Pope Hails Women’s Role in Early Church

Cites Their Generous Contribution to Christianity

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 14, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI concluded his series of reflections on figures from the nascent Church by highlighting the decisive contribution of women to the development of Christianity.

“The Church gives thanks for each and every woman,” the Pope said at the end of today’s general audience, held in Paul VI Hall.

The Church gives thanks “for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: She gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness,” he stressed, quoting Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter “Mulieris Dignitatem.”

“Women at the service of the Gospel” was the theme Benedict XVI chose for the catechesis, in which he began by reviewing the history of those women who became disciples of Jesus, paying special attention to the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.

Given that the latter “not only was present at the Passion, but also became the first witness and herald of the Risen One,” the Pontiff called her the “apostle of the apostles,” quoting a reference made to her by St. Thomas Aquinas.

Benedict XVI continued recalling the women that had a decisive role in the early Church, showing how they had roles of responsibility in their communities noting, as St. Paul said to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The Holy Father pointed out that the apostle Paul “admits as something normal that woman can ‘prophesy’ in the Christian community, that is, pronounce herself openly under the influence of the Holy Spirit, on the condition that it is for the edification of the community and in a dignified manner.”

“Therefore, the famous exhortation ‘women should keep silence in the churches’ must be relativized,” he added.

Different history

The Pope also mentioned the case of Phoebe, a woman whom the Apostle calls “diakonos” of the church of Cenchreae, a small port city east of Corinth.

“Although at that time the title still did not have a specific ministerial value of a hierarchical character, it expresses a genuine exercise of responsibility on the part of this woman in favor of that Christian community,” stated the Pontiff.

“In sum, the history of Christianity would have developed very differently if the generous contribution of many women had not taken place,” Benedict XVI concluded.

Therefore, the Holy Father praised women for their contribution “in the course of the history of the Church,” clarifying that he did so “in the name of the whole ecclesial community.”

The Pope concluded by thanking God “because he leads the Church, from generation to generation, making use indistinctly of men and women, who are able to make their faith and baptism fruitful for the good of the whole ecclesial Body for the greater glory of God.”

With this catechesis, Benedict XVI brought to an end the cycle of teachings on the figures of early Christianity, which he began last October with reflections on St. Paul.

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