The Meaning of Women in Society according to Popes Benedict XVI and Pope Francis
During the preparation of the Lineamenta, the pope appoints a pre-synodal council of the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. The General Secretariat then begins the preparation process of the particular assembly by sending of consultation letters to all interested parties from different parts of the continent. After the consultations, the results are analyzed and discussed by the pre-synodal council for the particular assembly. 2 Recommendations are formulated and submitted to the pope. Taking into consideration the proposal of the council, the pope makes recommendations based on the topics presented to him. The appeal considered the dignity and the right of the women as seen in the light and the word of God. 5 With assistance of experts, the special council for Africa drafted the Lineamenta which presented the topic for the assembly.
The synod fathers paid special attention to the various realities in the church of Africa, particularly reconciliation. The church has been called to establish peace so that the church can respond to her mission of being “the salt of the earth and the light of the world” in cultural, social, and religious areas. Dignity of the African Women The teachings of the Post-Synodal Exhortation in Africa emphasizes that the dignity of a woman is something more universal. Majorly, marriage and procreation have a direct connection to the dignity and vocation of women. 9 The first custodians of the gift of human life are women. By their very being, they have been able to provide the first home of human life which is the womb.
Critical analysis of the Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa on the role of women The exhortation talks of repeatedly affirming the fundamental equality and enriching complementarity that exists between men and women. It stresses that all acts of violence shown against women should be condemned in the strongest terms possible. 13 The exhortation shows that the dignity of a woman is built on the very fact of her being a woman with all the interpersonal relationships. Africa’s commitment shows a considerable dedication to the role of women in the family. It is essential in the shaping of the society and structuring of the interactions between the people. Africans believes and understands that God created man and woman and gave each one a specific dignity and vocation that cannot be altered.
14 The opinion of Pope John Paul II of the exhortation is therefore applicable to any woman in any culture because it is rooted in her very female nature from the beginning. 18 Pope Benedict’s statement about the exhortation brings out the teachings that motherhood has a theological and an anthropological foundation. The African women are proud to fulfill their role in the African society which the pope explains that it is a command of the Lord God. Naturally, only a woman has the potential of becoming a mother and a wife and be able to bear the pain which comes with motherhood. A woman bears the pain of giving birth to another life through her flesh and possesses the patience, sacrificial love and the ability to provide care for the helpless, tender grooving children.
Additionally, a mother goes through an exceptional pain on behalf of her children. It means that the dignity of a woman is ontological and universal. It is used to refer to the primacy of being a woman and to the fact that every woman is aware of the gift of motherhood. Women who are religious and the consecrated virgins supernaturally experience the gift of motherhood while the other women naturally experience the reward. 21 It is through the unity of a man and a woman as husband and wife in their conjugal union. The exhortation carefully reflects on the biblical creation account from the book of Genesis and present its teachings on the dignity of a woman. 25 One understands from this that Christ laid the foundation and set the standard for the dignity and vocation of women.
Christ, therefore, is the author of the dignity of women, the founder of the church, and the founder of the ministerial priesthood as a service to the human life. 26 According to the traditional African communities, the central role of a woman is that of part and parcel of the concept of a family who related to the concept of God and religion. For instance, it is not possible for one to talk about religion without talking about God. It contrasts with the fact that one cannot speak about the traditional African family without talking about the central role and value of a woman as a mother. According to the exhortation, the many numbers of religious sisters who had been invited to address the synod were able to make a plea for women to be given a greater role in the church’s decisions making process.
29 Some religious sisters were invited to address the synod, and many took the opportunity to make a plea so as women are given a greater role in the church’s decision-making process. The synod responded to these pleas by the sisters by acknowledging the specific contributions of women both in the house as wives and mothers and in the social sphere. Consequently, it recommended that the local African churches should be able to build concrete structures to ensure real participation of women at various appropriate levels, and the proposition of the 47 commits to the church to enable greater integration of women into church structures and in the process of decision making. 30 The synod echoes the affirmations of the dignity of the women and their rights as their significant contribution to their families and the societies they live in.
33 The exhortation shows a particular interest in the African women and the vital role that they play in the church and the society. It speaks against all arts of violence against women and encourages the church to take a central position in speaking out condemning them. The women, therefore, must be given special protection by both the families and the society against deplorable forms of treatments and intolerance. 34 What the exhortation misses out The exhortation fails to echo the commitment of the integration of women into the church’s structure and the decision making process. As much as it creates a new sensibility on the emergence of the women issues in the African church, it still has a long way to go.
