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Woman's dignity must be respected

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 22 June 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the catecheses on the dignity and the apostolate of lay people in the Church, we have explained the Church's thought and plans, applicable to all the faithful, both men and women. We would now like to consider more especially the role of the Christian woman, because of the importance that women have always had in the Church, and because of the hopes for the present and the future which can and must be placed in them. In our era, many voices have spoken demanding respect for woman's personal dignity and recognition of her real equality of rights with man, so as to offer her the full opportunity to fulfill her role in all sectors and at all levels in society.

The Church considers this movement, described as the emancipation, liberation or promotion of woman, in light of the revealed teaching on the dignity of the human person, on the value of individual persons--men and women--in the Creator's sight, and on the role attributed to woman in the work of salvation. The Church therefore holds that the recognition of woman's value has its ultimate source in the Christian awareness of the value of every person. This awareness, encouraged by the development of socio-cultural conditions and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is gradually achieving a better understanding of the intentions of God's plan contained in revelation. We should seek to study these "divine intentions," especially in the Gospel, and to deal with the value of the life of lay people and in particular that of women. This is to foster their contribution to the Church's work for the spread of the Gospel message and for the coming of God's kingdom.

2. In the perspective of Christian anthropology, every human person has his own dignity; as a person, woman has no less a dignity than man. All too often woman, on the contrary, is considered as an object because of male selfishness, which has appeared in so many contexts in the past and is still being seen today. In today's situation many cultural and social reasons for this intervene and should be considered with serene objectivity. It is nonetheless not difficult to discover the influence of a tendency to domination and arrogance, which has found and is finding its victims especially in women and children. Moreover, the phenomenon was and is more general. It originated, as I wrote in Christifideles Laici, "in that unjust and deleterious mentality which considers the human being as a thing, as an object to buy and sell, as an instrument for selfish interests or for pleasure only" (n. 49).

Lay Christians are called to combat all forms of this mentality, even when transferred to films and advertising in order to intensify unrestrained consumerism. But women themselves have the duty to demand respect for their nature as persons, not descending to any form of complicity with what demeans their dignity.

3. Still on the same anthropological basis, the Church's doctrine teaches that the principle of woman's equality with man, in personal dignity and in fundamental human rights, should be consistently brought to all its consequences. The Bible itself reveals this equality. Although in the earliest mention of the creation of Adam and Eve (cf. Gen 2:4-25) woman was created by God "from the rib" of man, she was put next to man as another "self" with whom he could converse on an equal level, differently from any other creature. The other creation account belongs in this perspective (cf. Gen 1:26-28). It immediately declares that man created in God's image is "male and female." "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, he created them" [1] . This expresses the difference between the sexes, but especially their essential complementarity. One could say that the sacred author was eager to assert, once and for all, that woman bears within her a likeness with God no less than man does, and that she was created in God's image in her own personal characteristics as a woman, and not only because of what she has in common with man. This is equality in diversity (cf. CCC 369). Therefore perfection for woman is not to be like man, making herself masculine to the point of losing her specific qualities as a woman. Her perfection--which is also a secret of affirmation and of relative autonomy--is to be a woman, equal to man but different. In civil society and also in the Church, the equality and diversity of women must be recognized.

4. Diversity does not mean a necessary and almost implacable opposition. In the same biblical account of creation, the cooperation of man and woman is said to be a condition for the development of humanity and its work of exercising dominion over the universe: "Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28). In the light of the Creator's mandate, the Church maintains that "The first and basic expression of the social dimension of the person, then, is the married couple and the family" (CL 40). On a more general level, let us say that the renewal of the temporal order depends on the cooperation of man and woman.

5. But the subsequent Genesis text likewise shows that in the divine plan the cooperation of man and woman must be realized on a higher level, within the perspective of the association of the new Adam and the new Eve. In the Protoevangelium (cf. Gn 3:15), enmity is established between the devil and the woman. The first enemy of the evil one, woman is God's first ally (cf. MD 11). In the light of the Gospel, we can recognize the Virgin Mary in this woman. But in this text, we can also interpret a truth which concerns women in general. They were promoted, by God's gratuitous choice, to a primary role in the divine covenant. Indeed, this can be discerned in the figures of many women saints, true heroines of God's kingdom. But the work of woman in serving the good has also been demonstrated in history and in human culture.

6. The value attributed to the person and mission of woman is fully revealed in Mary. One need only reflect on the anthropological value of the basic aspects of Mariology to be convinced of this. "Mary is full of grace" from the very first moment of her existence, and thus is preserved from sin. Divine favor was manifestly granted to her with abundance--"blessed among all women"--and it was reflected from Mary onto the very condition of woman, excluding any inferiority (cf. Redemptoris Mater 7-11).

Furthermore, Mary was committed to God's definitive covenant with humanity. She has the task of consenting, in the name of humanity, to the Savior's coming. This role surpasses all claims of women's rights, even the most recent. Mary intervened in a supereminent and humanly unthinkable way in the history of humanity, and with her consent, contributed to the transformation of all human destiny.

Moreover: Mary cooperated in the development of Jesus' mission, both by giving birth to him, raising him, and being close to him in his hidden life. Then, during the years of his public ministry, she did this by discreetly supporting his activities, beginning with Cana when she obtained the first demonstration of the Savior's miraculous power. As the Council says, Mary "brought about by her intercession the beginning of the miracles of Jesus the Messiah" (LG 58).

