By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Women religious have an essential role in the process of creating a more synodal church and in preparations for the Synod of Bishops, not just through their prayers and participation, but also by listening to people not usually part of such church activities, Pope Francis said.

“You consecrated women are an irreplaceable presence in the great community on the move, which is the church,” the pope said Oct. 11 during an audience with members of the general chapter of the Sisters of Charity of St. Jeanne-Antide Thouret.

“Consecrated women are an extension of the female presence which walked with Jesus and the Twelve, sharing the mission and making your own unique contribution,” the pope said, noting that the Gospel of St. Luke even names some of the women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna.

As the Catholic Church takes up its commitment “to grow in synodality,” he said, the Sisters of Charity and other consecrated women have an essential role.

While the Sisters of Charity have no “ready-made answers” to what they will bring to the process, which the pope launched Oct. 10, he said the theme of their general chapter provides a clue.

The theme of the gathering was “Starting afresh from Bethany, with Martha’s concern and Mary’s listening.”

Martha and Mary, he said, were “two disciples who had a very important place in the life of Jesus and the Twelve, as we can see in the Gospels. This confirms that, first of all, as women and as baptized women, that is, as disciples of Jesus, you are a living presence in the church, participating in communion and mission.”

But an added contribution comes from the “concern” and “listening” the sisters are focusing on, he said. “In particular, concern for the poor and listening to the poor. Here you are teachers. You are teachers not with words, but with deeds, with the history of so many of your sisters who have given their lives for this, in concern for and listening to the elderly, the sick, the marginalized; close to the little ones, to the least ones with the tenderness and compassion of God.”

Concern and listening, he said, build up the church by helping it “walk in the way of Christ, which is the way of charity.”