimpse the characteristic features of the feminine apostolate in our times too: humble initiative, respect for individuals without seeking to impose a way of seeing things, the invitation to repeat the same experience as a way of reaching the same personal conviction of faith.

5. It should be pointed out that in the family women have the opportunity and the responsibility to transmit the faith in the early training of their children. They are especially responsible for the joyful task of leading them to discover the supernatural world. The deep communion uniting her with them allows her to guide them effectively to Christ.

Nevertheless, for woman this task of handing on the faith is not meant to be carried out only in the family, but as we read in Christifideles Laici, "also in the various educational environments and, in broader terms, in all that concerns embracing the Word of God, its understanding and its communication, as well as its study, research and theological teaching" (n. 51). These are all indications of the role women have in the field of catechesis, which today has spread into broad and diverse areas, some of which were unthinkable in times past.

6. Woman has an understanding, sensitive and compassionate heart that allows her to give a delicate, concrete style to charity. We know that in the Church there have always been many women--religious and lay, mothers of families and single--who have been dedicated to relieving human suffering. They have written a marvelous record of attention to the needs of the poor, the sick, the infirm, the disabled and all those who in the past and often today as well have been abandoned or rejected by society. How many names spring from the heart to the lips when just a simple mention is made of those heroic figures of a charity exercised with utterly feminine tact and skill, both in families and institutes, in cases of physical illness and toward people suffering moral anguish, oppression or exploitation. None of this escapes the divine sight. The Church too bears in her heart the names and exemplary experiences of so many noble representatives of charity; sometimes she enrolls them among her saints.

7. Lastly, a significant area of women's apostolate in the Church is liturgical involvement. Women's participation in the celebrations, which they generally attend in larger numbers than men, shows faith commitment, spiritual sensitivity, attraction to piety and an attachment to liturgical prayer and the Eucharist.

In this cooperation of women with the priest and the other faithful in the Eucharistic celebration, we see reflected the light of the Virgin Mary's cooperation with Christ in the Incarnation and redemption. Ecce ancilla Domini: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). Mary is the model of the Christian woman in the spirit and work of spreading across the world the mystery of the incarnate and redeeming Word.

In the Church, Jesus has entrusted the continuation of his redeeming work to the ministry of the Twelve and of their co-workers and successors. However, he wanted women to work at their side, as already appears from his associating Mary in his work. More specifically, he showed this intention by choosing Mary Magdalene as the first messenger of the risen one to the apostles. This cooperation appears from the very outset of evangelization. It is later repeated countless times from the first Christian centuries as an educational or scholastic activity, as involvement in the cultural apostolate or in social action, as collaboration with parishes, dioceses and various Catholic institutions. In every case the light of the ancilla Domini and of the other exemplary women immortalized by the Gospel shines on the ministry of woman. Even if many of them remain unknown, none is forgotten by Christ. In referring to Mary of Bethany, who had poured perfumed oil over his head, he said: "Wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told..." (cf. Mt 26:13).

I thank the Lord for having been able to meet again today in this Chamber.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

En ce temps de vacances, j’invite les pèlerins de langue française à affermir leur vie spirituelle, pour être des témoins actifs de l’Evangile, et je leur accorde de tout cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I gladly greet the English-speaking visitors present at this audience, especially the group of teachers from Taiwan and the Chinese group from Dallas. Upon all of you I invoke abundant divine blessings.

Ai fedeli di espressione linguistica tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen kurzen Gedanken richte ich einen herzlichen Willkommensgrub an alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Besonders grübe ich die Seminaristen aus dem Spätberufenenseminar in Fockenfeld. Ich freue mich über Euer aller Besuch und wünsche Euch in diesen Sommertagen Erholung und Besinnung. Euch und Euren Lieben in der Heimat erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me es grato saludar ahora a todos los peregrinos de lengua española, de modo especial a los de Argentina. De España, saludo a los grupos parroquiales y a las peregrinaciones diocesanas de Segorbe-Castellón y de Tenerife, así como a los coros presentes. Os imparto a todos con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, nomeadamente o grupo da Paróquia de São Pedro e desejo a todos felicidades, paz e graça no Senhor! Faço votos por que esta visita a Roma vos propicie abundantes frutos espirituais em cada um de vós e em cada uma das vossas famílias. E que Deus vos abençoe!

Ai fedeli polacchi

Witam wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski. W szczególności witam nauczycieli i mł odzież z różnych miejscowości Polski: z Krakowa-Mogiły - duszpasterstwo “Ostoja”, Łodzi, Tomaszowa Mazowieckiego, Garwolina, Wilgi (diecezja siedlecka), Cheł ma lubelskiego, Wadowic - Zespół  Szkół  Budowlanych, Warszawy. Witam pielgrzymki parafialne: z Rzeszowa, Pabianic, z diecezji siedleckiej, z archidiecezji gdańskiej (cztery grupy), ze Szczecina, Gorzowa, Jeleniej Góry oraz z archidiecezji poznańskiej. Witam rowerzystów z Kutna - od księży salezjanów i z Poznania - od księży chrystusowców. Poza tym witam pielgrzymkę trzeźwości z Gostynia oraz Zespół “Singers” z Warszawy. Witam wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, wszystkie grupy turystyczne oraz zespoły.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Rivolgo ora il mio cordiale pensiero ai pellegrini italiani. In particolare, agli studenti di missionologia partecipanti all’incontro promosso dal PIME presso il Centro Internazionale di Animazione Missionaria di Roma, al gruppo di sacerdoti della Congregazione della Risurrezione ed ai giovani della parrocchia di Sansepolcro di Arezzo, venuti a piedi presso la Tomba di Pietro.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Il mio augurio affettuoso va, poi, ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli, qui presenti. Esorto voi, cari giovani, a far si che le esigenze del Vangelo diventino solido punto di riferimento nei vostri progetti di vita. Guardando alla croce del Redentore, voi, cari malati, siate pronti ad unire spiritualmente le vostre sofferenze a quelle di Cristo. E voi, cari sposi novelli, sappiate realizzare generosamente nella vita di ogni giorno la vostra vocazione di “chiesa domestica”.

Vi accompagni tutti la mia benedizione.

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