One of our friars here at St. Bonaventure sometimes teases our volunteer receptionist, Mildred, that she would make a great Cardinal. Mildred is a founding member of our 51 year old parish. She embodies many of the qualities that characterized what were known as the “holy widows” of the early Church. Mildred is dedicated to her family, friends and parish. Often, after a day’s work answering phones and welcoming guests at our parish’s Ministry Centre, she returns after dinner to host a bereavement group or participate in some other programme. She’s also one of those thoughtful women who remembers every significant event in your life and always manages to find a card to suit the occasion. Many parishioners have mentioned how surprised and touched they were to receive one of her notes at challenging times, when they needed a kind word or some prayers.
A good pastor needs to have some wise men and women to consult from time to time and get some honest feedback. Mildred has been and continues to be a good source of wisdom for me. What is remarkable is her ability to communicate honest criticism in a way that doesn’t elicit a defensive reaction in me. That’s a gift. Trust me!
My purpose here is not to canonize Mildred. She has her faults and limitations. However I do mean to highlight the importance of wise women in the life of the Church and especially their impact on the Church’s leadership. Women and men complement one another and their gifts are necessary for the full and effective living out of humanity. During my work as a formation director for the Franciscans I would remind our young candidates and friars that they absolutely need to have healthy intimate relationships with both men and women. Sometimes when I spoke of “intimate relationships” some of the guys would nervously squirm in their seats. “Grow up!” I would yell at them. True intimacy is about being able to be your true self with people and to allow them to speak the truth to you. That’s essential for a healthy religious life and it’s equally essential for healthy Church leadership.
Over the last few months there have been “rumours” coming out of the Vatican that Pope is planning to make important appointments of women to key Vatican positions. A hint of things to come has been B16’s positioning of Sister Enrica Rosanna at the Congregation for Religious. (A congregation is the Vatican term for a Department or Ministry that looks after a particular issue. In this case it oversees the world’s various religious orders.) Sr. Rosanna had been appointed “Under-Secretary” for that congregation under Pope John Paul II. However some in the Vatican administration were uncomfortable with a woman being in a position of authority over priests and so a “co” under-secretary was appointed who was a priest. Since the election of B16 as the Vicar of Peter this “co” has been moved on to other pastures and Sr. Enrica has been affirmed in her role, of her own right. Other such appointments are supposedly in the works. This is truly a hopeful sign for our Church.
In the next few days at St. Peter’s Basilica there will be a long procession of men taking part in the “consistory” when the Pope will make them Cardinals. They will form part of a core group of advisors to the Holy Father. Most Cardinals are bishops, some are priest and some have been lay men. There is really no reason that a woman could not be a Cardinal as well. There is no necessary link between the advisory role of the Cardinal and Holy Orders. Certainly there are plenty of women in the Church with valuable gifts of insight, wisdom and leadership. B16 seems to be quite aware of that. Who knows… maybe one day there may be a Cardinal Mildred!