Pilar Bellosillo

THE LIFE OF PILAR BELLOSILLO

22 december 1913

Pilar Bellosillo García-Verde was born in Madrid, Spain

Born into a deeply Christian family, she was the second of eight siblings. She could remember the family meetings in her grandparents’ house in Derroñadas, Spain, when her life was marked by the company of the family and the encounter with nature. In this environment she also matured her Christian faith, to which she gives witness with her life in countless writings.

University studies

She studied Education at the Veritas Academy of the Teresian Institution (1931-1935), where she met Father Poveda. She received a human and Christian formation that was decisive in her life.

She also studied Social Work at the School of Family and Social Training.

Her first years in Catholic Action

She began working as a volunteer at the Academy for Women Workers run by Catholic Action in Spain. In 1938, in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, she attended a course for youth leaders in Saragossa, which was momentous; from then on, she committed herself definitively to Catholic Action, where she held national posts all her life.

Her family moved to Madrid, where Pilar lived, except for long periods of time when she had to live in Paris or Rome due to her international responsibilities.

Her commitment to Catholic Action

She joined Catholic Action at a very young age: Our Spirituality was soon nourished by very rich sources: the Gospel, the Spanish mystics, Teresa of Ávila, John of the Cross....

She was soon elected National President of the Catholic Action Youth (1940-1946) and later became National President of the Women's Branch of Catholic Action (1951-1963).

Her years in charge were the most active and fruitful years of Catholic Action. She surrounded herself with good teams, and during these years the following plans were created:

  • Plan of Formation on the Personality of Women (1953-1957), to provide a solution to the situation of women. It also set up the Centres of Popular Culture, very innovative and advanced centres to provide women with education and training for social, cultural, civic and political life, in addition to religious life. The aim was to provide integral formation.

  • Another of the great actions promoted by Pilar was the so-called Impact Week, a short workshop for social formation which totally renewed the women of Catholic Action (1958).

  • The third great Catholic action she carried out was to launch for the first time the Campaign against Hunger, today called Manos Unidas, which was a commitment to the Third World. The campaigns were carried out with such rigour, dedication and transparency that they were soon well known in Spanish society (1960).

These three actions had a great impact all over Spain.

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International stage: President of WUCWO

In virtue of her contribution and experience in Spain, Pilar Bellosillo made her way into international life when she was elected President of the World Union of Catholic Women's Organisations (WUCWO) in 1961, a position she held until 1974. At that time WUCWO had 36 million members: 36 million Catholic women in 61 countries on five continents.

For the freedom of women

It was a historical moment characterised by the beginning of women's awareness of their situation of marginalisation, discrimination and often exclusion. Pilar defined it this way:
We, women, are the protagonists of that historical moment, characterised by the awakening of female consciousness in the world (1950-1970). It is the moment of our “liberation”. And for this, WUCWO provides us with remarkable, providential possibilities! .

WUCWO, with Pilar as President, responded to this compelling challenge. As early as the post-conciliar period in 1966, a major survey on “Women's Freedom in the Family, Society and Church” was launched and sent to all WUCWO member organisations to be answered by the 36 million Catholic women affiliated.

The responses carried a very representative value, because of the high participation and pluralism: women of all races, different cultures and customs, and from various social and economic classes. “The responses - said Pilar - revealed surprising realities and situations”.

This made WUCWO very aware, so much so that it developed a plan of action aimed at improving these inhuman situations. Colloquiums, conferences, research, study meetings, consultations with experts, and many more effective initiatives took place.

As a result of this work and research, WUCWO established the lines of a humanist feminism.

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“The Education of Women”

In 1970, at the Assembly in Torhout, Belgium, she studied and drew up, with all the organisations, a great plan for education as a process of liberation, with the theme The Education of Women. The plan was intended for the next four years, focusing an active, participatory methodology that would give women the opportunity to contribute their own ideas, their vision of the themes to be studied and their own criteria on the issues to be dealt with.

Her work against injustice and marginalisation

Another commitment that Pilar personally assumed and promoted in WUCWO was to broaden the organisation’s mission and work for the peoples of the Third World, for the peoples in underdevelopment countries suffering from hunger and poverty: peoples who suffer injustice, marginalisation and are oppressed by the powerful.

