Monsignor, the presence of women in social life is extending far beyond the sphere of the family, in which they have moved almost exclusively up to now. What do you think about this development? What, in your opinion, are the main characteristics that women have to develop if they are to fulfil their mission?
Firstly, let me say that I do not think there need be any conflict between one's family life and social life. Just as in a man's life, but with particular shades of difference, the home and the family will always occupy a central place in the life of a woman. For it is obvious that when she spends time on her family she is fulfilling a great human and Christian role. Nevertheless, this does not exclude the possibility of her having other professional work for housework is also professional work in any worthwhile employment available in the society in which she lives. I can understand why you state the problem the way you do. But I think that if we systematically contrast work in the home with outside work, retaining the old dichotomy which was formerly used to maintain that a woman's place was in the home but switching the stress, it could easily lead, from the social point of view, to a greater mistake than that which we are trying to correct because it would be more serious if it led women to give up their work in the home.
Even on the personal level one cannot flatly affirm that a woman has to achieve her perfection only outside the home, as if time spent on her family were time stolen from the development of her personality. The home whatever its characteristics, because a single woman should also have a home is a particularly suitable place for the growth of her personality. The attention she gives to her family will always be a woman's greatest dignity. In the care she takes of her husband and children or, to put it in more general terms, in her work of creating a warm and formative atmosphere around her, a woman fulfils the most indispensable part of her mission. And so it follows that she can achieve her personal perfection there.
What I have just said does not go against her participating in other aspects of social life including politics. In these spheres, too, women can offer a valuable personal contribution, without neglecting their special feminine qualities. They will do this to the extent to which they are humanly and professionally equipped. Both family and society clearly need this special contribution, which is in no way secondary to that of men.
Development, maturity, emancipation of women should not mean a pretence of equality, of uniformity with men, a servile imitation of a man's way of doing things. That would not get us anywhere. Women would turn out losers, not because they are better than men or worse, but because they are different.
In terms of fundamentals, one can in fact speak of equal rights which should be legally recognised, both in civil and ecclesiastical law. Women, like men, possess the dignity of being persons and children of God. Nevertheless, on this basis of fundamental equality, each must achieve what is proper to him or her. In this sense a woman's emancipation means that she should have a real possibility of developing her own potentialities to the fullest extent those which she has personally and those which she has in common with other women. Equal rights and equal opportunities before the law do not suppress this diversity, which enriches all mankind. They presuppose and encourage it.
Women are called to bring to the family, to society and to the Church, characteristics which are their own and which they alone can give: their gentle warmth and untiring generosity, their love for detail, their quick-wittedness and intuition, their simple and deep piety, their constancy... A woman's femininity is genuine only if she is aware of the beauty of this contribution for which there is no substitute and if she incorporates it into her own life.
To fulfil this mission, a woman has to develop her own personality and not let herself be carried away by a naive desire to imitate, which, as a rule, would tend to put her in an inferior position and leave her unique qualities unfulfilled. If she is a mature person, with a character and mind of her own, she will indeed accomplish the mission to which she feels called, whatever it may be. Her life and work will be really constructive, fruitful and full of meaning, whether she spends the day dedicated to her husband and children or whether, having given up the idea of marriage for a noble reason, she has given herself fully to other tasks.
Each woman in her own sphere of life, if she is faithful to her divine and human vocation can and, in fact, does achieve the fullness of her feminine personality. Let us remember that Mary, Mother of God and Mother of men, is not only a model but also a proof of the transcendental value of an apparently unimportant life.