Pope Francis greets participants in a pilgrimage celebrating the Blessed Armida Barelli Pope Francis greets participants in a pilgrimage celebrating the Blessed Armida Barelli  (VATICAN MEDIA Divisione Foto)

Pope upholds prophetic witness of Blessed Armida Barelli

Pope Francis greets some 12,000 faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square to give thanks for the beatification a year ago of the Blessed Armida Barelli, a formidable pioneer of the right and duty of women to participate in the life of civil society and of the Church.

By Linda Bordoni

To the thousands of pilgrims from across Italy, gathered to celebrate the life and witness of the Blessed Armida Barelli, Pope Francis upheld her work and commitment to empowering Catholic women through education, self-awareness and faith.

Barelli, who was the founder of the first women’s youth circles of Catholic Action, co-founder in 1921, together with Fr Agostino Gemelli of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, as well as having established the Secular Institute of the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ, was beatified in April 2022 in recognition of her role in the 20th century Church and her experience with female youth with respect to the role of the laity, women and movements in the Church.

In his greeting to the present, the Pope reflected on the issue of female leadership in the ecclesial and social spheres, of which he said,  Barelli can be considered a formidable forerunner.

 “We need an integrated model, which combines competence and performance, often associated with the male role, with the care of ties, listening, the ability to mediate, to network and to foster relationships,” he said, traits that have long been considered the prerogative of the female gender and often underestimated.

Empowering women

He upheld the work of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart that is marking its 99th National Day and noted that through the Athenaeum, Blessed Armida Barelli contributed to forming the civil conscience in hundreds of thousands of young people, including many women.”

This he continued, became particularly visible when, after the end of the war the country needed rebuilding according to a democratic process.

“Today we still need women who, guided by faith, are capable of making their mark in spiritual life, in education and in professional training.”

Pope Francis greets participants in pilgrimage to celebrate the Blessed Armida Barelli
Pope Francis greets participants in pilgrimage to celebrate the Blessed Armida Barelli

Apostle of joy

The Pope also highlighted the impact of the Blessed Armida Barelli as an apostle. Referring in particular to her work with Catholic Action, he said her work shows us “how the Lord accomplishes great things when people make themselves available and docile to his will, committing themselves with humility, creativity and initiative.”

“Her biography tells of great perseverance in seeking to remain with the Lord, like a branch in the vine, and shows her desire to share this experience with many others.”

He recalled that Armida wrote that “after accepting the Pope's proposal to found the Girls' Youth in Italy, she felt ‘that she no longer belonged to herself’, that she had to make her own existence a gift for others, that she herself was ‘a mission’, beyond her limitations and imperfections,” and he invited those present to live as apostles of and in joy.

Being apostles, he added, means “being laymen and laywomen who are passionate about the Gospel and life, taking care of the good life of all and building paths of fraternity to give soul to a more just, more inclusive, more united society.”

And as Armida Barelii did, he continued, it is important to do this walking together “in the spheres of economy, culture, politics, schools and work, in the constant attention to the smallest, the fragile and the poor.”

Secular Institutes

Pope Francis also highlighted the Blessed’s contribution as the founder of the “Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ” that led to the approval of secular institutes (as declared by Pope Pius XII in the 1947 Apostolic Constitution ‘Provida Mater Ecclesia’), describing them as “a revolutionary choice in the Church, a prophetic sign.”

“Secular consecration is a paradigm of a new way of living as laypersons in the world: laypersons capable of discerning the seeds of the Word within the folds of history, committed to animating it from within like yeast, capable of giving value to the germs of good, present in earthly realities, as a prelude to the Kingdom to come, promoters of human values, weavers of relationships, silent and active witnesses of evangelical radicalism,” he said.

He recalled the words of Pope St Paul VI who said: “If they remain faithful to their proper vocation, Secular Institutes will be like an experimental laboratory in which the Church verifies the concrete modalities of its relations with the world”. 

“Yours, dear sisters, is a Secular Institute for women, and this calls into question women and their particular vocation in the Church and in the world.”

Thus, he continued, Blessed Armida, proposed a model, also in consecrated life, of ‘a new’ woman, “not to be ‘protected’ and kept aside, but to be sent to build the Kingdom, giving her full trust.”

Pope Francis greets Catholic Action members in St. Peter's Square
Pope Francis greets Catholic Action members in St. Peter's Square

The capacity to read the signs of the times

“Armida was able to read the signs of her times and the most urgent needs: think of the need for a renewed care of spirituality; think of the training and the call to commitment for young women; think of the educational challenge and the dream of a Catholic university in Italy; think of the passion for the world, starting from the certainty of the universality of Christ's message. These needs were for Armida Barelli, ground for commitment and mission,” he said.

The Pope noted that in a way she anticipated the times of the Second Vatican Council, “putting into practice a community style in which women and men, young people and adults, lay people and priests, work together for the apostolic purpose of the Church.”

“If Armida were here speaking today, she would still tell us that if we entrust ourselves to the Lord nothing is impossible Entrusting ourselves to Him is not a delegation, but an act of faith that gives vigour and impetus to hope and action.”

Pilgrimage for the Blessed Armida Barelli
Pilgrimage for the Blessed Armida Barelli

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22 April 2023, 12:49