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from issue no. 10 - 2007

WOMEN IN THE CURIA. A meeting with Sister Enrica Rosanna

The contribution of the female genius

An interview with the Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life, the highest post in the Vatican held by a woman

Interview with Sister Enrica Rosanna by Gianni Cardinale

Some weeks ago, on 27 October, the English Catholic weekly The Tablet quoted the words pronounced last 18 July by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, with which the closest collaborator of Benedict XVI predicted greater feminine presence in posts of responsibility in the Roman Curia. The English weekly mischievously pointed out that the words have still not been followed by deeds. While waiting for development 30Days found an opportunity to speak with the woman who currently holds the highest post in the central bodies of the Holy See. We are speaking of Sister Enrica Rosanna, of the Daughters of Mary the Helper – the female branch of the Salesian family – who on 24 April 2004 John Paul II appointed Undersecretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life. And it was a revolutionary nomination, inasmuch as it was the first time that a woman had been called to an executive post in a Congregation (previously another woman, the lay Australian Rosemary Goldie, held the same post from 1966 to 1976 but on a Papal Council, that for the Laity).
A Lombard from Busto Arsizio, in the province of Varese and archdiocese of Milan, Sister Rosanna took her vows in 1964. Teacher and then head, up to 1998, of the only “female” Pontifical Faculty, the Auxilium, she is a sociologist of religion and a scholar of the teaching sciences. Valued for her competence she has been among the experts at several synods and since 1996 has been a member of the Commission of Sages set up by the then Minister of Public Education, Luigi Berlinguer.

Benedict XVI with Sister Enrica Rosanna and Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for the Religious

Benedict XVI with Sister Enrica Rosanna and Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for the Religious

Sister Rosanna, how did you take the nomination to Undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious?
SISTER ENRICA ROSANNA: With faith and willingness to serve by making available what I am and what I know how to do. And then with a little “tremulousness” also, but ever willing to learn.
Did you expect it?
ROSANNA: No. I took an active part in the Rome synod and, as expert, in three general synods: those on the consecrated life, in 1994, on Europe, in 1999, and on the bishops, in 2001. On these occasions I had reason to approach John Paul II several times. I received him when he came to visit the Auxilium. But I frankly would never have expected this call.
How do you explain the choice of a nun as Undersecretary of the Congregation?
ROSANNA: The Statistical Yearbook of the Church gives the following figures for 2002: priests who are religious number 137,724; male religious not priests 54,828; female religious 782,932. Numerically the female religious are nearly double the total number of religious and diocesan priests. To the number of female religious we must then add the more than 47,000 contemplative nuns, the consecrated women in secular Institutes, the consecrated virgins, the consecrated women who belong to the new forms of evangelical life and the female religious who belong to the Institutes of diocesan Law. Those numbers seem to me to well explain the choice of a nun as Undersecretary...
What are your skills?
ROSANNA: I perform a collaborative function and the tasks that are entrusted to me are very diversified: they go from the examination of cases to work meetings, both in the department and general chapters, assemblies, conferences and congresses. I also try to respond to all those who have need and ask for help.
Were you frightened by the fact of being the first nun to be called to a post at such a level?
ROSANNA: Absolutely not. I’m somewhat accustomed, so to speak, to breaking the ice. In 1972 I was the first woman to gain a doctorate at the Pontifical Gregorian University with a thesis on secularization. And moreover I was the first woman, thanks not least to the new Salesian cardinal Don Raffaele Farina, to teach in a Pontifical University.
How was your reception in the department?
ROSANNA: There was a comprehensible period of “wait and see”. Now I breathe an air of confidence and respect. I’ve still much to learn and I count on the help and collaboration of my superiors and colleagues. Some of my older colleagues are authentic “masters” for me and I thank them from my heart.
And more in general, how were you received in the Roman Curia?
ROSANNA: I received a thousand notes of congratulations. I remember in particular the one sent me by the Cardinal Vicar Camillo Ruini, who got to know me well during the work of the Rome synod.
What was the first thing you did when you took up your new post?
ROSANNA: I decided to give a feminine touch to the surroundings and to the style of reception, and I must say that the gesture has been much appreciated.
Did you find comfort in the other nuns and the other women who work in the Curia?
ROSANNA: Yes, with those who work with me. With the others, unfortunately, there’s insufficient contact. It would be nice to have a meeting to get to know each other.
What in your view is the specific contribution that a nun, a woman, can give to the work of the Roman Curia?
ROSANNA: As I’ve already suggested, she can give that touch of “female genius” that can sometimes be necessary when it’s a matter of dealing with certain delicate issues in which our qualities are particularly helpful. And then she can give a more than secondary contribution to dealing with those issues involving other women who live the reality of the Church, as consecrated or also as lay women.
The wife of the former British prime minister, Cherie Blair, a Catholic, said some time ago: “There aren’t many reasons why half of the posts in the Roman Curia can’t be occupied by women”. What do you think of the remark?
ROSANNA: I’m not fond of the so-called “pink” quota. Whether in the Church or elsewhere. Women must be able to go ahead on the basis of their own capacities and of the consensus they succeed in gathering. They don’t need Indian reservations, that can be counter-productive.
The Vatican Secretary of State, who is a Salesian like yourself, has announced greater female presence in the Vatican in posts of responsibility. What are we to expect? A woman as Head or Secretary of a Department?
ROSANNA: I hope myself that my nomination as Undersecretary is a first step in the direction of more and more women being able to offer the contribution of their “genius”, with generosity and without reserve, to the service of the Holy See. The ways will be decided by the Pope.
There is no lack in the ecclesial world of those who hope that one day the Catholic Church, after the Protestant communities and the Anglican Communion, will also be able to admit women to the priesthood. Do you think it may happen, even in the distant future?
ROSANNA: On that matter I submit completely and with confidence to the judgment of the Church.
Earlier you mentioned that it was John Paul II who called you to the post you hold now. What in your view is the greatest legacy John Paul II left us?
ROSANNA: First of all concern for the human person and respect for his/her dignity from conception up to death; concern for the person of any religion, nationality, race. This concern is expressed in all his encyclicals and speeches addressed both to Heads of State and to the ordinary faithful. I have moreover always admired his granite-like faith, his passion for unity and peace, his commitment to life and trust in young people whom he very acutely called “sentinels of the morning”.
John Paul II with Sister Enrica Rosanna

