Holy women as important as priests in Church history, Pope says

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI


The 14th-century St. Bridget of Sweden is a “powerful example of feminine sanctity” and a model for Christian families and religious men and women, Pope Benedict XVI said in his weekly general audience Oct. 27.

St. Bridget’s founding of a religious order that was composed of both monks and nuns living separately under her authority as abbess was a reminder of the spiritual power and authority of women in the Church, the Pope said. 

"In the great Christian tradition the woman is recognized as having her own dignity and -- following the example of Mary, Queen of the Apostles -- her own place in the Church which, though not coinciding with the ordained priesthood, is equally important for the spiritual growth of the community,” he stated.

Pope Benedict made his remarks as part of his series of Wednesday teachings on the holy women of the Church’s history.

In the first part of her life, Bridget was a happily married mother of eight. With her husband, Ulf, she lived the lifestyle of the Third Order of St. Francis and founded a hospital for the poor. When her husband died, she gave all her worldly possessions to the poor, moved into a Cistercian convent, and dedicated herself to prayer, penance and works of charity to deepen her relationship with God.

While at the convent, she received the controversial visions of the life of Christ and especially his sufferings on the Cross.

Pope Benedict acknowledged that her visions provoked skepticism even today. But he said the Church has accepted “the overall authenticity of her interior experience,” while not making any judgments on the accuracy of her individual revelations.

St. Bridget, he said, was convinced that all gifts, such as her visions, were “destined to build the Church.”

That is why “many of her revelations were addressed, in the form of sometimes severe admonitions, to the believers of her time including the political and religious authorities, to live their Christian lives coherently,” he said.

But, he added, she always did this with “an attitude of respect and complete faithfulness towards” the Church’s teaching authority and the Pope. 

The Pope prayed that Christian spouses today would look to Bridget as an example of “authentic 'conjugal spirituality.'”

“May the Holy Spirit arouse the sanctity of Christian couples, so as to show the world the beauty of marriage lived according to the Gospel values of love, tenderness, mutual support, fruitfulness in the generation and education of children, openness and solidarity towards the world, and participation in the life of the Church,” the Holy Father said.

In 2000 Pope John Paul II named St. Bridget one of the co-patron saints of Europe. Pope Benedict also held her up as an example for Europeans, saying that they should look to her for inspiration and ask “her intercession help unite all Christians,” thus drawing the people of Europe to “an ever greater appreciation of their unique and invaluable Christian heritage."

Among those present at the audience was a group of around 100 sisters from the Order of the Most Holy Savior of St. Bridget, the "Bridgettines," who are gathered in Rome their general chapter meetings.

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