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Women bear an effective witness to faith

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 6 July 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. When speaking of the dignity and mission of woman according to the teaching and spirit of the Church, one must always look to the Gospel. The Christian sees, examines and judges everything in its light.

In the preceding catechesis we cast the light of revelation on woman's identity and destiny, presenting the Virgin Mary as the symbol according to what is indicated in the Gospel. However, in that same divine source we find other signs of Christ's will toward women. He speaks of them with respect and goodness, showing by his attitude his willingness to accept women and to seek their involvement in establishing God's kingdom in the world.

2. First we can recall the many cases in which women were healed (cf. MD 13), and those others in which Jesus revealed his Savior's heart, full of tenderness in his encounters with the suffering, be they men or women. "Do not weep!" he said to the widow of Nain (Lk 7:13). Then he gave her back the son he raised from the dead. This episode allows us to glimpse what must have been Jesus' personal feelings toward his mother Mary, in the dramatic setting of her sharing in his own passion and death. Jesus said tenderly to the deceased daughter of Jairus: "Little girl, I say to you, arise!" Having raised her, he "told them to give her something to eat" (Mk 5:41, 43). He showed his sympathy for the stooped woman whom he healed. In this case, by referring to Satan he also called to mind the spiritual salvation he was bringing that woman (cf. Lk 13:10-17).

3. On other pages of the Gospel we find Jesus expressing his admiration for the faith of some women. For example, in the case of the woman with a hemorrhage, he told her: "Your faith has made you well" (Mk 5:34). This praise has all the more value because the woman was subject to the segregation imposed by the old law. Jesus freed women from this social oppression too. In her turn, the Canaanite received this recognition from Jesus: "O woman, great is your faith!" (Mt 15:28). This praise has an altogether special meaning, if one considers that it was addressed to a stranger to Israel's world. We can also recall Jesus' admiration for the widow who gave her mite to the temple treasury (cf. Lk 21:1-4), and his appreciation of the service he received from Mary of Bethany (cf. Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9; Jn 12:1-8). He announced that her action would be known throughout the world.

4. In his parables too Jesus did not hesitate to draw examples and comparisons from the feminine world, unlike the rabbis' midrash, where only male figures appear. Jesus referred to both women and men. If one wishes to make a comparison, it could perhaps be said that women have the advantage. This at least means that Jesus avoided even appearing to attribute inferiority to women.

Again, Jesus allowed women as well as men to enter his kingdom. In opening it to women, he wanted to open it to children. When he said: "Let the children come to me" (Mk 10:14), he was reacting to the watchfulness of the disciples, who wanted to prevent the women from bringing their children to the Teacher. It could be said that he agreed with the women and their love for children!

In his ministry Jesus was accompanied by many women, who followed him and assisted him and the community of disciples (cf. Lk 8:1-3). It was something new with respect to Jewish tradition. Having drawn those women to following him, Jesus thus showed how he went beyond the widespread prejudices in his surroundings, as in much of the ancient world, regarding the inferiority of women. This rejection of discrimination between men and women in his Church is part of his struggle against injustice and arrogance (cf. MD 13).

5. We must add that the Gospel also shows Jesus' kindness to several women sinners. He asked for their repentance, but without acting harshly toward them because of their mistakes, all the more so because the latter involved man's co-responsibility. Several episodes are very significant: the woman who went to the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50) was not only forgiven her sins, but was also praised for her love; the Samaritan woman became a messenger of her new faith (cf. Jn 4:7-37); the woman caught in adultery received with her pardon the simple exhortation not to sin again (cf. Jn 8:3-11; MD 14). Doubtless Jesus did not acquiesce in the face of evil, of sin, regardless of who commits it. But what understanding of human weakness he had and what goodness he showed toward those who were suffering from their own spiritual misery and more or less seeking in him a Savior!

6. Lastly, the Gospel attests that Jesus expressly called women to collaborate in his saving work. He not only allowed them to follow him to assist him and his community of disciples, but he asked for other forms of personal commitment. Thus he asked Martha for a faith commitment (cf. Jn 11:26-27). Responding to the Teacher's invitation, she made her profession of faith before Lazarus was raised. After the resurrection, he entrusted Mary Magdalene and the devout women who had gone to the tomb with the task of conveying his message to the apostles (cf. Mt 28:8-10; Jn 20:17-18). "Thus the women were the first messengers of Christ's resurrection for the apostles themselves" (CCC 641). These are rather eloquent signs of his desire to involve women too in the service of the kingdom.

7. Jesus' behavior is explained theologically by his intention to unify humanity. As St. Paul says, he wished to reconcile all men through his sacrifice "in one body" and make everyone "one new man" (Eph 2:15, 16), so that now "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). This is the conclusion of our catechesis--if Jesus Christ reunited man and woman in their equal status as children of God, he engaged both of them in his mission, not indeed by suppressing their differences, but by eliminating all unjust inequality and by reconciling all in the unity of the Church.

8. The history of the first Christian communities shows the great contribution women made to evangelization, beginning with "our sister Phoebe," as St. Paul calls her, "a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae." He says: "She has been a helper of many and of myself as well" (Rom 16:1-2). Here I would like to pay homage to her memory and to the many other women who assisted the apostles at Cenchreae, in Rome and all Christian communities. With them we remember and extol all the other women--religious and lay--who down the centuries have witnessed to the Gospel and handed on the faith, exercising a great influence on the flourishing of a Christian atmosphere in the family and in society.

