Maria Voce, one of the most influential women of the Church, gave a quiet laugh when asked whether she regrets not being able to be a priest, and added: «You see, I know women Evangelical-Lutheran pastors connected to the Movement. They are my friends and exceptional women who do very well in their churches, but I never thought that the possibility of becoming a priest would increase a woman’s dignity. It’s only an extra service. The main point is something else: as women, what I think we should aim at is equal dignity and equal opportunities being recognized in the Catholic Church. Service and not servitude, as Pope Francis himself says….» Since 2008 Maria Voce guides the Focolare Movement, two and a half million adherents in 182 countries. This is the only Movement that is guided by statute by a woman. She succeeded the founder, Chiara Lubich, who called her «Emmaus» and is buried not very far, in the little chapel of the International Centre at Rocca di Papa, with large windows facing her house between the pine trees and in front of the tombstone there is a mosaic that represents Mary as Mother of the Church. On December 7th, 70 years will have passed since Chiara’s «consecration to God». A lay woman who anticipated a few topics of the Vatican Council. «The Church as an opening, communion, mutual love….»
What role do women have in the Church today and how much are they listened to?
«The role is the one every human being has, either man or woman, who belongs to the Church as mystical body of Christ. Whereas, how this is considered by others is something a little different. It seems to me that women don’t have much say in the matter yet. Many times they are acknowledged with the values of humility, docility and flexibility, but this is a bit taken advantage of. However, the Pope said that he’s sorry to see the woman in servitude, not the woman in service: service is a key word of his pontificate, but as a service of love. Not in the sense of service because you are considered inferior and therefore submissive. I think that there is a lot to be done in this.»
The Pope said that we need to think of a «theology of the woman». What does this mean for you?
«I am not a theologian. But the Pope gave the title: “Mary is greater than the apostles.” It’s great that he says so, it’s very strong. But complementarity should emerge from this. Also participating in the teachings of the Church, in a certain way….»
In what way?
«Chiara saw Mary as the blue sky that contained the sun, the moon and the stars. In this vision, if the sun is God and the stars are the saints, Mary is the sky that contains them, that contains even God: precisely because of God’s will he was made flesh in her womb. This is the woman in the Church, she must have this function and she can exist only in complementarity with the Petrine charism. Peter cannot guide the Church alone, but there must be Peter with the apostles and sustained and surrounded by the embrace of this woman-mother: Mary.»
For Francis we need to reflect on the woman’s position «also where authority is exercised». How can this come about?
«Women could guide the Curial departments, I don’t see any difficulty in this. I don’t understand why, for example, at the head of a department on the family there necessarily should be a cardinal. There could very well be a lay couple who live their marriage in a Christian way and, with all respect, they are certainly more informed about family problems than a cardinal. The same could be said for other departments. I think it’s normal.»
«I’m thinking of the General Congregations before the conclave. The mother superiors of big congregations could participate in them, perhaps elective representatives of the dioceses. If the assembly were vaster, it would also help the future Pope. Besides, why should he only confer with the other cardinals? It’s a limitation.»
Could this also be valid for the Council of Cardinal Advisers wanted by Francis?
«Certainly. I don’t see only a group of women being added. A mixed organism would be more useful, with women and other lay people, and together with the cardinals they could give the necessary information and prospects. This would arouse my enthusiasm.»
And women cardinals? Mother Teresa was mentioned, how would you have seen her?
«I would like to understand how she would have seen herself! A woman cardinal could be a sign for humanity, but not for me nor for women in general, I think. It does not interest me. She would be an exceptional person who has been made cardinal. All right, and then? Great persons, saints and doctors of the Church were appreciated. But it’s the woman as such that does not find her position. What should be recognized is the female genius in daily life.»
The famous complementarity….
«Certainly. I mentioned Petrine charism and Marian charism. But in general I’d say between man and woman, the complementarity written in the divine plan. Human beings in the image of God, “male and female he created them,” otherwise this wouldn’t be fulfilled. The same can be said for consecrated people: even if a person renounces a sexual relationship, relationships in themselves cannot be renounced, the rapport with the other.»
Gian Guido Vecchi
Source: Corriere della Sera, 30.11.2013
Read also: Women and Church, a challenging issue (interview to Città Nuova)