Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Role of the Woman in the Life of the Church

by Fides Dossier


This Fides Dossier examines the history of the role of women in the Catholic Church. It discusses the Social and Cultural Changes that have occured since the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI's writings, Marian devotion and Experiences of Faith and Mission from the feminine world.

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FIDES News Service, Rome, August 2008


Social and Cultural Changes in the Role of the Woman

From the Second Vatican Council to Mulieris Dignitatem

The Pope and the Contribution of the Feminine Genius to the Church: John Paul II's Letter to Women (1995) and Cardinal Ratzinger's Letter to Bishops (2004)

Marian Devotion

Experiences of Faith and Mission from the Feminine World: Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Chiara Lubich

Bibliography and Linkography


Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) — The "yes" of a woman to God's plan for her life has changed the course of human history. The most important event in all history, God's becoming man, took place in the history of the human race through a remarkably young woman. Mary is the model for those who follow her and who seek to change the world, helping it to grow in faith and love. Mary is the archetype that reveals how, on a path of faith, grace, and fullness of life, the strength of a woman is of utmost importance in the life of society as a whole — regardless of race, nationality, or social status — as well as in the educational and missionary task of the Church today, which is a Church that is constantly growing in her maternal role and attention towards humanity and life itself, finding in the feminine sensibility a new and unique manner of facing the needs of mankind in this present millennium. Mary, as the Servant of God John Paul II has described her, is the highest expression of the "feminine genius": placing herself at God's service, and believing without seeing, she has placed herself at the service of all mankind. Observing her, the message she bears, and the example of her life, can shed new light on the thought and role of the woman in the Third Millennium, especially in the family, society, and in the working world. Reading about the life of Mary and discovering how God's plan for mankind has unfolded through her, beginning with Genesis, in Adam and Eve, our attention is drawn to a crucial point: there is no longer a struggle for supremacy and power between man and woman, but rather, a relationship of mutual respect and union in faith in the One God.

Social and Cultural Changes in the Role of the Woman

The historical period following the Second Vatican Council witnessed a great explosion of the feminist culture. A renewed consideration of the role and characteristics of the woman brought about great changes in society and in the family, although the victories in the fight for woman's rights (e.g. the right to vote in 1945, family rights in 1975, education, access to professional training, equal opportunity, entrance in the workplace) would take longer in becoming a reality for women. Education certainly played a key role in a greater emancipation for women, as it opened the doors to work opportunities outside the home and access to the world of culture.

The Second Vatican Council's reflections on the female condition came at a time when the role of the woman was still eclipsed by that of the man — the father, the brother, the husband. Following this crucial moment in the life of the Church and humanity as a whole, the Magisterium of John Paul II can surely take the credit in recognizing the existence of a feminine question, and to move from the mere recognition of the dignity of the woman to her involvement in civil and social life. Pope Benedict XVI is continuing on this path, with his unconditional and profound love and respect for life.

From the Second Vatican Council to Mulieris Dignitatem

"Gaudium et Spes"

The Second Vatican Council, as of today, has been the last Council held in the Catholic Church. It began during the papacy of John XXIII, on October 11, 1962, and ended three years later, on December 7, 1965, with Pope Paul VI. The Council was above all marked by its authentic ecumenical character. It was a unique occasion for the Church to meet with representatives of churches from all over the world that had, until then, kept distance from the Church. It was a Council that did not seek to declare new dogmas, but instead sought to give the Church greater strength and openness, in its specific forms, within the context of modern times, and enable her to meet modern needs.

In the final document of the Council, we find among other affirmations, the following: "The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling."

This was the first important acknowledgement of the positive role of women in the Church and society, more or less a summary of what had been articulated in the other documents of the Council, such as the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) and the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam actuositatem), that encouraged the laity to be witnesses of their faith and to spread Christ's message in the world, including through the formation of Catholic associations. In the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, the Council Fathers focused their attention mainly on the need for renewed dialogue between the Church and modern culture, primarily through men and women of good will, with whom the Church felt and continues to feel the need to establish a closer union, and thus work together in the areas of peace, justice, and freedom.

