This study seminar «God entrusts the human being to the woman» (cfr. MD no. 30), promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Laity for the 25th anniversary of the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, has been a great gift for all of us. The fruits of these two days of work together go well beyond what we could have hoped for. Indeed, we perceived a special presence of the Lord in our midst.
From many points of view this has been, above all, a seminar of surprise and wonderment, it seems to me. Wonder first of all at finding ourselves in front of the greatness and beauty of God’s plan, enclosed in the act of creating the human person, man and woman. The plan of God the Creator for man and woman must be continually rediscovered in each time of life, because the differences between male and female when one is young are not the same as in adulthood or in old-age. The human person is a reality always to be rediscovered, something in front of us, yet requiring a fuller grasp. We can never take definitive ownership over the truth about the human person, but in each of life’s stages we must strive for this truth.
In my opinion this study seminar has been an authentic laboratory of hope. We live in a world in which Christians often have messages thrown at them which are quite the contrary to the things we have heard during the seminar. These messages would have us believe that the various anthropological deviations of post-modernity provide a final and definitive reading of history. When Christians listen to this type of message the risk is always that we give up hope or worse still that we take these messages on board as our own, and begin to act accordingly.
We have talked of the slowness of the Church in taking up the question of womens’ dignity, and the vocation and mission of the woman. Here, it is pertinent to remember that one of the most important mea culpa pronounced by Blessed John Paul II during the Great Jubilee concerned the fault of us Christians who, while being the guardians of a great and wonderful message, have not known how to read and transmit it in an adequate and timely manner. Often our voice was not heard when it should have been. This fragility should keep us humble, but with a humility that does not give up on the challenges that come from contemporary society.
There is also the risk, for us as Christians, that we fall a-critically the diktats of today’s dominant culture. Once, in Germany, Archbishop Josef Höffner of Cologne said in a homily that what most damages the Church is an attitude of “wir auch”, or “us too”. This is the attitude that we Christians have when we accept a-critically the affirmations that contemporary culture forces upon us in so many ways, and thus lose the audacity of being who we truly are. We become a rough copy of ourselves, and cease to be courageous witnesses of Christian identity.
I believe that this is one of the fundamental challenges that Christians are called to face today: being disciples of Christ in all things, being men and women whoa re faithful to the message that Christ left to us. This is where we can situate Pope Francis’ insistent invitation to be Christians who have the courage to go against dominant trend. This is one of the principal tasks that each one of us receives as this seminar draws to a close: to have the courage to step away from the voice of post-modernity and live authentic Christian lives.
Another reason that this Seminar ahs been a laboratory of hope is that we learned of many projects and initiatives across the world for the promotion of women, and these give much hope. The risk remains that activities like these become isolated, through lack of exchange and communication. Therefore, our invitation is to stay in touch and to build relationships, to learn to work in a network and not navigate alone. This makes it possible to spread the high vocation and mission that God has thought out for man and for woman, taking this message as far as parliaments and legislatures. These have not been days for discussing a mere utopia, but for reflecting joyfully on things essential to the future of the human person, man and woman. So our challenge is to be active and bold heralds of this message, not only in our personal relationships but in public life. We know that this is no easy task, and we witness a strong and militant secularism that wishes to push all religion into a strictly private sphere. Today’s dominant culture tells us: “By all means, be Christian; as long as you don’t show it in public!”. Accepting this would make us invisible Christians, like salt without a taste or a light that that does not shine. On the contrary, Jesus tells us: “you are the salt of the earth... you are the light of the world.” (cfr Mt 5:13-16). The New Evangelisation - of which much is said today – is announcing to the world the beauty of being Christian, and transmitting to humanity the beauty of God’s plan for man and woman. This is a true evangelisation!
My wish for us all is that we can return home from this Seminar with a renewed hope. Let us not fall into the trap of feeling ourselves to be a minority that cultivates an inferiority complex and needs excuse itself for existing. We have an extraordinarily important message to give to the world; we must not keep it hidden. Talking about Christians, about us, Pope Benedict XVII said that we are truly a minority – indeed statistics show that there are not much more that a billion of them in a world of six billion inhabitants – but that creative minorities determine the future. In this way the Catholic Church should understand itself as a creative minority with a heritage of values that are things not of the past but living and actual (cf. interview travelling to the Czech Republic, September 26th 2009). The Gospel is not a museum piece, but a living reality that engenders true life.
During the Seminar we also heard the moving conversation between Dante and Beatrice which Prof. Nembrini so ably presented to us. I think that that was a special moment, marvellous and thought provoking. The question of the woman’s vocation and mission is not only a question of anthropology, sociology or theology; it is something that opens us to the mystery of God…
Seeds of the Word have been sown in these days, but the sowers are not our speakers, despite their important contributions. Rather the true and principal sower has been the Lord Jesus, present among us. So our task is to cultivate this seed, and to make sure that daily preoccupations do not stifle it, so that it can germ and give abundant fruit. This is my wish for each one of you.
We conclude this seminar by thanking the Lord, who ahs been at work among us. He has guided us, inspired our reflection, and given us the strength and courage to make know to others his plan for man and woman. Naturally I heartily thank our speakers, the participants in our panels and all those who have spoken, as well as the secretariat of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and in particular the Dicastery’s section for women. Thank you, all of you, for your participation in the seminar, making these days full and rich.
Our meeting will conclude now with an audience with Pope Francis. Let is prepare to welcome the Holy Father and the words he will speak to us, that these might be alight and a guide for our path.