Above all, Mary cooperated with Christ in his work of redemption, not only preparing Jesus for his mission, but also joining in his sacrifice for the salvation of all (cf. MD 3-5).

7. Today too, Mary's light can spread throughout the world of woman, to embrace woman's old and new problems, helping everyone to understand her dignity and to recognize her rights. Women receive a special grace; they receive it to live in covenant with God, at the level of their dignity and mission. They are called to be united in their own way - in a way which is excellent - to the redeeming work of Christ. Women have a great role in the Church. This can be clearly understood in the light of the Gospel and of the sublime figure of Mary.

[1]   Gen 1:27; cf. Mulieris Dignitatem 6

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

On lit dans le Livre de la Genèse: “Dieu créa l’homme à son image, à l’image de Dieu il le créa, homme et femme il les créa”. Telle est la base de l’anthropologie chrétienne. L’homme et la femme sont des êtres humains égaux et complémentaires. Pour la femme, la perfection consiste donc à être femme selon les qualités qui lui sont propres. En donnant son consentement à la venue du Sauveur, Marie a joué un rôle éminent dans l’alliance entre Dieu et l’humanité. Elle éclaire la mission de toute femme, qui est aussi de promouvoir cette alliance.

Merci de votre présence. Que Dieu vous bénisse!

Ai pellegrini di espressione linguistica inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s catechesis deals with the dignity of women and their mission in society and the Church. Concern for the promotion of women has led the Church to reflect more deeply on the full equality of men and women and on how, because of their differences, they complement each other in God’s plan of creation and redemption. All are called to reject the ways in which present-day culture uses women as mere objects of domination, pleasure and consumerism. Women themselves must not fail to strive to have their personal dignity fully respected. In Mary, the New Eve, who freely associated herself with Christ’s work of redemption the sublime dignity and vocation of women is most clearly revealed.

I wish to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Herzlich grübe ich Euch, liebe Schwestern un Brüder aus den deutschsprachigen Ländern. Heute möchte ich kurz auf die wichtige Rolle und Aufgabe der Frau innerhalb der Kirche hinweisen, wie dies sich im Lichte des Evangeliums und der Person Mariens darstellt. Die Frauen erhalten eine besondere Gnade, sich auf ihre Weise und entsprechend ihrer besonderen Sendung in der Kirche mit dem Erlösungswerk Christi zu vereinen. Wir alle müssen dazu beitragen, daß ihre Würde und ihre Rechte von allen anerkannt und respektiert werden.

Euch allen sowie Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai numerosi pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

A vosotros, peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, os di rijo mi mas afectuoso saludo. Nuestra reflexión en nuestro encuentro de hoy quiere centrarse en la dignidad y misión de la mujer cristiana. A la luz del Evangelio y de la excelsa figura de María, la Iglesia exalta el papel de mujer cristiana, madre, esposa, miembro activo de la comunidad eclesial.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di espressione linguistica portoghese

Caros irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

A Igreia considera que o reconhecimento do valor da mulher e da sua dignidade como pessoa humana tem como raiz originária a consciência crista do valor de cada pessoa. Criada à imagem e semelhança de Deus, não menos que o homem, sua perfeição não é a de ser como o homem, mas mulher, devendo, porém, cooperar com ele para o progresso da humanidade. Mais, como Maria Santíssima cooperou com a obra redentora de Jesus, a mulher é chamada a viver na aliança com Deus de acordo com a própria dignidade e missão. Seja este um auspício e um voto que faço a todos vós, com a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Pzybyli: księża z okazji 30-lecia święceń (diecezja tarnowska), z okazji 10-lecia święceń - z rodzinami (archidiecezja częstochowska), z Warszawy - pielgrzymka parafii Matki Bożej Wspomożenia, z Białej Podlaskiej - pielgrzymka parafii garnizonowej, pielgrzymi z Urzędowa k. Lublina, z Gdyni-Chylonia, z Polkowic (diecezja legnicka), z Lubina, z Rybnika, z Nowego Sącza, grupa Krakowskiego Okręgu Wojskowego, pracownicy Sadu Wojewódzkiego w Kielcach, uczestnicy Letniego Uniwersytetu w Rzymie w Domu Polskim przy via Cassia, grupa Polskiego Związku Niewidomych - Oddzial Starogard Gdański, grupa Zwiazku Emerytów i Rencistów z Pszczyny, grupa Związku Emerytów i Rencistów Nauczycieli z Chelma, grupa z Zakładu Opieki Zdrowotnej - Poznań-Jeżyce; uczestnicy grup turystycznych z Warszawy, Bydgoszczy, Katowic, Opola, Bielska-Biale; j Nysy i Częstochowy oraz wszyscy irmi, obecni na placu pielgrzymi z kraju i emigracji.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Al termine voglio salutare i pellegrini ed i gruppi di lingua italiana che partecipano a questo incontro. Desidero salutare anche i pellegrini di altre nazioni: in particolare i gruppi di croati e di slovacchi, unitamente agli altri pellegrini presenti oggi a Roma.

Formulo un augurio tutto speciale ai numerosi Sacerdoti del Movimento dei Focolari, provenienti da diversi continenti per un convegno promosso in occasione dell’Anno Internazionale della Famiglia. Chiedo al Signore per loro un intenso fervore apostolico perché sappiano svolgere con efficacia pastorale il loro ministero presso le famiglie ad essi affidate. A tutti la mia affettuosa benedizione.

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