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How Women Continue to Contribute to the Church

7/14/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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According to Terry Polakovic of ENDOW

DENVER, Colorado, JULY 14, 2004 (Zenit) - A greater percentage of women are holding administrative positions in U.S. dioceses every year, according to a recent U.S. bishops study.

But Terry Polakovic, executive director of ENDOW (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women) for the Archdiocese of Denver, stresses that women have always played an important role as leaders in the Church -- at home, in parishes and in communities.

Polakovic outlined for us how John Paul II has called women to serve the Church in their own capacity, according to their vocation, gifts and "feminine genius."

Q: A recent study called for by the U.S. bishops' conference on Women in Society and in the Church found that, in 2002, women held 48.9% of diocesan administrative positions, compared with 51% of the executive, administrative, managerial and professional positions in the secular work force. What do you think accounts for this trend?

Polakovic: While I think the trend is positive, I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that women have always had leadership roles within the Church.

In many ways, we owe a great debt to the religious sisters who were pioneers in the fields of education, hospital administration, mission work, orphanages and other crucial social services. It is a widespread misconception that women have not played an integral part in the Church throughout its history.

Still, this movement is inspiring. In his writings and reflections, John Paul II has called women to a greater involvement in the work force. In the Angelus reflections of 1995, he repeatedly reminds us that "without the contribution of women, society is less alive, culture impoverished and peace less stable."

He calls the Church to "ensure that the widest possible space is open to women in all areas of culture, economics, politics and ecclesial life itself." Similarly, he calls "the whole Church community to be willing to foster feminine participation in every way in its internal life."

The Holy Father's wisdom about the need for women's involvement in all realms of society has clearly been answered. In both the Church and in the secular work force, women have been given more opportunity to assume leadership positions. They have achieved advancement and greater presence in the fields of law, medicine, media, politics, business and science as never before in history.

The last 30 years have pushed women to be more career-minded and to search for a place of influence outside the home. This trend is obviously mirrored in the Church, as women have gotten more involved in administration, leadership and pastoral ministry around the world.

Q: What is the significance of having women in diocesan positions?

Polakovic: In his apostolic letter "Mulieris Dignitatem," Pope John Paul II highlights the "feminine genius," the unique gifts and contributions that women bring to their work.

A woman's unique capacity for physical and spiritual motherhood allows her to serve in a way unique and separate from a man's service.

For this reason, Pope John Paul II calls women to positions in "theological teaching, forms of liturgical ministry permitted, pastoral and administrative councils, diocesan synods and particular councils, various ecclesial institutions, curias and ecclesiastical tribunals, and many pastoral activities." Clearly, women's contribution in diocesan positions is a central part of their ministry in the Church.

Q: What gifts can women bring to the Church's administrative positions?

Polakovic: In Pope John Paul II's "Letter to Women," he writes that women have the ability to unite reason and feeling, and that their sensitivity, intuition, generosity and fidelity help make human relations more honest and authentic.

He writes that women can "acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems" and "see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them."

A strong administrator can motivate others and create an environment that is efficient and supportive. Pope John Paul II suggests that a woman's unique capacity of compassion for others makes administration a service and a ministry.

Q: How can women outside of diocesan posts still contribute to the Church?

Polakovic: The Holy Father in his 1995 Angelus reflections affirms "the growing presence of women in social, economic and political life" and calls women to be "actively involved in all areas of public life."

As "teachers of peace," women are called to bring the gifts of their unique femininity to every job. He reminds women that "in order to be a teacher of peace, a ...

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