The Constitution opens with an affirmation of the dignity of the human person: a dignity that has undergone great trials due to the many repeated changes that occur as a result of innovations in the area of scientific research and human intelligence. These changes have an effect on the thoughts and actions, and therefore on the religious life, of believers. Never before has man experienced profound freedom — in spite of world conflicts — coupled by imposing forms of psychological and social slavery. Furthermore, the perfection of a temporal system, as the Council has pointed out, does not necessarily imply its perfection in a spiritual dimension. This is why man feels lost, restless, and yet seeks to understand these modern times, without losing himself and his faith. In this sense, the Council offered a support for those capable of perceiving this urgent situation.

The rapid evolution of technology and science, and the difficulty in finding an equilibrium in this knowledge, leads to a great instability, as well as profound changes among families, due to the generation gap, demographic and economic challenges, as well as in the new relationship established between the man and the woman. On a worldwide scale, the disparity between the rich and poor nations becomes more evident. All over the world, the need is felt for a social and political order that celebrates human achievements, while providing the basis for every man and every group to claim its own dignity. Women, as well as developing nations, begin to claim equal opportunity and treatment, with the conviction that the benefits and innovations of the new post-war society should be enjoyed by all. It is a moment in which newness and restlessness share a common coexistence and a common struggle, but maintaining the awareness that restlessness and instability are, in the end, rooted in men's hearts.

The Council sees the faith as a response to man's needs, and seeks to reaffirm the fundamental values of humanity in reference to their source, God. "Faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God's design for man's total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human," the Constitution reads. Man has been created by God in His image and likeness. He is a social being — so much so that God places a helper at his side: woman. The sin man commits detracts from his being as man and becomes an obstacle in his path to fullness, thus introducing the endless struggle between good and evil in history. God Himself has come to free man and make him strong in the face of evil temptations. Man's material and moral elements find their source in God, which is why the body and soul should not be despised or harmed. Moreover, the intelligence that God has bestowed on him, through which he can participate in the light of the mind of God, makes him superior to all the other created beings in the universe.

Also of great importance in the Constitution is the Church's reflection on the spread of atheism. Man's dignity reaches its greatest height in communion with the God who created him, and who continues to sustain him in being with and for love. This bond with God, however, is often ignored and substituted by a systematic atheism in which either God does not exist or He has nothing to say in our lives and man is incapable of entering into contact with Him. The lack of relationship with God and the loss of hope in eternal life seriously wound human dignity. On this question, Gaudium et Spes is extremely clear: "The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man's dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in His happiness."

God created mankind with the desire that it be one family, treating each other as brothers with the same end — God Himself — and the common good. Thus, the Council calls for a collaboration among all men and respect for one's neighbor, however he presents himself — whether he is different or he is the adversary — and a love that goes outside of itself. In addition, there is a need to acknowledge the equality among all men, who share the same destiny and overcome the widespread individualism. Human activity, in its individual and collective forms, "corresponds to God's intentions." The men and women to whom creation has been entrusted, in recognizing God as Creator in their work and with their efforts, not only find a support for themselves and their families, but also contribute in a certain manner to continuing the work of the Creator.

The Constitution is obviously concerned with the how the Church can continue contributing to man's growth: "Whoever follows after Christ, the perfect man, becomes himself more of a man." The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been entrusted to the Church as the sole instrument capable of guaranteeing a just freedom and sound dignity for the human person. The Church places herself as the defender and promoter of human rights and of all those who, throughout all history fight for the recognition of their rights. The Spirit of the Gospel impels all men to face their own responsibilities, leading to a movement and relationship of dialogue between the Church and the modern world, who mutually recognize the help and contributions they receive from one another.

