Pope Benedict praises African women

By  Catholic News Service
  • March 23, 2009
{mosimage}LUANDA, Angola - Pope Benedict XVI strongly defended women's rights and praised the many "silent heroines" of Africa who are holding families and society together.

African women in particular are working under adverse conditions that are often caused by the "behaviour and attitudes of men," the Pope said in Angola March 22.

"History records almost exclusively the accomplishments of men, when in fact much of it is due to the determined, unrelenting and charitable action of women," he said.

"Think of all the places afflicted by great poverty or devastated by war, and of all the tragic situations resulting from migrations, forced or otherwise. It is almost always women who manage to preserve human dignity, to defend the family and to protect cultural and religious values."

The Pope's remarks touched on a huge issue in Africa that has increasingly drawn church attention. He spoke to members of Catholic movements working for women's promotion in St. Anthony Church in Luanda, where a mostly female audience greeted him with lively African singing.

Church and human rights agencies say women in many parts of Africa are still treated as property, lack legal rights, suffer intimidation and beatings by their husbands and are subject to sexual violence and human trafficking. The Pope appealed for everyone to pay greater attention to these situations, and especially to "ways in which the behaviour and attitudes of men, who at times show a lack of sensitivity and responsibility, may be to blame."

"This forms no part of God's plan," he declared.

The Pope said there is a natural "captivating charm that radiates from woman" because of the grace God has given her. Man is enlightened by this quality, he said.

"We must therefore recognize, affirm and defend the equal dignity of man and woman: they are both persons, utterly unique among all the living beings found in the world," he said.

The Pope said men and women are called to work together for the common good through the complementary aspects of masculinity and femininity. He said such differences are important and good, especially in our increasingly mechanized culture.

While no one should doubt that women deserve the right to be active in all areas of public life — a right that should be guaranteed through legislation — that doesn't detract from women's unique responsibility in families, the Pope said.

In fact, he said, the presence of a mother within the family is so important for family stability that it should be recognized and supported in every way. For the same reason, he said, "society must hold husbands and fathers accountable for their responsibilities toward their families."

The Pope said that among the unsung heroines of Angola were two church figures. The first, Teresa Gomes, was a mother of seven who defended the local church's right to operate during the turbulent days of the country's independence movement in 1975 and 1976, he said. Gomes became the leader of local Catholics who "refused to bend under pressure," he said. She died in 2004.

During the period following Angolan independence from Portugal, the church lost half its foreign missionaries when they fled the country, and it was persecuted throughout the ensuing civil war.

The second example was Maria Bonino, an Italian pediatrician who volunteered in several Catholic missions in Angola and became head of a children's ward in a provincial hospital. During an epidemic of Marburg hemorrhagic fever in 2005, she succumbed to the deadly disease.

Bonino's mother, who was in Angola to mark the fourth anniversary of her daughter's death, attended the papal encounter in Luanda.

Many in attendance belonged to the group PROMAICA, which stands for Promotion of Angolan Women in the Catholic Church. Founded in 1990, it fights discrimination and advances women's rights by offering micro-credits and teaching skills in cooking, sewing, agriculture and office work.

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