Vatican City, 7 February 2015 (VIS) - “Women's cultures: between equality and difference” was the theme of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, an issue of great interest to Pope Francis, as he affirmed this morning while receiving in audience the participants in the event. He reiterated the importance of finding “criteria and new ways to enable women to no longer feel like guests, but instead to be full participants in the various areas of social and ecclesial life”.
“The Church is a woman, she is female!” he exclaimed. “This is a challenge that cannot be deferred. I say this to the pastors of Christian communities, here representing the universal Church, but also to lay women and men engaged in different ways in culture, education, the economy, politics, the world of work, families, and religious institutions”, he continued, offering an “itinerary” and a series of “guidelines to develop this effort throughout the world, in the heart of all cultures, in dialogue with the various religious affiliations”.
With reference to the first theme considered in the Plenary Assembly, “Between equality and difference: the quest for an equilibrium”, Pope Francis remarked that this equilibrium must be harmonious, not merely a question of balance. “This aspect must not be faced ideologically, because the 'lens' of ideology prevents us from seeing reality clearly. Equality and difference of women – like that of men – is best perceived from the perspective of 'with', in relation to, rather than 'against'. We have long left behind, at least in western societies, the model of the social subordination of women to men, a centuries-old model whose negative effects are nonetheless not yet fully spent. We have also left behind a second model, that of parity, pure and simple, applied mechanically, and of absolute equality. A new paradigm has thus taken shape, that of reciprocity in equivalence and in difference. The relationship between man and woman, therefore, must recognise that both are necessary inasmuch as they possess an identical nature but different modalities. One is necessary to the other, since the fullness of the person is thus truly achieved”.
The second theme, “'generativity' as a symbolic code”, broadens the horizons of biological maternity to include the transmission and the protection of life. It may be summarised in four verbs: to wish for, to bring into the world, to care for, and to let go. The Pope acknowledges the contribution in this area of the many women who work in the family, in the field of education in faith, in pastoral activity, in education in schools, and also in social, cultural and economic structures. “You, women, know how to embody the tender face of God, His mercy, which translates into willingness to offer time rather than occupy space, to accommodate rather than exclude. In this sense, I like to describe the feminine dimension of the Church as a welcoming womb for the regeneration of life”.
“The female body: between culture and biology”, the third point for reflection, “reminds us of the beauty and harmony of the body God gave to women, but also the painful wounds inflicted upon them, often with brutal violence, for the mere fact of being women. A symbol of life, the female body is unfortunately not infrequently attacked and disfigured by those who ought instead to be its protectors and companions in life. The many forms of enslavement, commodification and mutilation of women's bodies require us to work to defeat this form of degradation that reduces them to mere objects to be sold on various markets”. “I wish to draw attention, in this respect, to the suffering of many poor women, forced to life in conditions of danger and exploitation, relegated to the margins of society and rendered victims of a throwaway culture”, stressed the Holy Father.
The fourth theme, “Women and religion: flight or new forms of participation in the life of the Church?” is of particular relevance to believers. The Pope reiterated his conviction that it is urgent to “offer space to women in the life of the Church and to welcome them, bearing in mind the specific features and changes in cultural and social sensibilities. A more capillary and incisive female presence within the Church is desirable, so that we can see many women involved in pastoral responsibilities and in accompanying individuals, families and groups, as well as in theological reflection”.
Finally, the Holy Father spoke about the indispensable role of women in the family, and highlighted the importance of “encouraging and promoting the effective presence of women in many areas of the public sphere, in the world of work and in places where the most important decisions are taken”, without prejudice to their role in the private domain. “We must not leave women to bear these burdens and take all these decisions alone; all institutions, including the ecclesial community, must guarantee freedom of choice for women, so that they have the opportunity to assume social and ecclesial responsibilities, in harmony with family life”.