Referring to that document, Francis told his audience that he had stressed “the indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition toward the other, the weak and the unprotected.” He said he has been heartened that “many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups” and he said he had hoped that “the spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church be expanded.”

In some parishes, women visit parishioners too frail to come to church, run prayer groups and outreach programs to the poor, as well as help distribute communion to the faithful at Masses, especially in churches with large congregations.

“These new spaces and responsibilities that have been opened, and I strongly hope that they can further be opened up to the presence and activity of women, both in the church environment as well that of the public and professional” spheres, Francis said, “cannot make us forget the irreplaceable role of the woman in a family.”