'Sailing Nun' to help steer Church course with key Vatican job

ROME (Reuters) - Sister Nathalie Becquart, 52, who Pope Francis appointed last week to a key Vatican post, is an accomplished seafarer who loves using nautical images to illustrate her views of life, faith and the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church.

Sister Nathalie Becquart, a Roman Catholic French nun who was recently appointed by Pope Francis to co-undersecretary with voting rights in the Vatican Synod of Bishops, speaks during a meeting, in this screen grab obtained from Zoom meeting video, in Rome, Italy February 10, 2021. International Union Of Superiors General/Handout via REUTERS

“I find myself sailing in the middle of the ocean towards a new adventure,” she said of her new position.

Becquart, a member of the Xaviere Missionary Sisters, was appointed joint number two of the Synod of Bishops, a department that prepares major meetings of world bishops held every few years..

She will become the first woman to have a right to vote in the assemblies, something many women and some bishops have called for.

Catholic media have called her appointment “historic” or a “revolution” because of its possible long-term ramifications.

“This is a very brave sign and a very prophetic choice by Pope Francis,” she told reporters on Wednesday. “I also hope this points to a concrete change.”

Women have participated as observers and consultants in past synods but only “synod fathers”, including bishops and specially appointed or elected male representatives, could vote on final positions sent to the pope. He then writes his own document.

“What I am discovering at the Vatican is that you need a lot of patience,” said Becquart, who has worked as a consultant in the synod office since 2019.

“Many tasks and roles are not always easy. It’s like when you are in the open sea - you have storms but you also have wonderful moments and incredible landscapes,” she said.


Becquart doesn’t mind being called “The Sailing Nun”. Before she joined the Xaviere Sisters, she learned to sail as a girl on the Atlantic coast of France, becoming a skipper and taking part in many regattas.

She studied at the prestigious HEC business school in Paris and also worked as a consultant in marketing and advertising. Today, like many sisters, Becquart does not wear a traditional habit but dresses simply, with a cross on a jacket lapel or on a necklace.

Her love of sailing never disappeared. Even after she entered the religious life, she skippered spiritual retreats for young Catholics, spending a week or two on 40-foot (12-metre) boats in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and still sails when she can.

Francis has upheld the Church’s tradition barring women priests, but he has set up commissions to study the history of women deacons in the early centuries of the Catholic Church, responding to calls by women that they be allowed to take up the role today.

He has also named six women to senior roles in the council that oversees Vatican finances, and women as deputy foreign minister, director of the Vatican Museums and deputy head of the Vatican Press Office.

Becquart says the Church’s “patriarchal mindset is changing” and she is convinced that Francis will do more for women.

“Pope Francis is a man of his own generation and does not necessarily share the mindset of a young person,” she said. “But he is close, he is rooted in the people of God and he feels, he listens. He is the one who is writing history.”

Editing by Janet Lawrence