An important step was the organisation of the Statutory Assembly and the Study Days to be held in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1974. It was the first time outside Europe, and the theme was WUCWO, an agent for change for a more just society. More than 500 African women attended this Assembly, which was a very enriching moment for them and also for those from Western culture.

The next Assembly was held in Bangalore, India, in 1979 with the theme “Women, Justice, Evangelisation”. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was present and gave a lecture at this Assembly.

Pilar remained President until 1974. Till the last day, she left her mark, helped by other women, some of them Spanish: for the benefit of women and WUCWO as a whole, she brought dynamism, vitality and a project for change, which were so much needed at the time.

Auditor at the Second Vatican Council

As President of WUCWO, Pilar was appointed by Pope Paul VI as Auditor to the Second Vatican Council, along with 22 other women. Pilar was the only Spanish laywoman. This was the first time in the history of the Church. Pilar joined the Commission in charge of drawing up the 13th outline for the preparation of the Pastoral Constitution “Gaudium et spes”, which would be the pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world.

Pilar Bellosillo tells how she lived the Council: “I lived it ‘vitally’. I launched into the adventure of following the Spirit, of letting myself be led by Him; fully convinced that it was the time for the Church to advance, it was necessary to go deeper. I was very clear about that. During the intense activity of the Council, I spent sleepless nights and discovered how, ‘worked by the Spirit’, the flow we received was being ordered. This sometimes required me to give up something in order to welcome the ‘new’. Sometimes it was a matter of ordering it with a new hierarchy of values. The astonishment of discovering the marvellous clarity and coherence of God's work is indescribable. The light, the joy, the balance, the order, the peace and a renewed love are the fruits produced by the possessed truth. It was clear that the Church was being challenged by a lot of new questions that were being posed to the conscience of the baptised. And giving the same answers led to nothing”.

After the conclusion of the Council, there was a colloquium with four women auditors. Each one was asked a specific question. Pilar was asked what was the contribution of women to the work of the Council. Pilar replied that her main concern had been to avoid any discrimination against women.

2 January 2003

Pilar Bellosillo died in Madrid, Spain

THE ESSENCE OF PILAR

Pilar said: “Everything I have experienced in the Church has been a permanent source of riches for me. When I was very young, I discovered that my faith is not a privilege just for me, but a grace that I must share. I am in the Church not only to benefit from it, but to put myself at its service”.

Pilar was a woman of the Church, an apostle by commitment, a lay Christian by vocation. She was a prophet of the 20th century.

Pilar has left us the moment when she made the commitment to dedicate herself to the apostolate: “The Spanish Civil War was a very hard experience for those of us who lived it. When it was over there was much to rebuild; in that moment I made the commitment to dedicate myself to the apostolate. A commitment that will last my whole life. It is the beginning of my personal and exciting adventure that is not yet over”.

Since she was young, Pilar dedicated her life and apostolic passion to fight for the promotion of women, for their dignity and above all for their freedom. Her apostolate was not something routine, superficial... She loved the “others” and she expressed it this way: “My great vocation is being outlined progressively; it will be that of being at the service of the others, at the service of their fulfilment as persons and as Christians. To be at the service of God's design in the world... to take charge of the history of God's cause. This is the extraordinary vocation of the Christian”.

She lived her deep faith, her dedication and fidelity to the Church and her love for Jesus Christ as a lay woman. Pilar said: “It was not a matter of entering a religious institute, that was not my vocation; my vocation was to live my baptism, which is the “source” of this wonderful life. Through baptism I have entered the family of God. Nothing can be added to this “greatness”. I have entered his Church. Little by little this vocation to be a “lay Christian” will be “enlightened”.

Pilar was a prophet because, inspired by the Spirit and strengthened by her faith, she transmitted the message of Jesus Christ and her own religious experiences with spontaneity and conviction. A prophet because she was a pioneer woman, ahead of her time. Also, she was a prophet because she brought conversion, renewal and progress into the Church, and she wanted to open windows so that “fresh air” could enter, as John XXIII said.

Pilar said: “I am aware that I have made a long journey, always going forward, and I can identify Jesus Christ in my own ‘Exodus’ to the land of freedom, dignity and justice”.

Pilar was a very advanced woman in her time. Throughout her life she actively participated in the construction of a better world, in the promotion of women and in the renewal of the Church. She was an engine of change and progress in society and in the Church, a model to imitate and an example to follow.

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