"This could happen because of the presence of strong and generous women who, undoubtedly called and prompted by the Holy Spirit, baptized, catechized, prayed and acted as missionaries. For centuries, women have kept the Church alive in those places through their remarkable devotion and deep faith."
The exhortation also calls for the encouragement of the "simple and straightforward gifts" which have allowed women to play an active role in Amazonian society and noted that "without women, the Church breaks down, and how many communities in the Amazon would have collapsed, had women not been there to sustain them, keep them together and care for them."
"This shows the kind of power that is typically theirs," the document states, warning against a view which restricts the Church to just her "functional structures."
Under the same section, "the strength and gift of women," the pope also recalls that in the celebration of the Eucharist at Mass, Jesus Christ, Spouse of the Church, appears "through the figure of a man."
This dialogue between Christ and his Bride, the Church, "should not trap us in partial conceptions of power in the Church," it states. "The Lord chose to reveal his power and his love through two human faces: the face of his divine Son made man and the face of a creature, a woman, Mary."
In an earlier section, the document references and briefly quotes St. Pope John Paul II's 1988 apostolic letter on the dignity and vocation of women, Mulieris Dignitatem.
"There are those who think that what distinguishes the priest is power, the fact that he is the highest authority in the community," Francis writes. "Yet Saint John Paul II explained that, although the priesthood is considered 'hierarchical,' this function is not meant to be superior to the others, but rather is 'totally ordered to the holiness of Christ's members.'"
In Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II wrote about the significant role women have played in the history of the Catholic Church, especially in passing on the faith, stating that holy women are "a model for all Christians, a model of the 'sequela Christi,' an example of how the Bride must respond with love to the love of the Bridegroom."
"It is the Eucharist above all that expresses the redemptive act of Christ the Bridegroom towards the Church the Bride," John Paul II's letter continues. "This is clear and unambiguous when the sacramental ministry of the Eucharist, in which the priest acts 'in persona Christi,' is performed by a man."
But, John Paul II recalled, "all the baptized share in the one priesthood of Christ, both men and women, inasmuch as they must 'present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (cf. Rom 12:1), give witness to Christ in every place, and give an explanation to anyone who asks the reason for the hope in eternal life that is in them (cf. 1 Pt 3:15).'"
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.