(By Paul Virgo) Vatican City, April 3 - Pope Francis stressed the role women play in the Catholic Church in his general audience on Wednesday. Francis, who presided over his first Easter Sunday Mass as pontiff last weekend after being elected Benedict XVI's successor on March 13, said it was significant that Mary Magdelene discovered Jesus's empty tomb. According to the bible, Jesus also made His first appearance after His resurrection before Mary Magdelene, who the gospels according to Mark and Luke say was accompanied to the tomb by another Mary, the mother of James. "The first witnesses of the Resurrection are women," Francis told around 30,000 faithful in St Peter's Square. "This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen". The comments come after Francis broke tradition by washing the feet of two young women, one of whom was a Muslim, while performing an Easter ritual at a Rome juvenile detention centre on Thursday. In the ritual, popes usually wash the feet of 12 priests, representing the apostles at the Last Supper, and there were concerns from conservative Catholics that Francis's gesture could pave the way for an opening to the ordination of women priests. This has been denied and Francis has ruled out admitting women to the priesthood in a new book. In On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st Century, which comes out in May, he says on female priests that a "woman has another role, which is reflected in the figure of Mary". Nevertheless, Francis seems intent on rebutting criticism that the Catholic Church relegates women to secondary roles and status. On Wednesday he said women's "special role" was reflected by the women who discovered that Jesus was risen "immediately" accepting the news, unlike some of the apostles. "Mothers go forward with this witness. What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children," said Francis, who has been praised for his humble, off-the-cuff style and the importance he is giving to the Church's role in protecting the poorest and weakest. "But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following Him and communicating His face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love. "The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however. "Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands". Francis also urged young people to face today's tough times by embracing the "certainty" that Jesus is alive. "I saw that there are many young people in the square," the Argentine pontiff said. "Young boys and girls, to you I say bring forth this certainty the Lord is alive and walks beside us on our life's journey. "Bring forth this hope, be anchored in this hope, the hope that comes from heaven. "Be anchored and bring forth the hope. You witnesses of Christ bring forth hope to this world that is aged by wars and sin. Go forward young people".