By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, JAN. 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Even though the role of women in the Church isn’t the most visible, it is essential, says the first female undersecretary of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace.
On Thursday, Flaminia Giovanelli, 61, became the second woman to hold the position of undersecretary of a pontifical council. Rosemary Goldie held the position at the Pontifical Council for the Laity from 1966-76.
Giovanelli is also the second-highest ranked woman in the Vatican after Sister Rosanna Enrica, who serves as undersecretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
One day after the appointment, she told ZENIT that she received the new position “with a feeling of gratitude to the Holy Father, who has said that we, women, must assume a certain role in the Church.”
The new undersecretary is convinced that the role of women in the Church is not always very visible but has been essential: “[W]omen express a particular perspective. Her judgment is different and can complement what is seen in a more obvious way.”
A native of Rome, Giovanelli has worked for the justice and peace council since 1974. She is a graduate in political science from the University of Rome and holds diplomas in library science and religious studies.
Recalling the some 36 years that she has worked for the justice and peace council, Giovanelli asserted that her job has been more than just a paycheck, but a vocation: “It is a service to man, to the person. It is a service to the Church and to the relation with work.”
Giovanelli said her first task at the dicastery was to organize both personnel and documentation.
In 1989, at the end of the Cold War, she was assigned the task of promoting a closer relationship with and among the local churches of the countries of the former Communist bloc.
She also oversaw the development of justice and peace commissions in the dioceses of Europe, many of which were created after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
She recalled as well that she witnessed the decade of the 1980s, when many countries of Latin America were looking at ways to pay down their foreign debt.
Giovanelli, who is single and often rides her bicycle to work, noted that working at the council has been an “extraordinary window to the world.”
The undersecretary also recalled working for a series of presidents of the dicastery, noting that she learned something different from each one.
Giovanelli recalled that African Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who was president from 1976 to 1984, “was an extraordinary person on a personal level.”
“He had an extraordinary soul of a pastor; he was very human,” she added.
Of Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who served as president of the justice and peace council from 1984-1998, Giovanelli said he stood out for his “capacity of mediation at the political level and at the level of witness.”
She remembered Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuán, president of this dicastery from 1998 to 2002, as an “icon of human rights.”
She added that the cardinal, who was imprisoned for 13 years in a Communist reeducation camp, “had an extraordinary humanity. He was full of spirit and good humor.”
Giovanelli noted that from Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, who was president from 2002-2009, she learned “selfless service to the Church.”
“When he had to retire, his bags were already packed and he continued working,” Giovanelli noted.
She considers the current president, African Cardinal Peter Turkson, “a very dynamic man, a great personality.”
“Not in vain does he have this responsibility,” she added. “I believe that certainly for Africa he will be a notable help.”
For Giovanelli, one of the dicastery’s most important tasks at present is to continue reflecting on Benedict XVI’s last encyclical, “Caritatis in Veritate.”
Other priorities include promoting religious liberty, especially in countries where Christians are suffering more and more persecutions, and addressing the problems associated with migration.