Given that the Church cannot remain indifferent towards anything that concerns man, the Constitution also addresses the issues of culture, work, the economy, as well as the importance of the family, which the document defines as the "school of deeper humanity" and marriage. Without a sound conjugal and familial status, the good of the individual and the society in which he lives remains impossible. United to the theme of the family is that of respect for life, the stable upbringing of children who are offered a wholesome education. What is needed is that all sectors of civil society — and the same remains true today, forty years after the publication of the Constitution — work towards the good of marriage and the institution of the family.

"Mulieris Dignitatem"

On the occasion of the Marian Year, on August 15, 1988, John Paul II issued a Letter on the dignity and vocation of women. It was one step further in the thought "revolution" begun in the Council, with which the Church had started observing and acknowledging the recurring question of the of the role of the woman in society and how it was evolving as the times changed. "The Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the 'mystery of woman' and for every woman — for that which constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the 'great works of God,' which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her," the Pontiff writes, acknowledging the great importance of the Council and the time immediately prior to the Council and following it, as well as that of the Synod of Bishops which took place in October 1987 (just one year earlier). The Synod had focused on the commitment of the laity, and more specifically, the dignity and vocation of women.

Another opportunity to address the issue came about in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, which continued with a deeper reflection on the fundamental points mentioned in the Council. An essential role is played by Mary, the Mother of God, present in the Mystery of the Church, and thus, deeply united to all humanity. Christ, "reveals man to himself" and in this process, Our Mother plays a unique role. In the Papal document, as in others, the Old and New Testaments form the basis for a proper understanding and consideration of the role and dignity of the woman. Man's union with God offers him the possibility of dignity and vocation, which Mary — the Biblical woman, the Mother of God — incarnates in the fullest sense of these terms. The fullness of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God, can never be reached without this privileged relationship with God.

Man and woman, in relationship with the Creator, are an expression of unity in their common humanity, which not only implies a communion between them, but a similitude with the union with God. Man and woman are, in fact, the only creatures that God "willed for their own sake." He has made them persons, and therefore, with the desire to reach the fullness of their humanity; and this fulfillment can be reached only through the gift of self. "The Almighty has done great things for me": this quote from the Virgin Mary shows how she had truly discovered the wealth of her feminine identity, according to God's plan. Mary becomes a symbol of the limitless creativity of the woman, which is sustained by the gift. The gift above all refers to the gift from God in the earthly Paradise, which was later tainted by evil and it is the figure of Mary that can make Eve rediscover the nature of the true dignity of woman, of feminine humanity, a discovery that the Pope says, "must continually reach the heart of every woman and shape her vocation and her life." This is an important part in the thought of the dignity of the woman and Christ's redemptive mission. The word "redemption" takes on a new meaning for the woman, as Christ is the first person who, penetrating her with His gaze, loves and respects their "womanhood." In the encounter with the Samaritan woman, this deep respect reaches its summit: "If you knew the gift of God and the one who is telling you 'Give me to drink,' you would ask Him for a drink and He would give you living water" (Jn 4:10). The gift of God, Creator and Redeemer, is that which is entrusted to every woman, and only in the Spirit of Christ is she able to make a gift of herself to others and rediscover the true nature of her womanhood, of her own identity.

The woman who is mother or virgin, spouse or consecrated, in her workplace, in her family, and in society . . . is the woman who, in all her characteristics, the Church wishes to express her gratitude, through this remarkable document of John Paul II, giving thanks "for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a great social responsibility; for 'perfect' women and for 'weak' women — for all women as they have come forth from the heart of God in all the beauty and richness of their femininity; as they have been embraced by his eternal love; as, together with men, they are pilgrims on this earth, which is the temporal 'homeland' of all people and is transformed sometimes into a 'valley of tears'; as they assume, together with men, a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity according to daily necessities and according to that definitive destiny which the human family has in God himself, in the bosom of the ineffable Trinity."

