Cardinal Martino's Address at Congress on Women
"There Will Be No New Feminism Without God"
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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 29, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, gave at the conclusion of the 1st International Conference on Woman and Human Rights.
The March 20-21 conference focused on the theme of "Life, Family, Development: The Role of Women in the Promotion of Human Rights."
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1. It is for me to say a conclusive word at the end of this 1st International Conference on "Life, Family, Development: The Role of Women in the Promotion of Human Rights," which witnessed a broad and passionate intervention in the debate on the different subjects proposed in the program. For all this we want to thank the Lord who has helped us and guided us, illuminating with his Spirit all that was good and significant which was carried out in our meeting. I wish to express my profound gratitude to professor Olimpia Tarzia, president of the World Women's Alliance for Life and Family, and to Mrs. Karen M. Hurley, president of the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations, for having associated their organizations to this International Conference promoted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. To work together, with respect for our reciprocal competencies and functions, has been a very effective and farsighted way to address the problems of our time. My gratitude and yours is also directed to the speakers who introduced masterfully the different working sessions. Allow me to thank monsignor Crepaldi, who does beautiful work behind the scenes, the members of the Pontifical Council and above all doctor Flaminia Giovanelli, who has spent time and energy, with much love and tireless generosity for the success of the Conference. My heartfelt thanks to the interpreters who, with their usual professionalism, have enable us to understand, to talk and to listen to one another.
2. We express our particular gratitude to the Holy Father Benedict XVI, who has made us feel his paternity and proximity sending us a message of confidence and hope, rich with the suggestive proposal of a Christianity of yes: yes to God, Father of the whole of humanity and Creator of man and woman in his image and likeness; of a Christianity of yes to life, to all life and to the life of all, always, above all to that life that is threatened by extreme poverty, denied and disfigured by violence and war, rejected with abortion and euthanasia, arbitrarily manipulated by new technologies, misunderstood by old and new slaveries; of a Christianity of yes to the family founded on marriage for love, unitive and fecund, between man and woman, whose sexual difference is the reflection of a God who is creative charity in the perfect relationship of love between the Father, the Son in the Holy Spirit; a Christianity of yes to women and their genius capable of embellishing the difficult path of humanity in the historical and cultural perspective of that humanism that Paul VI described it prophetically in "Populorum Progressio," when he affirmed that it should be integral, solidary and open to God; of a Christianity of yes to confidence because, with realism and wisdom, it is able to evangelize the hope of the men and women of our time who are in extreme need, without turning to desperate and paralyzing positions that, in the end, imply a sinful lack of faith in God, who is always and forever He who with provident love governs the destinies of history; a Christianity of yes to life, to the human person, to solidarity and to the future. Our conference ends with this joyful and promising desire: that Christian women will choose to be, with all their being, the interpreters and leaders of this Christianity of yes. It seems to me that this is the path that must be undertaken to give consistency and form to this new feminism, which was also requested in the message of the Holy Father Benedict XVI.
3. The challenges we have before us to carry out this new feminism have been manifested in the works of our conference. They are challenges born and developed within the climate of modernity and post-modernity, characterized in their essence by the projects and experiences, collective and generalized, common to the so-called feminine emancipation, today a global sign and indelible mark of our time, though with very different manifestations in the different continental realities. Feminine emancipation has been and is an historical event, marked by ambivalent and contrasting meanings, on which must be exercised a constant, patient, intelligent and wise Christian discernment, to extract the good, combat the evil, and guide the uncertain: a Christian discernment inspired and guided by an integral and solidaristic humanism, firmly directed to advancing the civilization of love.
It is not part of the literary genre to repeat everything that has been said and debated over these two days. Nevertheless, I cannot exempt myself from recalling hastily some realms in which this discernment is being required, today in a particular way because of the urgent character that some challenges present.
a) The first realm refers to the relationship between nature and culture, because it is on this relationship that the fundamental question is at stake: what is the human person, sexual difference, identity of marriage and the family, etc. To deny nature, namely, to deny that the human person is first of all a project willed and carried out by God the Creator, which it is not good to subvert arbitrarily, is the central point that must be very clear. When nature is denied, the human person is no longer a project, but becomes inexorably a product either of culture or of technology. In this perspective, there would be no genuine emancipation, but an inexorable dehumanization. The new feminism cannot ignore this challenge. A feminism must be promoted inspired by a concept of the person understood as project of God -- a project to accept, respect and realize with responsible liberty -- and reject a feminism inspired in a concept of the person understood as product of the diverse and changing present cultural landscape, often expression of greater skillfully manipulated changes. The Christian faith has the power to inspire a consistent vision of the world and Christian women must be open to dialogue with the other many visions that compete to win the minds and hearts of our contemporaries. Pluralism is fully admissible and also obligatory, when it is an expression of the good and of the multiplicity of itineraries that can be undertaken to carry it out, or also when it expresses the complexity of the questions on which a definitive vision cannot be given. However, when principles of the natural moral law or the very dignity of any human being are at stake, there can be no compromise. There are non-negotiable questions that do not allow for abolition and democracy cannot be a commitment with a downward tendency, because in this case the common good would be transformed in the lesser common evil.
