This page contains testimonies about the life of Pilar Bellosillo.
A comet called Pilar
By Marisa Sfondrini (Translated)
When I first heard the name Pilar Bellosillo, I was already a “grown” woman (over thirty years old); it was the early Seventies in Italy, and we were in the midst of “radical feminism”, with slogans such as “the uterus is mine and I control it” and fluttering of undergarments...
However, this was the flashy part of a women’s movement that had other purposes and ideas (if not ideals). These “madwomen”, as the male world often defined them, were only the visible part of an iceberg that slowly matured and came to light: women could no longer stand the macho culture that held them prisoner in fixed roles to which they no longer felt they belonged. In Italy, it was mainly the women of the left (socialists, communists) who fought for gender equality (perhaps it was not called that back then) to be recognised, so that women would no longer be those allegedly defined by Saint Pope Pius X using an old Northern Italy’s saying: "che la tasa, che la piasa, che la staga in casa" (basically stating that women must remain at home).
In those Seventies, I was returning to the Catholic Church, after years of distance and searching. Catholic Action had become my “home” and I was happy to be helped in my formation for a faith that I had joyfully rediscovered, especially because I was being guided by the women of Catholic Action, who were “ahead of the curve” also in the way they thought about the female condition.
I did not agree with “radical feminism”, but I was captivated by the Gospel and the role that women (excluding the Mother of Jesus, certainly unique) had in the relationship with the Saviour, who addressed to them and that the Gospel made speak... well, all this made me critical towards a Church that was not able to put itself in line with the Jesus of the Gospels.
So, I accepted enthusiastically the proposal of Maria Dutto – an important woman in the Archdiocese of Milan, a close collaborator of Giuseppe Lazzati at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, first vice president and then president of Ambrosian Catholic Action - to try also us, baptised women, to express our “informed” opinion on the female condition, with the formation of the Women's Promotion Group.
I’ve made this long premise to say that I have known (very little in person, much more for having read and reflected on her and her life) Pilar Bellosillo. Maria was the first to speak to me about her. I really admired Pilar, because, although not yet very close to the Church, I attentively followed the Second Vatican Council. Even though I was still attached to an old image of woman (à la Gertrud von Le Fort, just to be clear), that “lady” with a gentle, funny look that could not keep quiet at the meetings of the Council fathers (she was just an auditor, she could not officially speak) impressed me very much.
I had discovered her as a kind of comet that, like the one that had shown the way to the Three Magi, was also showing me a way. Later, in the Seventies, in the Women’s Promotion Group, I got to know her better; a couple of times I had the opportunity to meet her and see her beautiful and open face, and hear her speak enlightening words, which courageously defended women, especially the most fragile and poor, those who would never have had a “voice”.
In my imagination, Pilar Bellosillo was a kind of Joan of Arc without weapons or armour, or rather with the armour and peaceful weapons of the Gospel. She called attention to the creation of humanity, to men and women equally loved by the Father and with equal dignity, a dignity that even the culture supported by the official Church had contributed not to value for centuries. Saints like Clare of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, etc. were considered notable exceptions, but exceptions nonetheless.
I knew that, since 1910, there had been a World Union of Catholic Women's Organisations... but it seemed to me that it was not doing all that it could have done. It looked to me as only a kind of “political” support for the macho culture…
But Pilar was not like this, for she gently, gracefully, expressed strong criticism, and indicated clear ways to go... she was the first woman to be an auditor at the Council (together with other women that I knew better, like the Italian Alda Miceli) to speak out, although - I repeat - gracefully, exposing the difficulties of the “other half of heaven” in dealing with a culture that was coming to an end, but that was not letting up.
Pilar, my comet, had become for me a company that on the one hand supported my little “public” commitment and on the other allowed me a comparison, a sort of debate between what I thought was fair for women and what was fair for women. His proposals were aimed at baptised women, but they also included the profound demands of all women.
Spain - at least in my idea - did not stand out for being at the forefront culturally; for me the Spanish Church was still quite closed, old-fashioned. This opinion of mine was probably born of ignorance; but this idea made me regard the presence of Pilar Bellosillo as even more precious.
She had helped me reconcile myself with WUCWO, making me understand that it was certainly not the “sitting room of countesses and marquises” I thought it was, but it was an organisation that could help all women in the world, including those in developing countries (what a hypocritical phrase!), fight for their own dignity, have their dignity recognised as beings created in the “image and likeness”, just like men.
Anything that is being done now or will be done in the future to pay tribute to the “strong woman” Pilar Bellosillo will be welcomed by me. I hope that especially new generations will learn the courage, intelligence, faith, and hope that have guided the life and work of women like Bellosillo, my comet.
Pilar Bellosillo: conviction, coherence, commitment
By Elsa A. Tosi de Muzio
Pilar Bellosillo: conviction, coherence, commitment. Three words that reflect the actions of a woman who lived her faith in the reality of her time: hope as the dynamism of action, charity in service. She knew how to read the events of her time and, with a look that transcended the immediate present, she traced the path to the future, taking the urgent steps that carried the name of “freedom” for women, “update” for the Church, “help” for developing countries. She was a woman, who, in the words of Pope Francis, knew how to “take the first step”, opening herself to the voice of the Spirit, her illuminator, guide and strengthener. Her great vocation, by using her words, was: “...to take charge of the history of the cause of God”. She did so in fullness, both in the ecclesial and social sphere, with firmness, constant commitment, intellectual lucidity and evangelical discernment. At a time and in a space where feminine action was not common, she was a pioneer and did not lack courage and decision to provide new responses to new situations and problems that were emerging in society. She fully dedicated her life to this commitment, and she left her mark on the Church, on the organisations she joined and on the many women on the five continents, who, thanks to her contribution, managed to make progress in breaking the secular cultural bans on marginalisation and discrimination that were in force against them. She found in WUCWO an opportune, fruitful means to increase the providential opportunities offered by the organisation: to develop a humanist feminism that would put women in symmetrical relationship with men, according to the design of the Creator.
Thank you, Pilar Bellosillo, your footprints are engraved, citing your own words: “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”. May you intercede for us, women of WUCWO, so that these fruits nourish our ideas and support our actions.