The Church also expresses her gratitude for the many manifestations of what the Holy Father defines as the "feminine genius," which over the course of history has played a role in peoples and nations, and for the many "fruits of feminine holiness," among which are all the charisms which the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon women. But as the Pope explains in his Letter to Women, thanking them is not enough: the civil and religious institutions must make an effort in valuing the role of women in society, one in need of light to illumine the path, one that can draw abundant wealth from feminine humanity.

The Pope and the Contribution of the Feminine Genius: John Paul II's Letter to Women (1995) and Cardinal Ratzinger's Letter to Bishops (2004)

John Paul II's Letter to Women

On June 29, 1995, just months after the IV World Conference on Women in Beijing, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to women all over the world, asking that the conference be an opportunity to reflect on the many feminine contributions to society and nations. The letter was yet another stepping stone on the path that this Pope himself had begun with Mulieris Dignitatem, a confirmation of the Church's dedication in protecting the dignity and rights of all women, hearing their needs, and speaking to their hearts.

"This word of thanks to the Lord for his mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world is at the same time a concrete and direct word of thanks to women, to every woman, for all that they represent in the life of humanity," Pope John Paul II wrote. He gave thanks to God for the presence and existence of the woman, of every woman in the world. For the Pope, it was an opportunity to thank women in the most important facets of their womanhood: the woman who is mother, in whose womb a new life can grow and who becomes a guide, support, and point of reference for her child as he matures; the woman who is spouse, who in union with the man places herself at the service of communion and life; the woman who is daughter and sister, who, in family and society shares the fruits of her labor, her sensibility, and perseverance with others; the woman who works and with her contribution creates a culture that is open to the sense of mystery and to the union between reason and emotion; the consecrated woman who perfectly incarnates the relationship of preferential love that God wishes to share with His creature.

The Pope makes a final expression of gratitude to the woman as woman, wealth for the world and for human relationships. The Letter continues with a series of apologies made by the Holy Father, for the moments in history when there may have arisen difficulties for women as a result of members of the Church, and offers a proposal for renewed effort in fostering the interior and spiritual wealth of women, following Jesus' example, the first who rises above the prejudice and mistrust of women characteristic of His time, treating them with respect, compassion, and openness. It is enough to recall His dialogue with the Samaritan woman, with the widow of Nain — with that phrase "Do not weep" (Lk 7:13) that expresses an infinite tenderness and compassion towards her in her pain — the adulteress, to see the great importance He gave to the feminine soul.

Thus, the thought of John Paul II goes out to all those women who, in the past or the present, have not been understood or appreciated in their dignity and have been subject to prejudice, being valued more for their physical appearance than for their competence or intelligence. The Pope is concerned for all those women who run into difficulties in moving on with their lives; for all those who are often subject to harm as a result of their positive acceptance of the gift of motherhood; for all those women who, especially in war-torn areas and places where survival is a daily struggle, are victims of violence or sexual abuse. There comes to mind the terrible event of female human trafficking that involves an average of 700,000 to 2 million people per year in the world, the majority being women and girls. Violence against women is a phenomenon that is incredibly widespread, present both in the northern and southern hemispheres, in the most developed and poorest of nations. The intense letter written by John Paul II continues to be a voice of conscience especially for international institutions, urging them to go beyond a mere denunciation of the difficulties and injustices being suffered by women, to an authentic "campaign for the promotion of women," as the Pontiff calls it, concentrating on all areas of women's life and beginning with a "universal recognition of the dignity of women." This recognition is not only a discovery to be made on the level of human reason, but it is also inspired by the Word of God, in which God's design includes the presence of the woman and the importance of her dignity.

