The Holy Father, Pope Francis, received in audience the participants of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which concludes its works today on the theme: “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference.” After the address of tribute of the President, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Pope gave to those present the address we translate below.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased to receive you at the end of your Plenary Assembly, which has seen you committed in reflection and research on the theme “The Feminine Cultures: Equality and Difference.” I thank Cardinal Ravasi for the words ha addressed to me, also on behalf of you all. I wish to express my gratitude in particular to the women present, but also to all those – and I know that they are many – who have contributed in different ways to the preparation and realization of this work.
I have very much at heart the theme you have chosen, and already on different occasions I have been able to touch upon it and to invite to further reflection on it. It is about studying new criteria and ways so that women do not feel as guests but fully participant in various realms of social and ecclesial life. The Church is woman, it is she, not he. This is a challenge, which can no longer be deferred. I say this to the Pastors of the Christian communities representing the universal Church here, but also to the lay women and men committed in different ways in culture, in education, in the economy, in politics, in the world of work, in families and in religious institutions.
The order of the topics planned by you for the development of your work these days – a work that will certainly continue also in the future – enables me to indicate to you an itinerary, to offer you some guidelines to develop this commitment everywhere on earth, in the heart of all cultures, in dialogue with the various religious memberships.
The first topic is: Between equality and difference: in search of a balance. But an equilibrium that is harmonious, not just balanced. This aspect is not addressed ideologically, because the “lens” of ideology impedes seeing the reality well. The equality and the difference of women – as of the rest of men – are perceived better in the perspective of with, of relation, than that of against. For some time we have left behind, at least in Western societies, the model of the social subordination of woman to man, a secular model that, however, has never exhausted altogether its negative effects. We have also surmounted second model, that of pure and simple parity, applied mechanically, and of absolute equality. Thus a new paradigm has been configured, that of reciprocity in equivalence and in difference. Therefore, the man-woman relation should recognize that both are necessary in as much as they possess, yes, an identical nature, but with their own modalities. One is necessary to the other, and vice versa, so that the fulfilment of the person is truly achieved.
The second topic: “Generativity” as symbolic code. This gives an intense look to all mothers, and widens the horizon to the transmission and protection of life, not limited to the biological sphere, which we can synthesize around four verbs: to desire, to bring into the world, to take care of and to let go.
In this ambit, I have present and I encourage the contribution of so many women who work in the family, in the filed of education in the faith, in pastoral activity, in school formation, but also in social, cultural and economic structures. You women are able to incarnate the tender face of God, his mercy, which is translated in willingness to give time more than to occupy spaces, to receive instead of excluding. In this connection, I am pleased to describe the feminine dimension of the Church as the hospitable womb that regenerates to life.
The third topic: The feminine body between culture and biology, reminds us of the beauty and harmony of the body that God has given woman, but also the painful wounds inflicted, sometimes with cruel violence, on them in as much as women. Symbol of life, the feminine body, unfortunately not rarely, is attacked and disfigured also by those who should be custodians and companions of life.
Therefore, the many forms of slavery, of merchandising, of mutilation of women’s body, commits us to work to defeat this form of degradation that reduces it to a pure object to be sold in various markets. In this context, I wish to call attention to the painful situation of so many poor women, constrained to live in conditions of danger, of exploitation, relegated to the margins of society and made victims of a disposable culture.
Fourth topic: Women and religion: fleeing or seeking participation in the life of the Church? Here believers are challenged in a particular way. I am convinced of the urgency to offer spaces to women in the life of the Church and to receive them, taking into account the specific and changing cultural and social sensibilities. To be hoped for, therefore, is a more capillary and incisive presence of women in the Communities, so that we can see many women involved in pastoral responsibilities, in supporting persons, families and groups, as well as in theological reflection.
The irreplaceable role of woman in the family cannot be forgotten. The gifts of delicacy, peculiar sensibility and tenderness, of which the feminine spirit is rich, represent not only a genuine strength for the life of families, for the radiation of an atmosphere of serenity and harmony, but also a reality without which the human vocation would be unrealizable.
Moreover, it is about encouraging and promoting the efficacious presence of women in many ambits of the public sphere, in the world of work and in places where important decisions are adopted, and at the same time maintaining their preferential presence and altogether special care in and for the family. It is not necessary to leave women alone to carry this weight and take decisions, but all institutions, including the ecclesial community, are called to guarantee freedom of choice for women, so that they have the possibility to assume social and ecclesial responsibilities, in a way that is harmonious with family life.
Dear men and women friends, I encourage you to carry forward this commitment, which I entrust to the Blessed Virgin Mary, concrete and sublime example of woman and mother. And please, I ask you to pray for me and I bless you from my heart. Thank you.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]