Motherhood: woman's gift to society

Holy Father addresses international meeting on promoting the well-

being of women


"Motherhood shows a creativity on which the humanity of each human

being largely depends; it also invites man to learn and to express

his own fatherhood. Thus women contribute to society and to the

Church their ability to nurture human beings", the Holy Father

said to those taking part in an international meeting entitled

"Women", when he received them in audience on Saturday, 7 December

1996. Here is a translation of his address, which was given in



Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

Dear Brothers and Sisters

1. I joyfully welcome you to this meeting entitled <Women>,

organized by the <Pontifical Council for the Laity>. A year ago,

the Fourth World Conference on Women took place in Beijing. It

opportunely shed light on the moral, cultural and social

challenges still facing the international community. Prominent

among the areas still in need of reflection for finding suitable

solutions are the legal and practical norms that guarantee the

rights of the individual, universal access to education, respect

for human dignity and family units and the recognition of male and

female identity.


It is no exaggeration to say that the work of the conference, an

event followed with interest on all five continents, rightly

stressed the close connection between issues affecting women and

the value that the contemporary world puts upon life. I am

therefore delighted that during your days of study you will be

able to examine these themes in greater depth and thus show the

Church's constant concern that women should renew and continue

their involvement in social life. With your reflections you will

be making an original contribution to the Church's mission in the

service of man, created in God's image, "the only creature on

earth that God has wanted for its own sake" " (<Gaudium et spes>,

n. 24), and to whom he entrusted the whole of creation.


Human being has infinite value from the start

2. A <renewed commitment by all to the well-being of all the

world's women>: this was the theme you chose in accordance with

the mandate I gave the members of the Holy See's Delegation -led

by a woman-on the eve of their departure for Beijing. Today, I

would like to pay tribute once again to the achievements of the

Delegation, which was constantly concerned with the true good of

all women, while taking into account the sociocultural context and

attaching importance above all to respect for the individual.

Furthermore, the Delegation forcefully reminded political leaders

and all who work in international organizations that every person

must be respected for himself, in his physical, intellectual and

spiritual integrity, so that a person will never be treated as an

object or be exploited by political or economic interests that are

often inspired by neo-Malthusian ideologies. Your initiative fits

within the framework of the Post-Synodal Exhortation

<Christifideles laici>, in which I described a necessary condition

for ensuring women their rightful place in the Church and in

society, for the full development of their particular genius: 'a

more penetrating and accurate consideration of the anthropological

foundation of masculinity and femininity for the purpose of

clarifying woman's personal identity in relation to man" (n. 50).


3. The legitimate quest for equality between men and women in such

important areas as education, the workplace and parental

responsibility has led research to the question of the equality of

rights. In principle at least, this has enabled many

discriminatory practices to be abolished, although it has yet to

be universally implemented and further action will be necessary.

In the sphere of human rights, it is more appropriate than ever to

ask our contemporaries to question themselves on what is

mistakenly called "reproductive health". The expression contains a

contradiction that distorts the very meaning of subjectivity:

actually, it includes the alleged right to abortion. Thus it

denies the basic right of every human being to life, and in

harming one of its members it injures the whole human race. 'The

roots of the contradiction between the solemn affirmation of human

rights and their tragic denial in practice lies in a notion of

freedom which exalts the isolated individual in an absolute way,

and gives no place to solidarity, openness to others and service

of them" (<Evangelium vitae>, n. 19). Recognition of someone as a

human being is never based on the awareness or experience we may

have of him, but by the certitude that he has an infinite value

from conception, which comes to him from his relationship with

God. A human being has primacy over the ideas others have of him,

and his existence is absolute and not relative.


4. At the moment, it should be noted that insistence on equality

is also accompanied by renewed attention to the difference between

men and women, and a great respect for their distinctive traits. A

true reflection might suggest that the foundations of difference

and equality have been well laid. In this perspective, the Church

does not only make a theological contribution but is also involved

in anthropological research. The role played by the 20th-century

Christian philosophers who exalted the greatness of the human

being cannot be forgotten. Thus the Church takes part in the

creation of a common cultural base for men and women of goodwill,-

so as to offer a systematic answer to our contemporaries'

questions and to recall that equality goes hand in hand with the

recognition of differences inherent m them since creation (cf. Gn

1 :27).

In our societies, deeply marked by the individual pursuit of

success, each person will nonetheless realize that he cannot live

without openness to others, for, as Mons. Maurice Nedoncelle

commented, "an individual exists for himself through others" (<La

personne humaine et sa nature>, p. 5). He does not find himself

and does not consciously develop except by being linked to a

specific culture, and through it, to all humanity. The advancement

of individuals and their interpersonal relations therefore

includes the advancement of cultures which are like a jewel box in

which every human being finds his proper place for the protection

and growth of his being.


Trinity is model of perfect loving and giving

5. Conjugal love is the loftiest and most beautiful expression of

human relations and self-giving, for it is essentially a desire

for mutual growth. In this encounter based on reciprocal love each

is recognized for what he is and is called to express his personal

talents and achieve his potential. The "logic of the sincere gift

of self" (<Letter to Families>, n. 11) is a source of joy, help

and understanding.


6. Human love finds in Trinitarian love a model of perfect loving

and giving. Through the total gift of himself, Jesus gives birth

to the people of the New Covenant. On the Cross, the Lord

entrusted the disciple he loved and his Mother to each other (cf.

Jn 19:26-27). Does not the Apostle compare the love of Christ and

his Church to the love between man and woman? (cf. Eph 5:2532).

The biblical texts also reveal to us the profound meaning of the

motherhood of woman 'introduced into the order of the Covenant

that God made with humanity in Jesus Christ" (<Mulieris

dignitatem>, n. 19). In its personal and ethical sense, this

motherhood shows a creativity on which the humanity of each human

being largely depends; it also invites man to learn and to express

his own fatherhood. Thus women contribute to society and to the

Church their ability to nurture human beings.

The Church is our mother. We are her children and are called to

share in giving birth to a new people for God. We learn this

motherhood from Mary for to all those who are working for the

rebirth of man through their participation in the apostolic

mission, she is an 'exemplar both of virgin and mother" (<Lumen

gentium>, n. 63). You are providentially holding your meeting on

the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is

certainly an occasion for everyone, priests, religious, laity, men

and women, to contemplate Mary and to ask her help so that each,

according to his own vocation, may contribute to the witness given

by the Church, Bride of Christ, 'in splendour, without spot or

wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without

blemish. (Eph 5:27).


7. At the dose of our meeting, I am delighted with this initiative

taken by the Pontifical Council for the Laity and I hope that your

work here may be fruitful and give the Church a precious means to

carry out her pastoral mission and service in society. I encourage

you to continue your activities in the Catholic organizations,

ecclesiastical communities and the various associations in which

you are involved. As I commend you to the intercession of the holy

women who throughout history have shared in the Church's journey,

I cordially give you my Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to all

your dear ones.


Taken from the January 22, 1997 issue of "L'Osservatore Romano".

Editorial and Management Offices, Via del pellegrino, 00120,

Vatican City, Europe, Telephone 39/6/698.99.390.

The Work of God Apostolate