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

L’Evangile nous montre l’accueil que Jésus réserve aux femmes, qu’il invite expressément à s’engager dans le monde pour la construction du Règne de Dieu. Il ne tarit pas d’éloges sur la foi de certaines femmes comme la Cananéenne ou Marie de Béthanie. A Marthe, il demande l’engagement de la foi; à Marie, il confie la première annonce de la Résurrection. Ainsi, dès les premiers temps de l’Eglise, nous voyons de nombreuses femmes engagées dans l’évangélisation.

Je rends grâce pour toutes les femmes, religieuses et laïques, qui, au long des siècles, ont été des témoins de l’Evangile et qui ont transmis la foi, exerçant une influence essentielle pour le développement de la vie chrétienne, dans les familles et dans la société entière.

A vous tous, pèlerins de langue française, je souhaite d’heureuses vacances, et je vous bénis de grand cœur.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our catechesis we have seen that Jesus’ words and actions, which are something new with respect to the prevailing customs of his day, express his esteem for the dignity of women, his admiration for their faith and his decisive openness to their indispensable cooperation in the task of evangelization. The Church honours all those women who, down the centuries and today, bear witness to the faith and effectively transmit it, creating a Christian environment in the family and in society.

I gladly greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, and I ask God to bless you and your loved ones with joy and peace.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Herzlich heiße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher willkommen.

Die Rolle der Frau in der Kirche, der auch heute unsere Überlegungen gewidmet sein sollen, ist immer ausgerichtet an den Aussagen des Evangeliums. Jesus Christus hat Mann und Frau als Kinder Gottes auf die gleiche Stufe gestellt. Er bindet beide in seine Sendung ein, wobei er die Verschiedenheit nicht unterdrückt, aber jede ungerechte Ungleichheit zurückweist.

Mit diesen kurzen Gedanken grübe ich Euch alle. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den zahlreichen Schülern und Jugendlichen. Bereits jetzt wünsche ich Euch allen erholsame Ferien. Von Herzen erteile ich Euch und Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas de lengua española,

Me es muy grato dirigiros mi más cordial saludo de bienvenida a este encuentro en el que reflexionamos sobre la dignidad y misión de la mujer según la doctrina y el espíritu de la Iglesia, a la luz del Evangelio, en donde vemos numerosos episodios en los que Jesús alaba la fe da algunas mujeres. El Señor, no solamente supera el prejuicio cultural de su tiempo discriminatorio de la mujer, sino que las llama expresamente a colaborar en la obra salvífica.

A todas las personas, familias, y grupos procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs de língua portuguesa,

As páginas do Evangelho mostram-nos o desígnio de Cristo sobre a mulher, feito de bondade, de respeito e do seu empenhamento a bem do Reino de Deus. Muitas beneficiam do seu poder salvador; tantas O acompanham e servem no Seu ministério, e, na manhã de Páscoa, a elas foi confiada a boa nova da ressurreição. Este contributo da mulher para o anúncio do Evangelho refulge ao longo dos séculos... A Igreja recorda hoje o heróico testemunho de Santa Maria Goretti. O seu exemplo e intercessão acompanhem todos os presentes, de modo particular as jovens e mães de família, certos de que delas muito depende o florescimento de um clima cristão nos vossos lares e na sociedade.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Pragnę pozdrowić wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, których jest ponad 3 tys. W szczególności pozdrawiam pielgrzymkę z parafii św. Stanisława Kostki w Krakowie na Dębnikach, ze Strumian k. Wieliczki, ze Starej Wsi (obecnie diecezja bielsko-żywiecka), dwie Oazy III stopnia - ogólnopolską kapucyńską i stowarzyszenia młodzieży katolickiej z różnych miast Polski, z Chwałowic (archidiecezja katowicka) - parafia św. Teresy, pielgrzymkę sióstr ze Zgromadzenia Pocieszycielek Serca Jezusowego - przybyłych z okazji 100-lecia jego powstania oraz wszystkich innych pielgrzymów zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji.

Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Al termine, voglio salutare i pellegrini ed i gruppi di lingua italiana che partecipano a questo incontro, come pure i pellegrini provenienti dalle altre Nazioni, in particolare dal Belgio, dalla Slovacchia, dalla Repubblica Ceca, dall’Ungheria, dalla Bosnia e dal Giappone.

Carissimi vi auguro di cuore una serena e fruttuosa permanenza a Roma, ricca di incontri spirituali e culturali.

A tutti la mia affettuosa Benedizione!

L’implorazione a Dio onnipotente perché illumini i responsabili della sorte della Bosnia ed Erzegovina:

La nostra attenzione si rivolge nuovamente alla Bosnia Erzegovina perché in questi giorni si dovrà decidere il futuro di quelle popolazioni.

È necessario, ora più che mai, trovare una soluzione definitiva a questo conflitto. Auspico che essa sia fondata sulla giustizia, nel rispetto dell’identità delle popolazioni, e offra loro il necessario sostegno nel favorire il ritorno degli sfollati e dei rifugiati alle loro case.

I principi sanciti nel Diritto Internazionale e ribaditi dalle numerose risoluzioni dei competenti organismi internazionali siano il necessario punto di riferimento.

Chiedo a Dio Onnipotente di illuminare i responsabili nelle loro prossime decisioni, di sostenere la speranza di quelle martoriate popolazioni, e di rinnovare in tutti il coraggio di una pacifica convivenza.

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