Holy Father, one question… You have said that without women, the Church grows barren. What concrete measures will you take? For example, the diaconate for women or a woman as a head of dicastery?
A Church without women is like the college of the Apostles without Mary. The role of women in the Church is not simply that of maternity, being mothers, but much greater: it is precisely to be the icon of the Virgin, of Our Lady; what helps make the Church grow! But think about it, Our Lady is more important than the Apostles! She is more important!
The Church is feminine. She is Church, she is bride, she is mother. But women, in the Church, must not only… I don’t know how to say this in Italian… the role of women in the Church must not be limited to being mothers, workers, a limited role… No! It is something else! But the Popes.. Paul VI wrote beautifully of women, but I believe that we have much more to do in making explicit this role and charism of women.
We can’t imagine a Church without women, but women active in the Church, with the distinctive role that they play. I think of an example which has nothing to do with the Church, but is an historical example: in Latin America, Paraguay. For me, the women of Paraguay are the most glorious women in Latin America. Are you paraguayo? After the war, there were eight women for every man, and these women made a rather difficult decision: the decision to bear children in order to save their country, their culture, their faith, and their language.
In the Church, this is how we should think of women: taking risky decisions, yet as women. This needs to be better explained. I believe that we have not yet come up with a profound theology of womanhood, in the Church. All we say is: they can do this, they can do that, now they are altar servers, now they do the readings, they are in charge of Caritas (Catholic charities). But there is more! We need to develop a profound theology of womanhood. That is what I think.
Press Conference on Return Flight from WYD Rio, July 28, 2013
Reflection – Well, this is why so many of us love Pope Francis. He has such a simple direct style of speech, such a blunt way of saying just exactly what he thinks about a subject – it’s great, really.
I wonder if he is familiar with one of Pope Benedict’s early books, Daughter Zion, though? It is a slim volume, really a retreat young Fr. Ratzinger gave on Our Lady in the wake of Vatican II, but it contains within it at least the germ of precisely the profound theology of woman Pope Francis is calling for here.
Benedict traces the line of women in the Scriptures, the barren women who conceive, the women who are raised up to deliver Israel from its enemies, Israel itself personified as a bride, and the personified figure of created wisdom, all culminating in the Virgin Mary.
From this emerges a theology of woman as an icon of creation, of humanity, and of the Church—radically receptive, radically looking to God for life, radically dependent yet in this very dependence called forth to be co-creator and co-redeemer with God, ultimately in the very acceptance of dependence and receptivity called to transcend the boundaries of created human existence to be filled with the divine life and glory. Our Lady is assumed into heaven and is queen of heaven and earth; this is the direct result of her total obedience and surrender to God in all things.
In this, the strictly masculine model of activity—initiative, dominance, power—is radically relativized. What is done to us and done through us, our cooperation and submission to the deeper movements of the Spirit in our created and redeemed flesh, is much more important, vital, and ultimately determinative of our life than our own commanding will to power.
I don’t know if that’s what Pope Francis has in mind; as is often the case, he doesn’t spell out everything he has in mind, but leaves lots of room for interpretation and contribution of others. I think that’s deliberate on his part. He doesn’t want to be the only voice in the room. He wants to start a conversation. But this whole question of ‘theology of woman’ is a question of vision, of moving things away from rather superficial questions of power and role and office, of who gets to do what and when and how.
We need something more, and that’s what he’s inviting us to talk about. So… let’s talk about it! What do you think of this?