On John Paul II's Appreciation of Woman's Nature

According to Ursuline Nun Maria Grazia Piazza

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ROME, OCT. 28, 2002 (Zenit.org).- In the following interview, Ursuline Sister Maria Grazia Piazza of the Sacred Heart of Mary, director of the Woman’s Presence Center of Documentation and Study in Vincenza, Italy, comments on John Paul II’s appreciation of woman and feminine nature.

Q: How does the Pope define feminine nature?

Sister Piazza: John Paul II used this term for the first time in the apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem,” and in subsequent texts he has tried to clarify what it means.

We could define feminine nature as the ensemble of specifically feminine gifts — understanding, objectivity of judgment, compassion, etc. — that are manifested in all peoples.

These are a manifestation of the spirit, a gift of God to fulfill the vocation of ensuring sensibility for man. Feminine nature is the condition for a profound transformation of present-day civilization.

On more than one occasion, the Pope has said that there are systems that fuel structures of sin and death, and that structures of life are needed. Feminine nature bears this trait of life and would break the system of death.

Feminine nature is not a series of extraordinary gifts incarnated in extraordinary women. They are gifts lived by simple women who incarnate them in the normal course of ordinary living.

One of the criticisms made of John Paul II following “Mulieris Dignitatem” was that it seemed that feminine nature, as he described it, excluded rationality in favor of compassion and sensibility.

The Pope makes it very clear that feminine nature cannot be assimilated only by women, but is given for the whole of humanity.

Q: Is John Paul II the Pope who has most appreciated woman?

Sister Piazza: Perhaps the one who has appreciated her the most, but he is not the first. We must be fair and recall that Pius XII already said that woman is the image of God and not just a companion of man.

And John XXIII made a very good contribution when he noted the incorporation of woman in the public realm as a sign of the times.

John Paul II has dedicated much space to these considerations, and has written much on woman. In fact, he is the only one who has given a systematic teaching on woman based on the Bible.

For this Pope, the role of the Word of God is central to give an anthropological foundation to the dignity of the person-woman.

The Pope has consistent and integral teaching on woman, which can be seen if one takes the documents as a unified doctrinal whole. In this connection, “Mulieris Dignitatem” cannot be read without linking it to “Redemptoris Mater,” “Christifidelis Laici” or “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.”

Q: Does the Pope admire woman because he is captivated by the Virgin Mary?

Sister Piazza: His passion for woman is certainly linked to his predilection for Mary. Let’s not forget his childhood, with the absence of his mother, who died when he was little.

What the Pope says about woman he says looking at Mary. His papal emblem itself is a Marian motto: “Totus tuus.”

For the Pope, Mary is the woman who incarnates perfectly the feminine nature of which we speak. He sees in her “the” woman, and his speech flows from this perspective.

There are two significant affirmations of his — one, which reminds us that woman forms part of the living structure of Christianity; the second, that femininity belongs to the constitutive patrimony of humanity and of the Church herself.

Thus, we see how, according to the Pope, woman forms a constitutive part of the ecclesial structure. The magisterium makes this affirmation, but at a practical level it is unusual to see woman in the structural fabric of the Church.

From a practical point of view, this presence of woman in the makeup of the structure of the Church is not yet applied, but the Pope already perceives it.

For John Paul II, it is evident that there is a different assignment of roles in the Church, without in any way forgetting the equality in the dignity of men and women.

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