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Pope: ‘Armida Barelli bore witness to synthesis of Word and Life’

In the preface to a new biography of Venerable Armida Barelli, Pope Francis describes the pioneering laywoman as a witness “to the connection between what is heard and what is lived.” The story of her life is told in “La zingara del buon Dio,” edited by the postulator of her cause, and published this week by Edizioni San Paolo.

A life imbued with “listening to and welcoming the Gospel” that made her a witness to the “link between what is heard and what is lived.” Armida Barelli lived her life as a synthesis between “Word and life” that made her faith “an incarnational experience.”

This is how Ven. Armida is introduced to us by Pope Francis in his preface to a new biography of the Servant of God, entitled, La zingara del buon Dio (“The wanderer of the good God”).

It is the intensely human story of a woman of the 20th century, a woman who founded the Italian National Girls’ Youth of Catholic Action, and collaborated in the foundation of the Gemelli Hospital, named for co-founder Fr Agostino Gemelli, with whom she had “an uninterrupted relationship of spiritual communion and operational collaboration” which lasted until her death, as the Pope highlights.

Leading Catholic Action

“The lay Saints and Blesseds of Catholic Action are a wealth for the Church,” writes Pope Francis in his preface, as he recalls the leadership role in the Catholic Action movement that Armida held uninterruptedly from 1918 to 1949.

“She lived her vocation step by step,” he notes, “setting out on the road that led her to inspire a great movement of women, leading them to live their vocation to the full and to feel like living members of the Church.”

She made a radical choice for her life, a choice of “faith lived in the modernity of the twentieth century, together with a profound relationship with the Church, comprising co-responsibility and obedience.”

In this regard, Pope Francis recalls that Armida had close connections with three Pontiffs: Pope Benedict XV, who “entrusted her with her first mandate”; Pope Pius XI, who for many years “supported her organizational efforts”; and Pope Pius XII, who confirmed “his confidence in her during the dramatic years of the war and rebuilding.”

Promoting a new role for women in the Church

During Armida’s life, at the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, women were largely faced with a choice between two alternatives: becoming a wife and mother or embracing religious life.

Armida chose a third way: the lay apostolate. “Armida’s action unfolded for over forty years in the organization of the Catholic women’s movement,” explains Pope Francis, recalling her vocation to consecration in the world in the Secular Institute of the Missionaries of the Social Kingship of Christ, and then with the Work of the Social Kingship (Opera della Regalità), aimed at the formation of popular liturgical spirituality.

“With her work, she contributed decisively to the promotion of young Christian women in the first half of the 20th century,” the Pope writes, “and to the process of integration between North and South” in Italy.

Although she originally thought of going to the foreign missions, Pope Benedict XV told her: “Your mission is Italy”; and she courageously set out to travel the length and breadth of the peninsula to establish groups for young women in Italian dioceses. Her travels led her to consider herself a “wanderer for the good God,” which gives her new biography its title. On these journeys she met many people, but above all, as Pope Francis emphasizes, she “invited women to get involved as citizens and as Christians.”

Foundation of the Catholic University

Armida also played a leading role in the initiatives of Father Agostino Gemelli, enthusiastically supporting him in a project that united the popular apostolate that was so dear to her heart with higher education. As co-founder of the Catholic University, she encouraged the dioceses to support the Athenaeum of Italian Catholics.

“She contributed to ensuring that the elaboration of knowledge did not run the risk of abstraction,” Pope Francis writes, “but was constantly measured against reality, having at its heart truth, the common good, and charity.”

Following the teaching of Father Gemelli, she also placed the figure of St Francis at the centre of her own experience of the apostolate: the figure of the Saint led her “to live life and commitment as a radical vocational response,” continues the Pope, uniting it with “renewed devotion to the Sacred Heart.”

A new path to holiness

In the society of Armida’s day, being a layperson was a condition that seemed to many to be a second-class position in the Church, almost in opposition to the path towards holiness followed by priests and religious.

With her life, however, Armida overcame this prejudice: “She is a woman who has made secularity an antidote to self-referentiality,” Pope Francis writes, “a characteristic that allows us to walk together to meet people in the particular condition they live in.”

Anticipating the universal call to holiness emphasized by the Second Vatican Council, her personal experience, according to the Holy Father, “marks a decisive step in the vision of the laity: no longer a condition of a minority, but the discovery of how that lay experience, within the people of God, is the way to live holiness.”

Last but not least, Pope Francis says, Armida’s life is an example of God’s love for mankind, “a love that becomes a passion for the men and women of our time, so that they can experience the Church as a welcoming, committed, and joyful community.” – Roberta Barbi

READ MORE on Saints and Blessed

SOURCE: Vatican News

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