b) The second realm that calls for our careful discernment has to do with the differences of context, above all of a cultural character, which influence the projects of promotion of woman. Despite the global world, the problems are and continue to be local, and hence require differentiated and realistic approaches. However, if a strategic line must be proposed for a new feminism, nourished by the liberating force of the Gospel, I would say that it is necessary to free oneself courageously from all the cultural baggage -- that which is typical of underdevelopment and over-development -- which mortifies the integral dignity of woman and her fundamental rights as person, impeding her genuine development and contribution to development. The baggage that must be denounced, such as structures of sin -- is still plentiful, too plentiful and it denies God's project. The key path to free ourselves from it is to invest abundantly in women, through education and formation. Many cultural and socio-economic obstacles can be overcome with formation. If the human capital is not cultivated, the social capital also diminishes and the economic capital does not function. When a person is poor in formation, society is also impoverished and the economic mechanism does not function either. Evidently, this discourse is true for all the continents, developed and developing, because when we speak of formation we must consider that, in order to be authentic, it must be made up of an integral and solidary humanism. As the present economic/financial crisis demonstrates, in the center of the same is manifested a dangerous deficit of moral and religious values and, hence, of an integral formation. The answer cannot just be technical/financial, but in the first place ethical, cultural and religious. To be rich does not coincide with being integrally developed. The economy does not exist on one hand and ethics or religion on the other. Justice does not exist on one hand, and love and charity on the other. Production does not exist on one hand and distribution on the other. Efficiency does not exist on one hand and solidarity on the other. The natural law does not exist on one hand and the new law on the other. To think of things this way means to accept that the world can function without God. If God's salvation does not affect all planes, in the end it is expelled from them all. This does not mean that the latter must invade them, but that its light guarantees their own autonomy and liberty, placing them in the truth.
c) The third realm I wish to touch upon, and on which a profound discernment is necessary, is that of the economic inequalities that, in a scandalous way, characterize our world, still marked by tragic phenomena such as hunger, pandemic illnesses and widespread poverty. It is true that in these areas, much progress has been made, but it is also true that there is still much to be done. Without a doubt, extreme poverty today appears in the suffering faces of women and children, an unacceptable scandal. If a new feminism is to be proposed, it cannot but have as an objective a more just and solidary world. Unfortunately, on this front, at all national and international levels, an infinity of words are wasted full of good intentions, but not going beyond this, as demonstrated by the uncertain policies of public aid to development, recently reconfirmed also in the International Conference of Doha on the financing of development. The Holy Father Benedict XVI, who will soon give us his first social encyclical, has forcefully recalled -- in his Message for this year's World Day of Peace -- the need, which cannot be postponed, to combat poverty in order to build peace. I am increasingly convinced that the battle against many poverties of the world is won if it begins from below, with exemplary initiatives, such as micro-finance and micro-credit, in which many women of the world are playing leading roles.
4. There will be no new feminism without God, above all if God is not discovered as Love. Monks -- the Pope said in Paris -- in seeking God also found the key to human relations, as no positive structure of the world can prevail where souls become savage. On this is based the right of citizenship -- to take up again the words of "Centesimus Annus" (No. 5) of John Paul II -- of the Christian faith in society, the right of God not to be left on the bench or put to one side. God's creation is according to truth, because God is Logos, but it is also according to charity, because God is love. Hence, in man's own nature one reads both the light of a design of authenticity on him and also a design of love. In fact, our nature is made up at the same time of intelligence and heart. Relations with others are not based only on concepts, but also and above all on acts of mutual love. Society needs rules that conform to human nature, but it also needs fraternal relations, of genuine fraternal love. The old feminism was based on egocentric individualism and, often, egoistic. The new feminism must be interlaced with love for life, the family and others; a feminism governed by charity, the queen of virtues. Thank you!
[Translation by ZENIT]