On Saturday morning Pope Benedict XVI received participants in an international congress on the theme: “Woman and man, the ‘humanum’ in its entirety.” During his reflections, the Holy Father called on Christians to promote “a culture that grants women, in law and in everyday life, the dignity that is theirs by right.”

The congress, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, takes place in the twentieth anniversary year of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women, “Mulieris Dignitatem.”

Speaking to the participants, Pope Benedict said that the relationship between men and women is a question central to contemporary culture.  The Pope noted the various documents the Church has dedicated to the topic, including “Mulieris Dignitatem,” Pope John Paul II’s 1995 “Letter to Women” and a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith  document titled “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World.”

Man and woman’s equal dignity, their unity, and their reciprocal and complementary vocations, the Pope said, rest on their being created in the image and likeness of God, “Who 'created them male and female' avoiding indistinct uniformity and flat and impoverished equality, as well as massive and confrontational difference.”

Pope Benedict said that when men and women seek complete self-sufficiency and autonomy, they confuse freedom with the overcoming of all natural, social and religious barriers.  This confusion “reduces them to a state of oppressive solitude," the Pope said.

The Pope called for new research based on the Christian tradition to combine scientific progress and modern cultural sensibilities.  This research, he said, would contribute to a deeper understanding of both female identity and male identity, “which is also not infrequently the subject of partial and ideological studies.”

Criticizing male chauvinism, discrimination against women, and the undervaluation of women, he called for Christians to promote “a culture that grants women, in law and in everyday life, the dignity that is theirs by right.”

The family, the Pope said, is a specific, God-given vocation and mission for men and women.   It is "a community of love open to life, the fundamental cell of society" in which man and woman together play an indispensable role.

He further addressed the place of children in the family, saying, “From their conception, children have the right to a father and mother to take care of them and accompany them as they grow.”  He called for the state to support and promote the stability and unity of marriage, the dignity and responsibility of the spouses, and parents’ right to educate their children.

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Pope Benedict ended his speech with a prayer asking the Virgin Mary to help women in their vocation and mission to both ecclesial and civil communities.