Nathalie Becquart is a 54-year-old nun from France. She is also an experienced sailor who has led young people to spiritual gatherings at sea.
In 2021, Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, named her as the first female undersecretary in the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops office.
A synod is a meeting of bishops, who make up the Church’s leadership around the world. In the synod, the bishops look at information and advise the Pope on important issues. The bishops, like all clergy in the Catholic Church, are men.
Since 2021, Becquart has traveled around the world to learn more about what people in the church want and need. This week, the church published a working document with some of the issues the synod will discuss when it meets in October.
Becquart says that everywhere she went, there were calls for change. This includes calls for women to have some decision-making power in the synod. She told The Associated Press, “It’s about how could we be men and women together in this society, in this church…”
For 2,000 years, the Catholic Church’s teachings have barred women from becoming priests or church leaders. Some women now feel more hopeful under Pope Francis and possible changes from the synod. However, conservatives in the church worry it could weaken the tradition of male leadership.
Both Becquart and Francis see the criticism as a good thing. They think it shows the church is working on big and important issues.
The 86-year-old Francis has already done more than any modern pope to support women in the church. He has permitted women to take part in some religious services usually performed by men. He has changed the Vatican’s founding constitution to let women lead church offices. And Becquart is one of several women who serve in leadership positions.
Under church rules, the undersecretary can vote in the synod. That means Becquart will be the first woman to do so. And in April, the Vatican announced that 70 non-bishops would also be voting. Half of them were expected to be women.
While that is less than 25 percent of the bishops’ votes, it shows the Pope’s belief that church leadership can include people who are not priests.
Becquart joined her community of nuns, the Xaviere Sisters, when she was 26. She held several leadership positions with the French church including its programs for young people.
Becquart said women who came before her in the Vatican and in her religious community help her to feel strong. She also talked about the example of her grandmother, whose husband died when she was pregnant with her fourth child. She said she learned that women “carry on this message that life is stronger than death.”
She uses this lesson when sailing at sea. “There will be good weather and bad weather, quiet seas and then big waves,” she said. But the storm will end.
“That’s our life and that’s the life of the church,” she added.
Jean-Marie Guénois has known Becquart for years. He writes about religion for the French newspaper Le Figaro. Guénois said it would be a huge change if her work at the synod brings equal power for women in the church’s leadership.
However, he said, “It takes more than 20 months to change the habits of 20 centuries.”
I'm Andrew Smith.
Nicole Winfield and Trisha Thomas wrote this story for The Associated Press. Andrew Smith adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
nun -n. a female member of a religious order, especially ones who promise to obey special rules of poverty or chastity
priest -n. a member of the Christian clergy who leads religious services
habit -n. a routine behavior
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