On Friday Pope Francis said women have an essential role to play in interreligious dialogue given their natural ability to build relationships and fraternity, making their involvement necessary in all areas of society.
“Today more than ever it’s necessary that women are present,” the Pope said June 9. “Woman, possessing special characteristics, can offer an important contribution to dialogue with her ability to listen, to welcome and to generously open herself to others.”
Francis spoke to members of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, headed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who are gathered in Rome for their annual plenary assembly.
During the plenary discussion, members of the council explored the theme of “the Role of women in educating in universal fraternity.”
In his speech, Pope Francis said the topic is “of prime importance for the path of humanity toward peace and fraternity; a path which is not at all obvious and clear, but marked by difficulty and obstacles.”
“Unfortunately today we see how the figure of woman as an educator in universal fraternity is blurred and often unrecognized due to many evils that afflict this world and which, in particular, affect women in their dignity and in their role,” he said, noting that women and children are the most frequent victims of the “blind violence” that takes place in the world today.
However, women have a key role to play, he said, stressing women must collaborate with men in carrying out their mission as an educator “in a serene and effective way.”
The Pope pointed to three main areas of reflection for council members to consider regarding the theme of their discussion: valuing the role of women, educating in fraternity and dialogue.
When it comes to valuing the role of women, Pope Francis said that within a complex society marked by plurality and globalization, “there is need for a greater recognition of the ability of women to educate in universal fraternity.”
If women are able to freely put their gifts at the service of the entire community, “the way in which society understands and is organized is positively transformed, reflecting better the substantial unity of the human family,” he said.
Because of this, a beneficial model for society is one that amplifies the presence of women in social, economic and political life at the local, national and international levels, “as well as in the ecclesial,” he said.
“Women have the right to be actively involved in all areas, and their right must be asserted and protected even by legal means wherever they prove necessary.”
This, Francis said, involves “expanding the spaces of a more incisive feminine presence.”
“There are so many and many women who, in their daily commitments, with dedication and conscience, with courage that is at times heroic, have developed and put their genius to use, their precious traits in the most varied, specific and qualified skills combined with the real experience of being mothers and teachers.”
On the plenary theme of educating in fraternity, the Pope said women as educators “have a special vocation, capable of creating and growing new forms of acceptance and esteem.”
“The feminine figure has always been at the center of familiar education, not exclusively as a mother,” he said, adding that the contribution of women in the field of education is “inestimable.”
Education, he said, “ brings a wealth of implications both for the woman herself, for her way of being, and for her relationships, for the way she deals with human life and life in general.”
Because of this, men and women are called to contribute together in fostering universal brotherhood, which is, in the end, also an education “in the peace and complimentarity of their various and sensitive roles.”
“Women, intimately linked to the mystery of life, can do much to promote the spirit of brotherhood, with their care for the preservation of life and with their conviction that love is the only force that can render the world habitable for all,” he said.
In effect, women are often the only ones to accompany others, particularly the weakest in the family and in society, and victims of conflicts.
“Thanks to their contribution, educating in fraternity – due to their nature of inclusion and generating ties – can overcome the culture of waste,” Francis said.
Educating in fraternity is also an essential part of interreligious dialogue, he said, noting that women are often committed more than men in this area, “and so contribute to a better understanding of the challenges characteristic of a multicultural reality.”
However, “women can also become fully involved in exchanges at the religious level, as well as those at the theological level,” the Pope said, noting that many women “are well prepared to face encounters of interreligious dialogue at the highest levels and not just from the Catholic side.”
“This means that the contribution of women is not limited to ‘feminine’ arguments or to encounters of only women,” he said, adding that dialogue “is a path that man and woman must accomplish together.”
by Elise Harris