The pre-synodal council appointed collaborated and facilitated the publication of Lineamenta and Instrumentum Laboris. The synod father took into consideration the features of the society and the Church life during the assembly. Also, he sought the best ways and measures of enabling the American people to encounter Jesus Christ. The post-synodal council convened meetings at various times to evaluate the implementation of the document and to encourage the bishops to take initiative on the continent in response to the post-synodal document. A report was written in the year 2002 and sent to the members of the hierarchy in the Continent, the patriarchs, the metropolitans and the archbishops of the Eastern Churches Sui iuris, the president of the episcopal conferences worldwide among other interested parties.
Thus the point raised by the Pope in the exhortation is helpful to the women and the society at large. 39 It helps us understand that change is needed in the way the church’s mission is evangelized and on how the society views women. Contrary, as much as the exhortation has recognized the plight of women and the trouble they undergo, it has failed to provide possible solutions on how women can be helped to overcome the problems. Vividly, it still gives the men authority over women in the society as it fails to change their views as to the dignity and the vocation of women. Women theologians have been able to in many ways support the exhortation due to its call for the respect of the dignity of women by the society.
It explains that women can be able to keep their vocation and influence the public life thus directing it to the common good. This is because they are equally able to find the path to their sanctification and forms them in the truth and values of the church’s social teachings, and in the basic notions of a theology of the laity. 43 Pope John Paul II’s statement about the exhortation expresses his esteem for the role of women in the American society and the church at large. He makes his thoughts known as about the contribution of women to the progress of humanity and recognizes the legitimacy of desire to participate in the cultural, ecclesial, social and economic life. According to the exhortation, women bring light to the church and the family.
Such commitment has enabled the American society to support family life based on marriage. As such women can perform their roles in the family accordingly. 47 Also, there has been an improved protection to motherhood and greater respect for the dignity of all the American Women. It emphasizes on the need of the women in America to take a responsible and an active role in the life of the church and its mission and the recognition of the wisdom of the American women in leadership positions in the society. Of significance, the teachings of Pope John Paul II about the exhortation has made us understand that the lay and religious women play an important role in the Catholic Church. About this, Pope John Paul II affirms the strict quality of the American women and with men in the dignity of being persons.
The deepest equality of all is the religious equality which revealed in the story of Adam and Eve and Jesus, many conversations with women in the gospel. 50 Men and women are religiously equal as depicted from the creation of Eve as Adam’s helpmate. The helpmate is clearly on the task of being a living person. Naturally, the task requires that another person who is the man is united with a woman as both are in the image and likeness of God. 52 Within the universal human vocation, Mary accepted her vocation. Of significance, she accepted the responsibility and self-fulfillment in a communion of persons and also in communion with Divine persons in the Holy Trinity. As such, she achieved the feminine holiness as the virgin mother who describes the dignity and vocation of women.
About personal fulfillment, the exhortation directly affects the concerns of the feminist agenda. It refers to the Women’s concern for personal fulfillment as self-discovery which is a deep and legitimate human need. As such, the American church has stressed on the need of men caring for their wives and women in return showing love to their husbands. This has gone in a long way to protect marriages thus improving the dignity and vocation of women. The church has also taken the initiative of protecting motherhood through better healthcare and encouraging the women to care and educate their children in the best way possible. 57 This has expanded the role of women as they no longer view it as a parental responsibility but also spiritual.
Conclusively, American women should be helped to be able to assume an active and responsible role in the mission and life of the church. They stress that it is important that women be respected and not undermined. It is evident in the work of SA Ross who has unendingly championed for women’s rights in America and contradicted the exhortation. As such, women should not be mistreated by men because they have equal rights and everyone has a role to play in the church and the society. 61 Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia Introduction The special Assembly for Asia was convened from 19th April to 14th May 1998. The topic of the assembly was “Jesus Christ the savior and his mission of love and service in Asia.
For this reason, many Asian women are more illiterate as compared to men. Females are frequently aborted than men. Also, women have been treated more as commodities in the entertainment industry, tourism, prostitution among other unfavorable sectors in the Asian system. 62 According to the exhortation, it is important that the church be able to take up human rights act for women living in every Asian country. Such action will help strengthen the dignity and vocation of women. 65 Furthermore, it encourages active and participation of women in an equal capacity with men and partnership with men in church’s life and mission. For this reason, it is proper that women be given the opportunity to study theology and the various subjects related to theology.
