For American journalist Kathryn Jean Lopez, the role of women in the New Evangelization is necessary for redeeming today's society from a distorted view of sexuality and freedom.
“Part of the whole New Evangelization is better communicating what the Church teaches and how they view women – what we women believe,” said Lopez, editor of National Review Online.
“We've come to a point where we're so secularized, and so don’t understand why men and women are the way they are, that we actually view fertility as a disease,” she said, adding that many believe “freedom itself cannot exist for women if you can't control your biology.”
At the close of Thursday’s Mass to launch the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI took a cue from his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, who brought the Second Vatican Council to a close by issuing a series of “Messages to the People of God,” including rulers, scientists, artists, women, workers and the young.
Lopez received the message to women, while Scottish composer James MacMillan was entrusted with the message to artists.
Over 30,000 pilgrims and 400 bishops attended the Oct. 11 celebration, kicking off the year which marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.
Lopez said she was honored and surprised at the invitation from the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, which she got just last week.
In an interview outside St. Peter’s Square on Thursday, she spoke of the significance of women participating as experts and advisers in the Oct. 7-28 bishops' synod in Rome, as well as their role in the New Evangelization at large.
“There are lots of women in the Church in different leadership roles, including in the home, including in the Vatican,” she said. “It's a reflection of reality. Maybe the Church hasn’t done a good enough job communicating them to the world.”
“Part of the whole New Evangelization is better communicating what the Church teaches and how they view women – what we women believe,” Lopez added.
“Frankly that’s something a lot of Catholics have forgotten,” she said, noting that it partly “explains why the bishops are meeting.”
For Lopez, that last point is particularly relevant to the United States today, in light of the upcoming presidential election and the controversy over the nature of religious freedom.
“As an American who covers politics, I think it's a big deal that the Year of Faith is starting today, the day two Catholics are debating at the vice presidential debate.”
Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden are slated to face-off on prime-time television Thursday night, and could touch on controversial topics such as the Obama administration's mandate requiring health care policies to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs.
“American Catholic bishops have been at the forefront of opposing the HHS mandate, which also affects Catholic-affiliated businesses such as universities and hospitals,” Lopez said.
For the U.S., and countries worldwide, the timing of the Year of Faith is “fantastic,” she added. “I think there’s a significance here, and I think we should make it significant.”
On her experience of meeting Pope Benedict for the first time, the journalist recalled that before the Mass, she spoke “to a bunch of the people who were given messages today, and everybody sort of felt the same.”
“They didn’t want to give a big speech to the Pope. We just wanted to say thank you. Because here is a faithful servant of the Church and shepherd. So I think everybody basically said thank you to him.”
The New Yorker added that she was pleased at the Pope's fond regard for her home town. “I am happy to report as a native New Yorker that when he asked me where I was from, he said 'Ah, New York!'”
“I e-mailed some friends after and said I think the Pope just told me he’s a Yankees fan, but I can't quote him.”
Lopez said she took away several key points from the day's events, but one that stood out most is the understanding that “women have particular gifts and we work in conjunction with men.”
“What this New Evangelization is about – my words, not his – is about healing our culture,” she said.
“The message that was delivered was about the relationship between men and women and our complimentarity that we don’t focus on and acknowledge anymore.”
“That’s why what’s being done here – the Year of Faith, the New Evangelization synod – is important because we’ve got a positive message to tell the world and we’ve got to do a better job communicating it.”
The Year of Faith will last from Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013.