Vatican City (AsiaNews) – “The history of Christianity would have turned out very differently without the contribution of women.” This is what Benedict XVI had to say in today’s general audience about the “precious” role played by women during the life of Jesus and at the beginning of the history of the Church. However, he did not get into issues like the female deaconate, restricting himself to just referring to them.
The general audience was divided in two, the first part in the Basilica of St Peter and the second in Paul VI to welcome all participants. In St Peter’s, addressing around 12,000 faithful who accompanied bishops from the Italian region of the Marches, who are on their five-yearly “ad limina apostolorum” visit, the pope said: “In the current climate of cultural and religious pluralism, we realize that the message of Jesus is not known by all.” He recalled the commitment of each and every Christian to bear the “light of the Gospel”, even in social life. Turning to the bishops present, he recommended that they dedicate “every effort” to Christian formation, not to miss out on solid religious education and participation in the sacraments that resist “without weakening the lure of secularized society.”
At the end of the first part of the audience, he recited the Marian prayer he prepared for the next youth meeting in Loreto in early September, in which he himself will take part.
The “many female figures who played an effective and precious role in the spread of the Gospel” were at the centre of the reflection delivered to 8,000 people in Paul VI Hall. These “figures” conclude the cycle of catechesis that the Pope dedicated to the apostles and their collaborators.
He said: “Jesus chose 12 men as fathers of the new Israel, that they may be with him and to send them to preach. But although it was men who were the 12 pillars of the Church and fathers of the new people of God, many women were also chosen among the disciples.” The pope spoke about the women who appeared in the journey of Jesus, including the prophetess Anna, the Samaritan woman, the sinner who was forgiven and the “women who played an active role, starting from Mary”, who “collaborated in a unique way in our redemption”. He also noted others recorded in the Gospels, like Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna and many others. “The Gospels inform us that the women, as opposed to the 12, did not abandon Jesus at the hour of his Passion. Mary Magdalen shines out”, she who was also the first witness of the Resurrected Lord.
Benedict XVI talked about the “female presence that was anything but secondary” in the first apostolic generation, not least through the letters of St Paul. He recalled several female figures who appeared to have a prestigious role but said he would “leave to exegetists” the problem of contradicting indications that appear in St Paul. In the Letter to the Corinthians, it seems normal for a woman to “prophesy”, that is “to openly pronounce herself under the influence of the Spirit, as long as this is for the edification of the community”. But then there is a later affirmation that “women should be silent in the assembly”. Similarly the pope did not dwell on the attribution of “diakonos” to females. However he did say that then the title did not have ecclesiastical value in hierarchical terms.
Beyond such matters, Benedict cited as a conclusion the words of John Paul II in “Mulieris dignitatem”: “The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine genius which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women… for all the victories which she owes to their faith… for all the fruits of feminine holiness.” He said: “This eulogy regards all the history of the Church and is expressed in the name of the entire ecclesial community and we too join in this appreciation.”
Finally, the pope turned to the Christian roots of Europe. At the end of the audience, delivering a Polish greeting to pilgrims who came from Poland, he recalled that today is the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, patrons of Europe, and he prayed “that European nations may be ever more aware of their Christian roots, remaining united and opening up to Christ and his Gospel.”