25 September 2015, The Tablet

Where would Church be without women, asks Francis

by Christopher Lamb in New York

Religious women in the United States received a big vote of support from the Pope in New York on Thursday when he announced:  “What would the Church be without you?”

His support for religious sisters is significant as congregations have undergone two different inspections into supposed lack of orthodoxy by the Vatican and American hierarchy in recent years. 

Speaking after vespers with clergy and members of religious orders in St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, during the latest leg of his US tour, the Pope said: “In a special way I would like to express my esteem and gratitude to the religious women of the United States. What would the Church be without you?

"Women of strength, fighters, with that spirit of courage which puts you in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel. To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say “thank you”, a big thank you… and to tell you that I love you very much.”

Elsewhere in his homily the Pope lamented a “spiritual worldliness” that can take hold when the value of what the Church does is measured simply by “efficiency” and priests and religious surround themselves with “worldly comforts.”

Francis was greeted by thousands of well-wishers as he made his way down 5th AvenueFrancis is greeted by thousands of well-wishers as he made his way down 5th Avenue (PA)

“The problem with this reasoning is that it can blunt the power of God’s daily call to conversion, to encounter with him. Slowly but surely, it diminishes our spirit of sacrifice, renunciation and hard work,” Francis said. “It also alienates people who suffer material poverty and are forced to make greater sacrifices than ourselves.”  

During the service the Pope also touched on clerical sexual abuse and how priests had “suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalised the Church in the most vulnerable of her members.” 

It is the second time he has made a reference to abuse with the first being made during a speech to bishops where he said they had been through “pain” to bring about healing to victims. But survivors groups have criticised the Pope’s remarks in this area for not taking into account the mishandling by the Church of the crisis.  


At the same time it could be that Francis meets victims of clerical sexual abuse during the visit although such encounters are never confirmed in advance. 

Speaking at St Patrick’s, the Pope also thanked priests and members of religious orders for their ministry but offered them two pointers for the future: a spirit of gratitude and a spirit of hard work. 

St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, located on Manhattan’s 5th Avenue, has recently been refurbished at a cost $175 million. It is near  Trump Tower and when Donald Trump, the right-wing republican presidential candidate, appeared on a balcony he was booed by the crowd waiting for Pope Francis. Trump has said that while Pope Francis’ words calling for the US to welcome migrants are “beautiful” he disagrees. 

Francis said a special thank you to the religious women of the USFrancis said a special thank you to the religious women of the US (PA)

Thousands lined the streets for the Pope as he travelled from John F Kennedy Airport to the cathedral. Meeting him off the plane were representatives from 200 parishes and the homeless. One of those greeted by Francis was Gerard Gubatan, a 27-year-old with cerebral palsy.

“I was frozen, he was elated, I was speechless, and all I could do was just grab his hand and kiss it,” said his mother Iluminada Gubatan.

Earlier in the day, Francis had a moving encounter with homeless in Washington where he said that a lack of housing could never be justified. 

At the end of his address the Pope prayed the Our Father with those present adding: “How good it is to encounter one another in this place where we see one another as brothers and sisters, where we realise that we need one another. Today I want to be one with you. I need your support, your closeness.” 

Today the Pope addresses the United Nations and later in the day will visit Ground Zero, East Harlem and Central Park. 

At the beginning of vespers the Pope assured Muslims of his prayers following the tragedy at Mecca where more than 700 people were killed in a stampede. 



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