Church, world must ‘respect, defend, esteem’ women, Pope Francis says during Mass to usher in new year

VATICAN CITY — The world and the Catholic Church must respect and defend women and foster a motherly care for others to end dehumanizing cycles of violence, Pope Francis said.

“The church needs Mary in order to recover her own feminine face, to resemble more fully the woman, virgin and mother, who is her model and perfect image, to make space for women and to be ‘generative’ through a pastoral ministry marked by concern and care,” the pope said during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and World Peace Day on Jan. 1.

The world too, he said, “needs to look to mothers and to women in order to find peace, to emerge from the spiral of violence and hatred, and once more see things with genuinely human eyes and hearts.”

In his homily, Pope Francis called on all societies to “accept the gift that is woman, every woman” and to “respect, defend and esteem woman in the knowledge that whoever harms a single woman profanes God, who was born of a woman.”

The Mass marked the 57th World Day of Peace celebrated by the church. The pope’s message for the world day, published in December, was dedicated to artificial intelligence and peace.

After praying the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square following Mass, the pope said he was following “with concern” the situation in Nicaragua, where “bishops (and) priests have been deprived of freedom.” A bishop and 12 priests have been arrested by Nicaraguan authorities since mid-December; Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa was sentenced in February to 26 years in prison. Dozens of other priests have been exiled and members of religious orders expelled from the country.

Some 7,000 people were present in the basilica for the celebration on New Year’s Day, the Vatican said. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, was the main celebrant at the altar and was joined by Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican foreign minister.

Placed near the main altar was an icon of the “Madonna Lactans” or Nursing Madonna — a late Byzantine image of Mary nursing the infant Jesus.

In his homily, the pope asked people to look at the “tender” icon of the mother who “looks after us and is close to us.”

Among those who presented the offertory gifts to Pope Francis were young people dressed as the three kings who visited Jesus. In Germany, Austria and other regions of Europe, children known as “sternsingers,” or star singers, carol and collect donations between Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany. The three who presented the offertory gifts were joined by others dressed as the Magi sitting in the front row of the basilica.