The book of Genesis describes it in a more symbolic manner: man and woman made in the image and likeness of God, unique and yet complementary to one another. The woman is created to "help" man, not in a material sense, but in an ontological sense, in respect to his being. Femininity and masculinity are mutually complementary. In the task that God entrusts them, i.e. in caring for the earth, both share in this same responsibility from the very beginning. The unity between the man and the woman corresponds to God's plan, as it is He who gives them the task of procreation, of safeguarding family life, and at the same time, of setting historical precedence. Although it is not easy to make a thorough evaluation of just how much influence women have had in the progress of humanity, the Pope mentions first and foremost their great educational capacity and power, explaining that wherever there is a demand for education, women are present in abundance, moved by an "affective, cultural and spiritual motherhood," as the Holy Father describes it, which gives them a privileged role in the great challenge of human and interpersonal relationships.

Cardinal Ratzinger's Letter to Bishops On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World

On May 31, 2004, on the occasion of the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published a document that not only supports the dignity of the role of women, but does so through a careful analysis of the Bible, focusing on the need for collaboration between men and women in the Church and in the world. The letter begins with a splendid definition of the Church as an "expert in humanity."

The analysis made by the future Pope Benedict XVI opens with an enumeration of the causes that in recent decades have led to an incomplete response to the question of the woman, i.e. focusing on the woman's subordination on many occasions, leading to attitudes of hostility towards men and initiatives geared towards dominion and a desire to control. It is a process that leads to an intense rivalry between the sexes, manifest in interpersonal relationships and in the confusion and breakdown of the institution of the family.

On the other side of the same coin, juxtaposed to the rivalry of the sexes, is the annihilation of the differences between man and woman. It is a process that had been intended to give women the same rights as men, but that in the end has caused confusion over the identity of the family, sexuality, motherhood, and fatherhood. This confusion is rooted in the idea that each individual can decide on his own identity, regardless of his biological reality. Linked with this is a critical reading of Sacred Scripture and the vision of a God who is too patriarchal.

The Church, in response to these definitions that arise and that sow confusion and instability, proposes a "active collaboration, in recognition of the difference between men and women," as Cardinal Ratzinger explains, offering an illuminated interpretation of the Bible, which unveils the basis of Christian anthropology. In addition to Genesis, Cardinal Ratzinger's study is also points to the words of John Paul II. It is important that a distinction be made between man and woman and their gender differences, clearly seen from the beginning in the Book of Genesis: these differences do not create distances or divisions between men and women, but rather they become instruments of union and reciprocity between the two.

The man and the woman do not live as islands; their live for one another. It is in this interpersonal communion that God's design is manifest, i.e. the integration of what is masculine and what is feminine in humanity. Original Sin ruins the relation that the man and the woman have with the Creator, as it does the manner of considering and living their gender differences. The vision of God as an enemy leads to a breakdown in the relationship between man and woman. When a relationship is damaged, it can become more difficult to yearn for God. What is described in the Genesis account is at the heart of the breakdown of relationships in our modern world, mainly caused by a lack of respect, love, and equality that are necessary in the male-female relationship.

The reading of the Bible helps to overcome this vision of rivalry in the relationship between man and woman, and see it in a more relational perspective. "The human creature, in its unity of soul and body, is characterized therefore, from the very beginning, by the relationship with the other-beyond-the-self," Cardinal Ratzinger writes. This implies that Original Sin neither reveals the truth about God's plan for man and woman nor the truth about the relationship between themselves. Sin leads to a wounding of this relationship between man and woman, but it can be healed, as the Cardinal affirms by mentioning several Bible passages: the story of Noah who is able to save his family and therefore, his descendents, and the promise of salvation made to Abraham.

God's revelation to His People, in the Old Testament, is often described through metaphors of a man and woman. For example, God is described as a husband who loves his wife, Israel. One of the most acclaimed and captivating testimonies of this revelation of God is found in the Song of Songs. The metaphor of the man and the woman, the covenant between them, is joined to the concept of salvation. In the New Testament, the figures of Jesus and Mary are the "incarnation" of the metaphors of the Old Testament and it is in them that they reach their fullness in a definitive manner.

The man and the woman, different from each other and yet both united to Christ's Pascal Mystery, no longer live their differences as an obstacle, but rather base their relationship on a collaboration that comes forth from a mutual respect for these differences. In this manner, as Cardinal Ratzinger himself affirms, the role of the woman in the Church and in society can become an object of increased respect and understanding on the part of all.

