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Woman and the Francis Effect

Sr Monica Cavanagh

Sr Monica Cavanagh, Congregational leader of St Mary MacKillop's Josephite Sisters, reflects on the leadership of Pope Francis from the point of view of a woman.

Pope Francis:  Seeking the Wisdom of Women

I would like to consider Pope Francis’s leadership from the perspective of a woman.  Over many years now I have experienced the emergence of the role of women within the Church. 

I have grown up in a post Vatican II Church community. The outcomes of this Council have shaped my spirituality, my theology and my understanding of scripture and ministry. I bring to my ministry as Congregational Leader many experiences of being a woman in today’s Church. I have served in Pastoral roles at both Parish and Diocesan levels.

In reflecting on 'Pope Francis: Modelling the Petrine Ministry' through my eyes as a woman in leadership I will share what inspires me about Pope Francis’s Leadership and the role of women within the Church from his perspective. 

I will do this by looking at his particular references to the role of women, the challenges to be faced and what I consider to be hopeful signs for the future.

God has a special place for the poor

Speaking to my heart as a leader is Pope Francis’ deep conviction that 'God’s heart has a special place for the poor' (Evangelii Gaudium 197). These words capture the direction Pope Francis’s leadership has been taking since the beginning of his Papacy.

At the time of the election, I sat with a group eagerly awaiting the news of who would be our new Pope. I wondered what difference this would make to a church shattered by abuse and declining in membership in the Western world. One memory that I hold from that day was his first gesture from the balcony. 

He appeared and we were introduced to Pope Francis. I immediately thought of St Francis of Assisi’s call to rebuild my Church.  Was this the man who would rebuild our Church? Then he humbly invited the gathered faithful to pray for him – to give him their blessing before he blessed the crowd and this gesture signalled for me a change – a moment of hope that something new would emerge.  

Qualities of Pope Francis’ leadership

From the first moment of his papacy, Francis indicated that serving with a heart full of love was a priority. 

In his homily on the day of his consecration as Bishop of Rome he spoke these words: ‘the Pope must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgement of love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison.  Only those who serve with love are able to protect’. 

This has been manifested in his gestures of reaching out to those in prison, to refugees and migrants, to the sick, the marglinised, the unemployed and most recently to the victims of sexual abuse – a leader indeed with a heart for the poor. 

This choice for those most deprived in society speaks to the heart of Religious women and those working for justice in our Church and society. It reminds me of the call of so many Religious Founders who, like St Mary MacKillop, encouraged her Sisters to ‘seek first the poorest and most neglected parts of God’s vineyard...

A reflection from the 10th National eConference of The Broken Bay Institute and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, June 2014.

To read full reflection, CLICK HERE.

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