Women play a significant role in the church’s mission of love, and their services contribute greatly to bringing closely the compassionate Jesus who is the healer and reconciler to the Asian people, particularly those people who live in poverty and are marginalized. It is important therefore that the Christian women hold a dialogue with those from other religions to be able to build justice and harmony in the society. To be able to achieve all these, it is of importance that the Asian society changes their attitude on their understanding of the role of men and women in the family, in the church, in the society, and in the church. The exhortation brings out the picture that the Asian women are leaders of their realms of responsibilities in religion, politics, and in the non-governmental organizations.
69 All their efforts significantly contribute to the building of the churches in the various Asian countries. The Asian women who are working perceive their employment as a major way of assisting their husbands in the meeting of the financial needs of the family and also as a way of developing themselves as a total person. This, according to Pope John Paul II, contributes to the building of a strong family who knows their roles and works to benefit all members of the family. 70 It is in line with the teachings of the scripture as analyzed by the Pope that women should be of assistance to their husbands. It recognizes that for the church in Asia to be able to show respect and freedom of the women, she must be able to give witness to the Lord Jesus Christ and the promoter of the true dignity of women.
It can only be achieved through encouraging of the active participation of women and considering them to be equally responsible for Christ’s mission of love and service. 74 To be able to restore unity between men and women in the church, Pope was able to recognize the scandal of a divided Christianity and called for Christians to come together and deliberate over the issue. Pope John Paul II acknowledges that the division in the church is a hindrance to evangelization and that men and women need to come together, share roles and together be able to promote the good faith of Christianity. 75 Furthermore, the exhortation recognizes that women have abandoned the Christian churches because they have not been taken seriously in the Christian mission.
Furthermore, the document has focused on women and structure of the church, women, and spirituality, women and interreligious dialogue, and ecofeminism. 79 The writings of the Asian women theologians have paid close attention to non-East Asian women theologians. Asian women theologians have been able to address women’s issues regarding feminism modification of the church’s current teachings. It calls for a moderate approach to the women’s issues and a critical analysis of the women’s issues in the church and society and challenges the church to be more inclusive. They have challenged the teachings of the Asian Church and demanded that it employs women’s experiences and use women’s perspective in the interpretation of the scripture. It resulted in a report which was sent to the bishops in Oceania and later shared with the world in the year 2006.
Critical analysis of the ecclesia in Oceania on the role of women The Ecclesia in Oceania was written by Pope John Paul II. The analysis of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Oceania discusses and analyze the role of women in the society and the church in Oceania. This makes it possible to plan for the future of women in the society and prepares them to realize their roles and responsibilities. 81 According to the exhortation, the women in Oceania have put efforts to bring unique and indispensable gifts to the life of the church. This means that women must be given freedom to adapt and interact freely with their surroundings. Of significance, it gives them the power to understand their roles and play them accordingly.
It is therefore not good to exploit a woman because it is an offense against humanity and it also destroys harmony. 86 According to the pope, a woman is beauty, poetry, harmony and without her, the world would not be harmonious and beautiful as it is. Women in the many islands of Oceania have served the purpose of assisting the ordained ministers in the ministry and pastoral works. According to the document, a dialogue was necessary, and it would entail both the doctrine and cultural values. Such would help understand the role of the women in the society it was hoped that it would help change the people of Oceania’s view on women and their role in the community. 89 The document would help the people identify the cultural practices which align with the demands of the Lord Jesus Christ and those that go contrary.
Consequently, it will enable the cultures of the people to attain their fullness of life which their people have always hoped for and to which their deepest values have always looked for. 90 This would give the women equal opportunity in the society as they would feel accepted and respected in the society. 93 In his mission, Jesus identified with women on several occasion, and many of the revelations such as His resurrection was revealed to women who later relayed the information to men. In many parts of Oceania, women have been subjected to sexual abuse. According to Pope John Paul II, this has caused great harm and spiritual sufferings to the victims. It has caused a lot of damage to the life of the church and has been an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many leaders have abused their powers both in the church and in the society. It calls for collective responsibility, love, and respect for one another to enable prosperity both in the church and the society. As much as people may practice polygamy, they must also learn to accept, love and respect their wives. It will boost the dignity of women thus they will be able to pursue their roles to the family, the church, the society, and the community at large. The church, on the other hand, does not encourage polygamy and recognizes that it is not good for the growth of a family. 98 The exhortation states that the advent of humanism makes it possible to establish a world of peace and justice.
