Pioneer of faith-based feminism and WWII priest to be beatified in April

Armida Barelli and Fr. Mario Ciceri Armida Barelli and Fr. Mario Ciceri. | Archdiocese of Milan.

A pioneer of faith-based feminism and a Catholic priest who ministered tirelessly during the Second World War will be beatified in April.

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will preside at the beatification of Armida Barelli and Fr. Mario Ciceri at Milan Cathedral, northern Italy, on April 30, 2022.

The date was announced on the Milan archdiocese’s website on Oct. 29, reported ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner.

Born to an upper-class family in Milan in 1882, Barelli came of age at a time when Italy’s first secular feminists emerged from the women’s suffrage movement, adding calls for divorce rights and more non-religious schools to their campaigns.

She served as president of the Gioventù femminile cattolica italiana, a young women’s organization, for more than three decades, helping women to be formed in “a Eucharistic spirituality” and recognize their equal “baptismal dignity” with men, according to the vice postulator for her sainthood cause, Ernesto Preziosi.

Under the spiritual guidance of Franciscan Fr. Agostino Gemelli, Barelli discerned a lay vocation as a Third Order Franciscan in 1910.

Cardinal Andrea Ferrari of Milan (who was himself later declared blessed) asked her to help found the city’s Catholic women’s chapter of Catholic Action.

Barelli met with Pope Benedict XV in 1918 for a private audience in which he appointed her as president of the nationwide Gioventù femminile cattolica italiana.

Barelli went on to help found the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, collected a fund to open an orphanage in northern China, and founded the Secular Institute of the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ together with Fr. Gemelli.

She died in 1952 after suffering for three years from a progressive chronic illness. Barelli’s cause for canonization was opened by the Archdiocese of Milan in 1960.

On Feb. 20 this year, Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to Barelli’s intercession, paving the way for her beatification.

The miracle involved the healing of Alice Maggini, who was hit by a truck while riding her bicycle in 1989 in Prato, Tuscany, after which doctors predicted severe neurological repercussions.

Maggini’s family invoked the intercession of Barelli, and Maggini was completely healed in a scientifically inexplicable way and did not suffer any later consequences of the injury until her death in 2012.

Mario Ciceri was born to poor farmers in northern Italy in 1900.

From childhood, he knew he had a vocation to the priesthood. With the permission of his devout parents, he left to study at a seminary high school while still in grade school. His achievements earned him scholarships, which allowed him to continue his studies despite his family’s limited means.

He was ordained a priest of the Milan archdiocese at age 23.

As a new priest, he was responsible for the parish’s catechism classes and helped with the Catholic Action youth group. He founded and directed a schola cantorum for young people.

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Ciceri also helped to repair the buildings, acting as a carpenter, bricklayer, and electrical engineer. He used these skills to build a small reproduction of the Lourdes Grotto.

One young man at the parish wrote that the priest somehow found time to do these activities while also never neglecting his priestly ministry and was “always in church.”

The man said: “Yet if you go to the hospital, you can find him there at any time; if you go around the country, wherever there is a material or spiritual need, a pain to soothe, a need to help, you will find him there. Where you are sure not to find him is at his home, which really is not his home, but that of the young people.”

Ciceri cared for and encouraged the poor, the sick, former prisoners, and the young men who were soldiers fighting at the front during World War II.

In February 1945, while riding his bicycle home from a neighboring parish, where he had helped to hear confessions, he was hit by a buggy and fatally injured. He died two months later, on April 4, at the age of 44, after offering his suffering for an end to World War II and the safe return of soldiers.

Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to Ciceri’s intercession in November 2020.

The miracle concerned the healing of Raffaella Di Grigoli, a seven-year-old girl, in Como, northern Italy, who underwent a series of surgeries for intestinal problems in 1975 and was feared to be near death.

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The girl’s aunt organized a novena and told Ciceri’s sister about her niece’s plight. The sister gave the family a scarf that belonged to the priest. Raffaella’s mother took the scarf to the hospital and placed it several times on her daughter’s body.

Raffaella was discharged from the hospital on Feb. 4, 1976, and gave birth to a healthy girl in 2005.

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