13th Mar 2014

Women of the World: Unite With Pope Francis

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

No one in the world has more love, regard, respect, and gratitude for women than the Roman Catholic Church. And that’s unmistakable watching Pope Francis.

“The Virgin Mary is more important than any bishop and any apostle,” Pope Francis said — not for the first time — during an interview published this month in Italian.

As with much of what he says and teaches, this is not new, but when the first pope from the Americas — a media-friendly priest who has become an international sensation — says it, it has a newfound shot at being heard.

It’s become a bit of a parlor game to guess when it might be that Pope Francis shatters the glass ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, appointing women to all manner of hierarchical office. Holding your breath for the ordination of women not only will cut off your oxygen supply longer than you can handle, but it will also blind you to the rally he’s driving. Papa Francesco (when in Rome) keeps urging women of the world to unite in confidence behind the truth that the Church needs, loves, and indeed is led by feminine genius.

“Feminine genius” is a phrase first popularized by Pope John Paul II. In a letter overflowing with thanksgiving, issued around the time of the United Nations conference on women in Beijing in 1995, JPII wrote: “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman!” Women, he wrote, “enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”

In a speech earlier this year, Pope Francis focused on the practical struggle of so many modern women’s lives:

[H]ow can one increase an effective presence in so many areas of the public sphere, in the world of work and in the places where the most important decisions are taken, and at the same time maintain a presence and preferential and wholly special attention to the family? And this is the field for discernment which, in addition to the reflection on the reality of women in society, requires assiduous and persevering prayer.

He urged nothing less than a “dialogue with God” about it, “illumined by his Word and watered by the grace of the sacraments, that the Christian woman seeks ever anew to respond to the Lord’s call, in her practical circumstances.”

“The human vocation cannot be fulfilled,” he said, without women’s “gifts of refinement.” Here, like on so many other fronts, he is nourishing a complementarity. Men and women not made to be a Mars and Venus at war, but co-workers with gifts unique to each.

Since his first days in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis has been pleading with the world to encounter the merciful love of the Creator of the Universe. And he both celebrates and beckons for women’s leadership here — as he makes a monthly call to an 80-year-old widow who lost a child, as he tells us about missing his sister, as he asks that Blessed Mother to keep him near her Son as he shepherds a world where the tortuous knots of fear and anxiety, depression, and abandonment rip holes in hearts that only God’s love can fill.

We can renew our lives and our culture if we celebrate the “holy patience,” to use another Pope Francis phrase from a recent weekday morning homily, of a young woman from Nazareth who had faith: Mary, the first disciple of Christ, who followed God’s will in freedom and leads us in a necessary counter-cultural revolution where a woman’s love aids mankind from falling.

On Divine Mercy Sunday next month, Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be canonized by Pope Francis. The symbolism is unmistakable. After decades of some false divisions in the Church — and the ravages of tyranny in the world — two peacemakers will be highlighted as models of holiness. In a unifying celebration, centered around the sacrament of the Mass, Christian identity as a people of the Beatitudes will be renewed. Blessed are the peacemakers! And how do we sow peace? By encountering Divine Mercy, knowing we are sinners in need of the healing mercy of God. And we miss a key element of the story if we do not notice the Divine Mercy devotion was entrusted to a Polish nun, St. Faustina, to share with the world.

Catholic women don’t need to be priests, for we have Christ. Mary bore the Incarnation in her womb. This is the power that can “save the peace of the world,” as read a letter Pope Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus, handed me in the twilight days of his pontificate. His resignation ushered in a divinely inspired reboot. We ought not miss this message in all the frenzy of the media swirling around Francis: Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, thanks be to God for you. Know the gift that you are to the world. We all need you to! 

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)