Speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke to thousands on the square with the knowledge that his words would reach around the world to Catholics and non-Catholics as he spoke of tolerance for differences and recognizing enemies as brothers. He did not say “sisters,” as well, and is it safe to assume he meant to include women?
"We are all children of one heavenly father, we belong to the same human family and we share a common destiny," Francis said according to CBS News.
"This brings a responsibility for each to work so that the world becomes a community of brothers who respect each other, accept each other in one's diversity, and takes care of one another," he said.
The pope had a prepared statement, but departed from the prepared words and spoke vehemently against violence. "What is happening in the heart of man? What is happening in the heart of humanity? It's time to stop."
He told the crowd this reflection was inspired by letter he received from a man - "maybe one of you" - who lamented that there are "so many tragedies and wars in the world."
"I, too, believe that it will be good for us to stop ourselves in this path of violence and search for peace," Francis said.
The crowd reacted positively as he called for "the gospel of brotherhood speak to every conscience and knock down the walls that impede enemies from recognizing that they are brothers."
Earlier, during his homily at New Year's Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Francis recalled humanity's journey in the year unfolding and invoked what he said where "words of blessing," explaining that they are "strength, courage and hope."
"Not an illusory hope," he added, "based on frail human promises, or a naive hope which presumes that the future will be better simply because it is the future."
The pope’s message is indeed one of tolerance, compassion and humanity. And if he truly believes that the “walls” of enemies need to be “knocked down,” then he should include the walls separating women and men in the calculus of the Catholic church and attain peace among his flock and emissaries.
Russian authorities believe the person responsible for the explosion that killed 16 people in Volgograd last Sunday was a female suicide bomber. The capacity for violence is not gender specific. Women can be brainwashed to kill as last week’s violence illustrates, but they also have a powerful position to influence as mothers and leaders.
The Catholic nun Sister Vivian Ivantic is one of the leaders. Whilst celebrating her 100th birthday, she hoped to one day become a priest. She reportedly has spent 90 of those years wishing for priesthood.
"I think the American church is outstanding," she told The Chicago Tribune. "But I'm waiting for women' ordination. We have been deprived of the celebration of the Mass because we don't have enough ordained priests. We have done so much as teachers, nurses, social workers, but we need to open church offices to women."
Her commitment to the Catholic Church began when she was in the first grade when she announced to her family she wanted to be a nun and priest when she grew up. She joined the Benedictines at the age of 20, but has always remained hopeful that women would be welcomed into priesthood.
The pontiff, who chose his papal name from St. Francis of Assisi, the saint most associated with peace and poverty, urged the world to listen to the "cry for peace" from suffering peoples. Are women included in the “suffering” people? The pope’s namesake St. Francis was considered mad and even dangerous, which was a risk he was willing to take to spread his message, and his eccentricity in fact eventually contributed to his holiness. Being different in appearance and actions was his normal. Will Pope Francis be a risk-taker and an innovator?
As the Catholic church seemingly calls for tolerance, compassion and inclusivity, perhaps the roles of women in the church should be included and nuns like Sister Ivantic will be able to realize their dream of equality.