By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis on Friday received some 850 Superiors General of women religious who had just concluded their Plenary Assembly that takes place every three years.
During the audience he conversed with them reflecting on a series of topics including the question of the abuse of religious women, women’s diaconate, the role of women in the Church and the possibility of an apostolic trip to South Sudan.
But first, he thanked the religious for their courageous choice to evolve in sync with an evolving world, pointing out that their new path is full of risks, but he said, “it is even more risky to be afraid and not grow”.
Regarding the question of clerical abuse, Pope Francis noted that it cannot be resolved overnight. But he pointed to the fact that a process has begun to tackle this problem, of which, he said, “we are becoming aware, with such shame, but blessed shame”.
Abuse of power
The Pope added that the abuse of nuns is a question of which to be aware of and faced: “It is a serious problem”, he said, and he went on to mention the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience to which religious can be particularly subjected.
Religious, he added, “must not become the servants of a cleric.”
“They must carry out their mission in the dimension of service, not in that of servitude” he said.
As far as women’s diaconate is concerned, the Pope recalled that a special commission had been established at the request of the religious to examine this issue in depth.
He explained that an agreement had not been reached within the commission and that a theological, historical foundation is needed. However the work, he promised, will continue.
The role of women in the Church
It is wrong to think that the commitment of the sisters in the Church is only functional, the Pope said: “The Church is feminine”. He took pains to underscore that this is not a mere image, but reality.
Recalling the fact that in the Bible the Church is female, she is “Jesus’ bride”, the Pope said that in the field of Theology of Woman it is necessary to move forward.
He also agreed with one of the religious who suggested that during the UISG’s next Plenary Assembly a male presence could be useful to listen to the voices of so many religious across the globe who, together with their sisters, serve Jesus in an infinite range of capacities.
And confirming his closeness and appreciation for women missionaries who serve the people in countries of great need like the Central African Republic and South Sudan, the Pope said it is his desire to visit the youngest nation in the world.
It is not a promise, he said, but a possibility that perhaps will come true on the occasion of the apostolic journey to Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius.
“I want to go - he said - I carry South Sudan in my heart”.