On March 22, Pope Benedict journeyed to the Angolan Parish of Santo Antonio in Luanda. His purpose was to meet with members of Catholic movements devoted to the promotion of women.
There are those who have queried why the Pontiff so chose to strongly endorse this focus upon women’s identity. Critics contend, for example, that equality between men and women is certain to be realized when the gap in wage parity is fully closed. For many, the chief factors are clearly both economic and political. They argue that when African nations turn their attention to the proper financial compensation of women and to legalizing their right to vote and to hold elected office, then the major problems are thereby resolved. What more is there to say?
The Pope asserts that definitely there are other gender-related issues which appeal for our urgent consideration. And these cannot be ignored. For to do so would mean to imperil the quality of social life which Africa bequeaths to her succeeding generations.
Pope Benedict applauded all those who are dedicated to enhancing the status “of Angolan women as a priority.” In actual fact, the Pope meant that this same priority relates to the whole of Africa: “I call everyone to an effective awareness of the adverse conditions to which many women have been – and continue to be – subjected.”
What does the Pope wish to see changed? Of uppermost importance is the need for certain African men to revise their “behavior and attitudes” towards women, since “at times what is shown is a lack of sensitivity and responsibility.” Pope Benedict insists that maltreatment of women and any lessening of their dignity “forms no part of God’s plan.” Such contradicts authentic biblical teaching whereby the complete and proper “image and likeness of God” does not consist solely of maleness. Man requires woman as helpmate and complement, otherwise the design of creation becomes distorted.
It is imperative, the Pope states, that “man and woman” recognize that both are “called to live in profound communion through a reciprocal recognition of one another and the mutual gift of themselves.” Where the aspect of the feminine becomes degraded, then today’s world, “dominated by technology,” risks “losing its humanity.” We must admit the profound truth that it is women who have long defended human worth; who have long upheld the uniqueness and sacredness of the family, and who have long “protected cultural and religious values.”
What is unfortunate is that the historical record has often been written to reflect primarily the “accomplishments of men.” This is as prevalent in Africa as elsewhere across the globe. But said bias is an error. We should never overlook that the “Church and society have been”, and remain, “enormously enriched by the presence and virtues of women, “especially by those who “have placed themselves at the service of others.” Africa’s laws must therefore provide legal and public policy safeguards to convey the equality which women share with men, and to reflect women’s indispensable role within “the bosom of the family.” Moreover, this also implies that “husbands and fathers” must be held thoroughly accountable for their obligations and duties in terms of their families.
The Church, symbolic of the “larger family” of which our families are part, implores each of us to strive for “that sense of serenity and deep trust which makes us feel blessed by God and undaunted in our struggles of life.”
Rev. Dr. Bernard J. O’Connor – Congregation for Eastern Churches, Vatican.