It all boils down to the grandparents whose presence at the heart of the family teaches the women on their roles and duties outside the family and how they need to educate their children to grow up into responsible members of the society. 101 Apostolic Exhortation of Ecclesia in Europa Introduction The special assembly for Europe was the last in the series of Continental synodal assembly which were convoked by the Pope. The Pope appointed a pre-synodal council on 9th February 1997 to help in the preparation of the synodal assembly. They were assisted by the theologians from Europe and the general secretariat staff to publish the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum Laboris. Also, the synod fathers paid particular attention to the realities in the Church in Europe and to the particular moment in an attempt to unify the Continent.
102 Women obey God’s command when they leave their parents’ homes and get married to a man. Additionally, women assist their husbands by working to earn income to help in supplementing that brought by the husband. Thus, women play an instrumental in strengthening the family and directing it in the right path as commanded by the scripture. From the exhortation, Christian women in Europe have been able to prove to be true and effective witnesses to the Gospel. They have involved themselves in new evangelization with their renewed strengths and courageous commitments to the work of God as written in the scripture. She endures the pain of carrying the pregnancy, nurtures the baby from birth through motherly love by breastfeeding and spending all her time with the child and teaches the child to live an upright life.
106 Women participate in prayers for the sick and those who suffer. By mastering the teachings of the liturgy and the Catechism of the Catholic Church through attaining of education, women have been able to involve in conversion. They have been able to speak of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love, and peace. 107 The act of selflessness and compassion displayed by women are evidence of all that is required for the growth and development of a healthy society. Because of poverty, women in Europe have found it unnecessary to conceive and give birth to children because of the feeling that they will not be able to provide for them. This undermines the Gospel of The lord and the responsibility bestowed upon women of giving birth to the new generation of humans who are to carry forward the gospel.
111 Also, they have faced difficulty in relating to others in the European society and of accepting those who are different, due to their low social class and because some men in the society have no respect to women. 112 Some women who have been victims of sexual violence do not want to associate with men due to the mentality they have developed that men are sexually violent. The continuation of the gospel is thus undermined because the women are not able to come out and condemn such acts in the strongest terms possible. Also, it will be encouraged by entrusting them with ecclesia roles which have been reserved by the law for the lay people. It would mean that many more women would have to be trained as laypeople just as it has been recognized and encouraged by the Pope in his teachings.
Consequently, the mission of women in the church must be adequately appreciated as wives and mothers and their dedication to the family life. 116 Ecclesia in Medio Oriente Introduction The exhortation in Medio Oriente was written by Pope Benedict XVI. The persuasion has shown a visual, pastoral orientation, and an invitation to a more profound spiritual and ecclesiological reflection. The Pope recognizes the role of women in various sectors which has helped develop the church’s mission and the community. Women have shown their love and desire to protect the human life through being able to conceive, give birth and raise children and at the same time teaching them to follow the Christian way of life. On the same note, women have been able to contribute in the field of education, healthcare, humanitarian work and the apostolic life, and have also significantly added to the ecclesial life.
Giving the women chance to contribute to the ecclesial life lift their dignity thus, they can see the building of a more fraternal society. In analyzing the statement by the Pope, women can participate in building a church whose beauty is seen in the genuine communion as seen among those who have been baptized. Just like their male counterparts, women have proved to be good teachers of religious education in the Middle East. This courage and strength to participate in all these activities have greatly been inspired by the teaching of the exhortation. 122 Also, the synod has led to more and more women working as pastoral associates in the church particularly as religious sisters or nuns who assist the pastor with many spiritual and pastoral duties.
Furthermore, educated women have also been able to serve the church as judges, canon lawyers and chancellor across the Middle East partly as an inspiration from the synod’s teachings and encouragements. 123 Pope Benedict teaches that women have an essential role to play in ensuring interreligious dialogue within the Middle East. 126 Women are thus called to be able to contribute to the building of brotherhood within the Middle East in collaboration with men. The call further stresses on the role of women in education. Women can be able to promote the spirit of brotherhood because they are linked to the mystery of life and by the application of their care for the preservation of life. Also, women have the conviction that the only force the world habitable for all is love.
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