Last April 4th, the Pauline Family celebrated the birthday of its founder, Blessed James Alberione, a man who was able to open doors to the future. His insights and his works were prophetical, especially when it came to the role of women in the Church.
As early as 1911, we can recognize, through his book Woman Who Lived with Priestly Zeal, how Fr. Alberione was well aware of the importance of women. He recognized that it is due time that women be involved in social, economic, civil, and, above all, ecclesial life.
In his lifetime, he examined the unrest that women were experiencing at the beginning of the century and was not afraid to dissociate himself from clergy who condemned the feminist movement and failed to see it as a clear sign of the times. Fr. Alberione believed in the power of women and did not hesitate to encourage them to fully be “apostles with the apostles,” in all possible fields, and to let no opportunity pass them by when a door is opened.
How can we not see these insights as prophetic of the Church’s future? The quantity and quality of serious, hard work in all fields (biblical studies, history, theology, ethics, pastoral psychology, and ministry, etc.) carried out by women in the last thirty years has been a testimony to this.
It is necessary to remember that, for many years, the Church has always relegated women to marginal positions, often limiting them to domestic roles or to caring for the more vulnerable, renouncing their ecclesial contributions and involvement.
I would be inclined to say that – albeit so many years after those early insights of Alberione – perhaps something is really beginning to change for women.
Today, especially with Pope Francis’ pontificate, the role of women in institutional positions at the Vatican has grown to be greater than ever before. For the first time ever, Francis has given women positions of relevance in the Roman curia; and in some cases, they hold “higher” positions than even bishops. The Church seems to be on its way to recognizing that it needs women in its governance as well.
I believe Pope Francis has recognized the people of God’s cry – a cry that asks the Church for more: we ask for the Church to be more open to dialogue and willing to listen – a Church that appreciates all life – life women themselves bring into the world. Pope Francis is making choices that acknowledge this desire and perhaps implicitly convey his thought that the Church needs women’s sensitivity.
The Second Vatican Council began the conversation about women’s role in the Church, and John Paul II understood the full extent of the “feminine genius.” But today the Church is strongly called to recognize the need for female leadership.
Ecclesial governance needs, today more than ever before, to be interpreted in a new way of making decisions and having power: attentive to people, available to listen, capable of accompanying participation processes, involvement, and maturation – all things about which women have incredible insight.
One would say that Pope Francis is implementing one of the criteria he articulated in Evangelii gaudium: reality comes before the idea.
This step the pope took is not an achieved goal, but rather the starting point from which to begin a new journey. The hardest work to be done, I believe, is in the sphere of the concrete local Christian community. This is where women’s presence and service, including decision-making roles in administration, should be sought and identified. It is a matter of promoting and moving towards a new ecclesial self-awareness that makes space for women.
Alberione’s prophecy is called to be fulfilled today.