A prayer vigil for the beatification of Armida Barelli, Franciscan tertiary

By the will of Pope Francis, tomorrow, 30 April, Armida Barelli will be proclaimed Blessed in the Cathedral of Milan, in the presence of Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In preparation for the beatification mass this evening, the Minister General Br Massimo Fusarelli presided over a prayer vigil in the Basilica of St Ambrose.

 

Professed in the Franciscan Third Order on 2 February 1910, Armida Barelli was born in 1882 into a wealthy Milanese family. Her meeting with Father Agostino Gemelli marked the beginning of a lifelong collaboration that led to her becoming one of the most influential figures in the Catholic cultural scene at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1918, she founded the first circles of the future Women’s Youth of Catholic Action throughout Italy at the behest of Pope Benedict XV. She was always on pilgrimage through Italy, looking for young women to join the Catholic Action movement; she became known as the ‘older sister’. Armida Barelli was the ‘older sister’ par excellence of all the Women’s Youth of Italy and was spontaneously called by this name even by the people who lived and worked with her.

In 1921 she was part of the group of founders of the Sacred Heart Catholic University, for which she also worked by organising conferences, pilgrimages, purity weeks, social weeks and missionary activities.

In 1949, she fell ill with bulbar paralysis, which consumed her until her death in 1952. Today she is buried in the crypt of the chapel of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

 

To approach the life and message of this woman – whom Br Massimo defines as “an all-round Milanese, deeply rooted in her time and able to anticipate the future like few others” – we must start from the words of St. Francis, who inspired Armida. Francis saw in ourselves and in the world a “building site” always open, inhabited by the Mystery if seen with a contemplative gaze. “Ida was undoubtedly a formidable builder, in all senses of the word: of movements, of buildings and works, of initiatives even in dark times like those of war, of ideas and dreams for the future,” said the General Minister in his homily. She was also a builder of interiority, her most profound life. Here we are at the heart of her existence as a woman, Christian, and Franciscan”.

 

The prayer of this laywoman allowed her humanity to shine through and mature. This is the most discreet and lasting Franciscan trait that we find in her”, said Br Massimo. Armida was a woman of prayer who made “her whole life a prayer and prayer a transforming action in the world” so that the seed of the Kingdom might grow in the world.

Vigilance is the keyword in this search for the Lord, as Ida learnt from St Francis, who in his time was at the centre of a vital and passionate rediscovery,” said the Minister General. She anticipated the future with her ‘lay’ way of praying, which transformed work into a spiritual experience, and which, in her exhausting activity, in the tiring journeys and encounters undertaken for the sake of the Kingdom, was able to interpret a new but no less demanding way of living penance and sacrifice.

 

Br Massimo recalled that Armida also contributed to the dignity of the women of her time, “cultivating in them the consciousness of being a dwelling place inhabited by the Mystery and by a free and responsible conscience, capable of self-determination, in the light of faith and reason”.

Interior dwelling and home for a renewed society are deeply linked in the laywoman Ida. “A dwelling, a constant vigilance which expressed itself in the truly Franciscan spirit of service,” said Br Massimo. This is evident because she did not want to be called president but wanted to be “the elder sister, the sister of all, equal to all, only more full of experience”.

 

“Tomorrow, the Church will officially recognise the exemplary Christian discipleship of the Elder Sister, who lived the beatitude of the little ones of the Gospel, which alone makes one truly blessed!” said the Minister General. It will be an important event not so much for external honour or earthly glory, but to recognise the work of God in Armida Barelli and in so many of her life companions and sisters and thus to welcome in our time the grace of such an original and contemporary gift: “We are children of saints and brothers and sisters of disciples, we have received the gift of Christian life, and we give it back with our lives”.

 

 

B.G.