By Lisa Zengarini
To counter violence against women public institutions and social actors need to network together, Pope Francis told members of an Italian law enforcement agency dealing with organised crime on Saturday. “We need to unite, collaborate, network:, what we need is not just a defensive network, but above all a preventive network”, the Pope said as he received the staff of the Central Anti-Crime Directorate (Direzione Centrale Anticrimine – DIA).
Addressing some 170 participants at the audience in the Clementine Hall, Pope Francis thanked the agency both for the work it carries out “with professional and human commitment”, and for asking to meet him one day after the U.N. International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is observed annually on 25 November.
He pointed out there are many women working in the agency who are a “great resource” in helping and supporting women victims of gender violence, and can better understand them.
This, he said, requires specific psychological training, but also “spiritual” preparation, “because only at a deep level can one find and preserve the serenity and calm needed to convey confidence to the victims of brutal violence. The same inner strength which Jesus shows us in His Passion, and which He transmitted to many Christian women, some of whom we venerate as martyrs”.
Regarding the institutional responsibility of DIA, the Pope further highlighted the urgent need to improve the Italian judiciary system making it more efficient, so as to ensure that victims are granted timely justice and reparation, which is often not the case in Italy.
“Unfortunately, women very often not only find themselves facing certain situations of violence, but then, when the case is reported, they do not get justice, or the times of justice are too long. We need to be vigilant and improve on this, without falling into vigilantism,” he said.
Pope Francis went on to speak about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women which has been observed since 1981 to raise awareness and trigger global action to end all forms of violence against women and girls around the world, through law enforcement, but also prevention. “This is always crucial when trying to eliminate a social scourge which is also linked to cultural attitudes, mentalities and deep-rooted prejudices”, the Pope noted.
In respect of domestic violence, Pope Francis drew attention to the need to support families where gender violence often occurs, and has further increased during the pandemic. DIA’s work, therefore, can be a “stimulus” for society as a whole to “react and act” against this scourge, he said.
The Pope further highlighted the responsibilities of the media, which indirectly contribute to gender violence by promoting “a hedonistic and consumerist culture, where models, both male and female, obey the criteria of success, self-assertion, competition, the power to attract the ‘other and dominate him”.
The only way to counteract these cultural models is an education that places the person and his/her dignity at the centre.
Pope Francis cited the example of Saint Josephine Bakhita, who after being freed from slavery, accepted the Gospel of God’s love and became a witness of his liberating and healing power, alongside many other women, some of whom “ saints of next door”, who “have been healed by the mercy and tenderness of Christ, and with their lives testify that the love, closeness, and solidarity of our sisters and brothers can save us from slavery”-
This is why, the Pope concluded, schools, sports groups, oratories, and associations must offer today’s girls and boys these stories of liberation and healing, “stories of women who have managed to escape the tunnel of violence and can help open their eyes to the pitfalls, traps, dangers hidden behind false models of success”.