John Paul II with Sister Enrica Rosanna

What particular thought of John Paul II on the relations between Christ and consecrated women most struck you?
ROSANNA: The answer would deserve long reflection. I’ll limit myself to just a few points. John Paul II asked us repeatedly to live with faith and joy our choice of vocation, because the religious life is valid in the first place for what it is, more than for what it achieves through works; not to be afraid to identify ourselves with Christ... even to the cross. He himself gave us the example of this identification up to the end. He asked us “to make Christ seen”, “to follow his footsteps”, to be light over the bushel and not only leaven. At a meeting with the International Union of superiors general, on 3 May 2001, he spoke wonderfully of the sequela Christi, in particular of vows, indicating to us the path to follow so as to live them with creative fidelity. He spoke splendid words about it, that often return to mind, I meditate a great deal on them and they give me momentum.
And are there any words of Benedict XVI on this subject that you remember with particular attention?
ROSANNA: I recall with particular gratitude the speech to male and female superiors general of 26 May last year. On that occasion the Pontiff, as if continuing and deepening the indications given by his predecessor, asked us to journey towards inwardness: the Lord looks at what we are before at what we do. An invitation that goes truly to the heart of our vocation.
The election of Pope Benedict XVI was seen by many as a sign of continuity with John Paul II, others are not in agreement. How did you experience the passage?
ROSANNA: In my view there is unquestionable continuity between the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and that of Pope Benedict. The same passion for Christ and mankind, the same ecumenic drive, the same closeness to the world of the young... We could say that the “hand has not changed”, even if Pope Benedict goes ahead in his ministry by making the most of his own personal resources and those of his scholarship and cultural origins, that are different from those of John Paul II. Both men of great faith and trust in Providence, aware that it is the Lord who leads His Church. And that without Him, the Lord, we can do nothing.
What is the role of female religious in the Church today?
ROSANNA: The presence of the female religious is very important; they have a remarkable weight in evangelization even if often they perform a hidden mission, that is they are leaven in the dough. But they are also lights over the bushel because people see and recognize in them “people always ready to welcome”, to solve problems, to give advice, to support, to guide, to comfort, to train. They make available to people not only their feminine genius, but the various charisms that have been given by God: the charism of compassion, the charism of education, the charism of evangelization, the charism of service to the poor. Think of the great saints from whom they take inspiration for their own service: Teresa of Calcutta, Maria Domenica Mazzarello, Angela Merici, Clare of Assisi, Maddalena of Canossa, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena... and so many others again. These saints teach us religious not only to serve, making the most of our charisms, but to learn from the people whom we have the honor to serve. From the poor and the needy one always learns. We must not forget the word of the Lord: “There is more joy in giving than in receiving”.
The number of female religious has dropped in a drastic way over the last few decades...
ROSANNA: Unfortunately that’s so, particularly in the industrialized countries. On that matter an author has written pertinently that in these moments of trial we nuns must live that “spirituality of the twilight” that leads us to being more fervid, more committed, more evangelizing and therefore doubly witnesses. Precisely because we are few, the Lord calls to us to be brighter lamps over the bushel.
Is a change of the trend in vocations possible?
