VATICAN CITY, MAR. 20, 2001 ( "Feminine holiness is indispensable in the life of the Church," John Paul II said today in his message to the World Union of Catholic Women´s Organizations, meeting in Rome.

WUCWO gathered 800 women from 63 countries to reflect on the topic "The Prophetic Mission of Women." It coordinates 94 affiliate organizations in 56 countries. Founded in 1910, the group´s main goal is to encourage the presence, participation and commitment of women, in both the Church and society.

The assembly, which began Saturday and will end this coming Sunday, provides for times of prayer, reflection, cultural debates, group study, and election of new officers.

Among those who have addressed the assembly was Lucienne Salle, of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Salle said that women have a decisive role to play in Christ´s prophetic work, and that they come close to Jesus´ humanity through their daily activities.

Another speaker was Marie Therese Avemeka, the Minister for Women´s Integration in Development, in the Republic of the Congo. She, focused on the defense of fundamental human rights and exhorted women to collaborate among themselves to build a future of peace and development.

Today, Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu spoke about the challenges that Catholic women face in defending the dignity of women and of the weakest. "Women have in themselves the strength of hope that can help the whole of humanity," she said.

In his message to WUCWO, the Holy Father said that the 20th century was important in giving many women freedom of movement, decision-making and self-expression.

However, in some areas there is still need to defend women against shameful violence, such as sexual tourism and mass sterilization, the Pope stressed.

He also said the dominant culture "advertises and imposes models of life that are contrary to woman´s most intimate nature." In this connection, John Paul II mentioned abortion, the direct consequence of a mentality that exalts personal egoism to the detriment of respect for others, especially the most defenseless.

The Holy Father entrusted a specific mission to Catholic women: "to give increasing material and moral support to women in difficulty, victims of poverty and violence."

Lastly, given women´s "specific charism," the Pope exhorted them to transmit the "genuine meaning of faith and apply it to all circumstances of life. ... Woman has a truly unique talent to communicate the Christian message in the family and the realms of work, study and leisure."

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