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Benedict XVI and the Dignity of Women

Interview With Theologian Sister Marcellina Farina

ROME, APRIL 25, 2006 ( Benedict XVI’s teaching on the dignity and mission of women takes up again, in a sense, the thought of Pope John Paul II, says a professor of theology.

Salesian Sister Marcellina Farina, who teaches fundamental theology at the Faculty of Educational Sciences Auxilium, notes that the encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” furthers this teaching.

“In fact, if we take up the texts in which his predecessor spoke of the ‘feminine genius,'” Sister Farina said in an interview with ZENIT, “we may conclude that this genius coincides with the acceptance and communication of love that, from the heart of God, radiates and shines in human hearts.”

Sister Farina is a member of the Pontifical Theological Academy and of the Interdisciplinary Mariological Association. She is also a founding member of the Italian Society for Theological Research.

Q: John Paul II spoke of the “feminine genius.” Do you think that Benedict XVI will surprise us with some gesture toward women?

Sister Farina: Benedict XVI follows in John Paul II’s footsteps with his own style, made of noble delicacy and clear testimony.

With his first encyclical letter, “Deus Caritas Est,” he lets us perceive his profound proximity to the contemporary world and, therefore, to women; he also indicates the path he is taking and which he wishes to propose not just to the Church but to all people of good will.

When one receives God’s charity with simplicity and radicalism, the world is transformed; it is reborn as a new spring. Each creature, especially the human creature made in God’s image, reflects the luminosity of God, hence, his beauty.

Over this year of pontificate, Benedict XVI has given us a rich doctrinal patrimony in the anthropological ambit. Suffice it to think of the audiences, addresses and messages proposed to the pontifical academies, and of meetings with people of different institutions, believers and nonbelievers.

He has a sober style, made of audacity and evangelical ardor, humility and courage, generous dedication and simplicity. I do not think he will make “astounding” gestures in the phenomenological sense. The wonder he arouses in those who meet and hear him springs from his kind and profound closeness.

Q: The “(Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World” was published precisely when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Sister Farina: Yes, it is dated May 31, 2004, feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, an especially eloquent day for the communication of anthropological values expressed in the feminine.

When he was prefect of the congregation, he published the text on July 31, 2004. The letter, as noted, has the date of a day in which Mary is commemorated going to visit her cousin Elizabeth to whom she takes Life, which is Jesus.

I think he wishes to have it understood that, with Mary, the dawn of a new humanity according to God’s plan, the messianic joy is offered to men and women, to past, present and future generations, to individuals and nations. It is a message of proposal and commitment that he offers to humanity, hence to women.

In a certain sense, he resumes John Paul II’s teaching on the dignity and mission of woman. The encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” furthers it.

If we review the texts in which his predecessor spoke of the “feminine genius,” we may conclude that this genius coincides with the acceptance and communication of love that, from the heart of God, radiates and shines in human hearts.

Q: Benedict XVI has spoken of great women in the Church, such as St. Catherine of Siena and Hildegard of Bingen, women that John Paul II already much appreciated.

Sister Farina: Indeed, on October 19, 1997, John Paul II proclaimed St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, doctor of the Church. It was a singular way of celebrating the centenary of her death.

In the apostolic letter “Divini Amoris Scientia” he speaks of the feminine genius and establishes a beautiful comparison between little Thérèse and Catherine of Siena: both are doctors of the Church by the gift of the Spirit, which made them wise and enabled them to understand the essential meaning of the human and Christian experience, which is love.

In the encyclical letter “Evangelium Vitae,” he entrusts the elaboration of a new feminism to women, a task they will be able to carry out by putting their feminine genius into action.

In his teaching, Benedict XVI often returns to this doctrinal patrimony, stressing also before nonbelievers the enhanced anthropological meaning that the Gospel contributes to human self-understanding, hence to a more profound and mature feminine self-science.

I would like to recall the wealth of humanizing meaning that there might be for humanity, thinking and living “veluti si Deus daretur” [as if God existed]. He adds that a thought without the fullness of transcendence, hence, without the acceptance of the mystery of God, is not a truly free and fruitful thought.

So, he invites believers and nonbelievers to the ethical task of thinking in depth about truth and recalls the vocation to holiness which is also addressed to our minds. Otherwise, how could one love God with one’s whole heart, one’s whole mind, one’s whole soul and one’s whole being?

If nonbelievers are called to think and live “veluti si Deus daretur,” we believers are called to think and live responding all the way to the moral task of giving the reason for our faith.

In this field, there is a special area reserved for women who in history have nourished a bond between reason and relationship, between thought and sentiment. Above all, we women believers are called to go all the way in giving the reason for our faith, according to the way of “Divini Amoris Scientia,” favoring the passage from theology to theophany, from Christology to Christophany.

The risen Jesus meets Mary of Magdala and leads her on the way of paschal love. Let’s hope he also meets us and shows us this way, so that we can make the Easter proclamation with his ardor.

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