The most significant characteristic in the woman's relation to society is certainly her so-called "capacity for the other," which is thoroughly united to her ability to bear life and which goes beyond biological procreation, because motherhood (as well as fatherhood) goes beyond mere physical engendering. The woman's role is fundamental wherever there is a human relationship, wherever there is a need to take care of another, to look after another person. Thus, women should take an active part in the working world and in the family, because she can offer all her capabilities and experience of dedication and care for others. Self-giving is a trait of the human race as a whole, and it is one that women incarnate in their gift of self and in their care for others.

These specific characteristics are cultivated in the woman through her belonging to the Church, where she finds her example: Mary, whose gifts for listening, comforting, her fidelity and humility all light the path of faith for all humanity, and offer a special example for women. Service, gift of self, the key role of life and the family are all concepts clearly presented in the message from the Permanent Bishops' Committee on the occasion of the 30th National Day for Life, which affirmed that "A country's degree of civilization is measured by its capacity to place itself a the service of life."

Marian Devotion

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is a meeting point for Catholics and Orthodox and shows the possibility of dialogue and ecumenism among various creeds. Mary, for example, is venerated in numerous sites throughout the world, in places where the Mother of God has decided to manifest herself to the simple, the humble, those despised in the eyes of the world.

This is the case in Lourdes, a small village in France where from February 11 to July 16, 1858, a peasant girl of about 14 years of age received 18 apparitions from a "Beautiful Lady," in a grotto not far from her house. Her name was Bernadette and this year marks the 150th anniversary of the first apparition. In the grotto where she claimed to have seen the "Lady," a statue of the Blessed Virgin was erected. The "Lady" herself responded to the girl's questions as to her identity, in one of the last apparitions, on March 25, saying, "I am the Immaculate Conception." The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, of which Bernadette was surely ignorant as she was an illiterate peasant girl, had been declared in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, with the Bull Ineffabilis Deus, at a time when France was debating over the secularization of the state. Since then, an estimated 700 million people have visited Lourdes. This year, a record high is expected as it is the 150th anniversary of the apparitions.

The poor and lowly are also at the heart of another series of apparitions, in Fatima (Portugal). Here, on May 13, 1917, six times, each month, the Virgin appeared to three shepherd children: Francisco and Jacinta (brother and sister) and their cousin, Lucia, all between the ages of 7 and 10. The apparitions that the three children related led a great number of people to visit the place, however this cost them captivity and hatred on the part of the civil authorities who wished to maintain an anti-clerical environment. In Fatima, the Blessed Virgin told the three children three secrets, saying that they could reveal only the first two. Francisco and Jacinta died at a young age and were beatified in 2000. Lucia entered the Carmelite Order and in 1943 was ordered to write down the third secret that the Blessed Virgin had told and send it to the Vatican. The third secret was revealed in 2000 and made reference to the assassination attempt suffered by John Paul II, precisely on May 13, 1981, anniversary of the first apparition of Fatima. The relation between the Pontiff and the visionaries was quite close, up to the moment of his death, as Sister Lucia died just weeks before Pope John Paul II.

The youth played an important role in yet another site of Marian devotion, of the desire to imitate Mary and abandon oneself in her motherly arms, heeding her words. This time, it's Medjugorje, a small town that belonged to the former Yugoslavia. On June 24, 1981, amidst the presence of the Communist regime, six young people (all between the ages of 10 and 16) saw the illumined figure of a woman with a child in her arms. The following day, she revealed that she was the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the beginning, as all forms of religious devotion were prohibited by the regime, the apparitions took place in the parish church or in the homes of the visionaries. Today, none of them live in Medjugorje and yet the apparitions continue to occur on the 25th of each month. In these, the Blessed Virgin, who appears as the Queen of Peace, offers her messages to all humanity. Although the Bishops of the former Yugoslavia have denied the authenticity of the apparitions in Medjugorje, the Holy See has decided to take the final judgment into their own hands, allowing the faithful (who each year are more and more) to continue their pilgrimages and other forms of devotions to the Queen of Peace.

