ROME – Pope Francis began 2020 with a bang Wednesday, issuing a harsh condemnation of violence against women and insisting that how society treats women and their bodies is a measure of its level of humanity.

In a special Mass marking the Catholic Church’s Jan. 1 feast celebrating Mary, Mother of God, the pope noted that in God’s plan of salvation, “The rebirth of humanity began with a woman.”

“From her, woman, salvation arose and therefore there is no salvation without the woman…Women are sources of life,” he said. “Yet they are continually offended, beaten, raped, forced into prostitution and forced to suppress the lives they carry in their wombs.”

“Every violence inflicted on women is a profanation of God, born of a woman. Humanity’s salvation came from the body of a woman: By how we treat a woman’s body, we can understand our level of humanity,” the pope said.

He condemned the frequent “sacrifice” of a woman’s body on “the profane altars” of profit-making industries such as advertising and pornography. A woman’s body “must be freed from consumerism, it must be respected and honored,” he said, calling it “the noblest flesh in the world, it conceived and gave birth to the love that saved us!”

Motherhood is also often “humiliated,” he said, “because the only growth that draws interest is that of the economy.”

“There are mothers who risk perilous journeys to try desperately to give the fruit of their wombs a better future,” yet they are dismissed “by people who have a full belly, but of things, and a heart devoid of love.”

This is not the first time Francis has spoken out on behalf of women. Violence against women is a cause he has taken to heart, issuing frequent condemnations of pornography, forced abortions, and forced prostitution, which many women, specifically victims of human trafficking, endure.

He has also corresponded with women who have suffered domestic violence, including an Italian mother named Filomena Lamberti, whose face was disfigured when her husband threw acid on her.

One of the most recent examples of the pope’s attention to the cause was given by Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, who in the January 2020 edition of Donna, Chiesa, Mondo, a monthly women’s supplement to the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, recounted words the pope shared with her on the topic during an interview.

Alazraki, who has interviewed Francis twice, penned an article for the supplement dedicated to violence against women in which she tells the story of Rocio, a 27-year-old mother of three who was killed in Mexico in front of her 8-year-old son after accidentally overhearing drug traffickers discuss their plans while eating at the restaurant Rocio worked at.

Alazraki, who has written a book about violence against women, was given the shirt Rocio wore the day she died by Rocio’s son. She brought the shirt with her to her interview with the pope, and, upon hearing Rocio’s story, the pope became emotional, she said.

Once the interview was over, Francis picked up the shirt and uttered a prayer for Rocio, calling her blouse “a flag of the suffering of so many women who give life and pass by without a name. We know the name of Rocio…but of many others no. They pass without leaving their name but a seed.”

This seed, he said, according to Alazraki, must be “an awareness of all this.”

In his homily Wednesday, Francis urged Catholics to imitate Mary and questioned them on their attitude toward others, including those closest to them, insisting that Mary helps to overcome indifference and to foster unity.

The devil, Francis said, tries to divide the Church by “putting in first place, differences, ideologies, parties and partisan thoughts. But we do not understand the Church if we look at it starting with structures, programs and trends: We will take something from it, but not the heart. Because the Church has the heart of a mother.”

Francis closed his homily praying that as the new year begins, Christians would live it “with the desire to take others to heart, to take care of others.”

“If we want a better world, that it be a house of peace and not of war, at the heart is the dignity of every woman. From woman the Prince of Peace was born. The woman is the donor and mediator of peace,” he said, insisting that women “must be fully associated with decision-making processes.”

When women are able to share their gifts, he said, “the world finds itself more united and more peaceful. Therefore, an achievement for women is an achievement for all of humanity.”

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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