Pope Francis on Wednesday underlined the role played by women in the Roman Catholic Church, saying they had been more willing to believe in Jesus Christ's resurrection than his own disciples.
"Women play a primary, fundamental role in the Bible," the pope told thousands of pilgrims at an audience in St Peter's Square, basing himself on a Biblical passage when a group of women noticed Christ's tomb was empty.
"The disciples had a harder time believing but not the women," he said.
"Women in the Church have had and have a special role in opening the doors to the Lord, in following him, in communicating his message," he added.
Francis broke with tradition last week when he included two young women in a traditional foot-washing ritual to mark Holy Thursday when Christ is believed to have done the same to his 12 male apostles before the Last Supper.
The Catholic Church has been criticised for relegating women to secondary roles and only very few women have positions of responsibility at the Vatican.
Campaigners have called for women to be ordained into the priesthood, saying this could be a solution to the plunge in vocations seen in recent years.
The Vatican last year upbraided the main group of nuns in the United States, accusing them of "corporate dissent" and pursuing "radical feminist themes".