Italy also has its fair share of churches and shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Among the most frequented is the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto, in Le Marche, which holds the remains of Mary's house in Nazareth brought to Italy from the Holy Land in 1294 during the Crusades. Recent studies on the materials and building techniques of the Holy House seem to confirm its authenticity, making the Shrine one of the most well-known in the world, having been visited by numerous saints, blesseds, and Popes. The statue of Our Lady of Loreto was carved from wood from a Lebanon cedar of the Vatican Gardens and was reconstructed after a fire destroyed part of the Holy House in 1921.

Experiences of Faith and Mission from the Feminine World: Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Chiara Lubich

In spite of the difficulty and futility in trying to make an quantitative assessment of the contributions of men and women in their commitment to the Church and society, there are two women, among many, who have made an exemplary contribution to spreading the Christian message and the fundamental precepts of the Catholic Church in our century: Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Chiara Lubich, who passed away on March 14 of this year.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a Catholic religious sister from Albania, became famous, in spite of her humility, throughout the entire world for having lived and taken care of the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. As a result of her work with the sick, the poor, and the weak, in 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize. She was a simple and humble woman, completely dedicated to the mission she carried out for love of God. She did not wish to participate in the traditional banquet celebrated on these occasions, however she did accept the money that formed part of the prize, with which she was surely able to feed the hungry of Calcutta, for at least a year anyway.

After having made her vows, young Agnes, who later became Mother Teresa (inspired by Saint Therese of Lisieux) went to finish her studies and later work as a teacher in Calcutta. Her contact with this world of the poor and marginalized led her to a profound interior crisis, after which she felt the call to found in 1950, the Missionaries of Charity, who continue working even after her death on September 5, 1997. The Congregation was given the title "Congregation of Pontifical Right" in 1965, by Pope Paul VI, opening its horizons beyond India. They established a close bond with Pope John Paul II, with whose help they were able to open three Missionary houses, already present throughout the world, in the city of Rome. Just 2 years after her death, through a special permission, the Pontiff himself opened her cause for beatification, which ended in 2003, with her beatification on October 19.

Silvia Lubich, known as Chiara, was another important woman in the Church, defined by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in his homily given at her funeral, as one of the "bright stars" of the 20th Century. The Work of Mary, better known as the Focolare Movement was founded in 1943, the year she made private vows. It all began during the Second World War, when the city of Trent was bombed and her family was forced to leave their home. Her experience of suffering and destruction led her to work for those in need, through an intense living out of the Gospel. Chiara was soon joined by a group of her friends and in addition to their mission with the poor, they began to share their ideals and even began living together.

Chiara responded to Pope Pius XII's invitation to take God into the public places, homes, schools, and factories and with this goal in mind, she founded the group "God's Volunteers," committed active adults in society. In 1962, Pope John XXIII issued the first approval of the Focolare Movement, however the statutes were approved in 1990 by John Paul II, who granted the Movement permission to always have a woman at the head of the Movement. Another initiative of Chiara was the "Gen" Movement for youth and the establishment of various "cittadellas" or communities where spirituality and unity are lived in every aspect of daily life. Chiara Lubich also dedicated her life to trying to open doors in the dialogue with other religions, meeting with Buddhist monks in Thailand, Muslims in Harlem, and Jews in Buenos Aires.

Bibliography and Linkography

Gaudium et spes

Mulieris dignitatem

Redemptoris Mater

Pope John Paul II's Letter to Women

Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World

Giulia Paola di Nicola, Donne e Chiesa in Testimoni, n. 10, May 2003, pp. 22-28.

Missionaries of Charity

Focolare Movement

Lourdes Shrine

Fatima Shrine

Loreto Shrine

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