ROSANNA: On the basis of my own past experience I think I can say – and I say it with extreme caution and perhaps with a little perplexity – that there is a vocational pastoral addressed to young people, but it’s not clear what account it takes of female specificity, that is of the close link that exists between the call to the service of the Kingdom and the “female genius”, that genius that characterizes every woman that God gives to this world. Perhaps it’s urgent to make a qualitative leap in that direction, rediscovering that in order to make a vocational pastoral with a female slant one can’t escape reference to the “genius of woman”, according to what I’ve just stated. We can’t then forget that a vocational pastoral cannot escape above all a prior acknowledgement: even today the harvest is rich, and how can we doubt, given we believe in Jesus and that the Gospel is of current significance?
So you have confidence in the future?
ROSANNA: Vocations to the consecrated life there are, and there are young women, I firmly believe, who are ready to be led to an understanding of how beautiful it is to follow the Lord Jesus with an undivided heart. Knowing that nourishes my heart with hope: hope that the hearts of young women are still fertile soil and that it is therefore worth sowing, even if part of the seed will fall on the thorns, part on stony ground...; hope that we consecrated women have the strength to create that vocational culture that leads the young generations to discover Christ, to meet Him, to believe in Him, to follow Him like Peter, John, Andrew, Simon..., like Teresa of Avila, Clare of Assisi, Teresa of the Child Jesus, Teresa of Calcutta, Maria Domenica Mazzarello...; hope that the “female genius” with its resources has something to say to the consecrated life; hope that better times will come also for the consecrated life and the harvest will continue to be abundant. If it is true in fact that many Institutes are going through a profound crisis in vocations, and that the numbers leaving come to a significant percentage, it is also true that the old foundations are always bravely in the front line (I’m thinking for example of the mission to Africa of the Salesian family), above all to be balm for the old and new poverty; it is true that new forms of evangelical life are being born, that vocations are blooming in the young Churches. And that the witness of so many consecrated women brave unto martyrdom is a reality even today: think of Sister Annalena Tonelli and Sister Leonella Sgorbati...
Earlier you mentioned the need to give a – so to speak – “female quality” to the vocational pastoral. In what sense?
ROSANNA: A first step might be made in the direction to helping young women rediscover themselves as women, to be glad of being women, “to call and think of themselves in the feminine” so as to give a particular face to their own vocational choice. Perhaps it’s worth remembering that at the Synod on the consecrated life the consecrated women present clearly expressed what lies at the heart of the consecrated female life, putting the stress not so much on the roles that it can play in the Church, but rather on its testifying value: the love for Christ with undivided heart and the luminous witness to His mercy and tenderness for all, with a predilection for the poor and the weak. Another step could regard the valorization of a concept and experience of maternity “beyond the stereotype”, affective, cultural, spiritual maternity, maternity that is chiefly expressed in the “capacity for caring”. The charisms of the Institutes of consecrated female life, in which the Church is rich, tell us of the amplitude of this “caring”, in which there is room for so many youthful aspirations: taking care of children and the young (think of the charism of the educational Institutes), taking care of the poor, the new poverty (think of the charism of the charitable Institutes), caring for the truth (think of all the religious engaged in schools of every order and degree), caring for peace (think of the religious in countries at war), caring for love (think of the cloistered convents...).
Sister Enrica, are you content with your life-choice?
ROSANNA: I am a happy daughter of Mary the Helper. But I’m not an isolated case: many religious that I know, of all ages, are happy in their vocation and live it with much love and gratuity.

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