· Vatican City ·

Mothers of the council

For the Church
of the poor

 Per la Chiesa  dei poveri   DCM-006
29 May 2021

Margarita Moyano, the Argentinian, at Vatican II

On December 8, 1965, Pope Paul VI asked Margarita Moyano to deliver the Message to Young People at the close of the Second Vatican Council. Her participation was as a lay auditor, since she was president of the World Federation of Catholic Women’s Youth at the time, and participated in the fourth session of the Council. Margarita described her experience of the Council as follows: “I had the sensation of touching at close quarters part of this mystery that is the Church, the People of God and the mother who gives us life, holy and sinful, prostitute and faithful, a mystery interwoven with men and women in whom the Spirit of God breaks through, just as it breaks through in the history of all humanity”.

Margarita was born on August 6, 1926 into an Argentinean family of Creole descent. She grew up in Buenos Aires with her parents and eight siblings. An intelligent woman with an unshakeable, lively and precise faith, and radiated a profound joy rooted in her inscrutable spirituality. A teacher. Small in stature, with a sweet voice and an unalterable smile, she enjoyed entertaining the youngest members of the household. As a young woman, she joined Catholic Action Argentina and was president of the Superior Council of Catholic Action Youth from 1955 to 1961. The following year, she was elected responsible for Latin America of the World Federation of Catholic Women’s Youth, of which she later became president.

This judicious Christian laywoman was one of the 23 women auditors at Vatican II, and who were referred to as “Mothers of the Council” by the press. Of this 23, there were thirteen laywomen and ten nuns, all of whom were very well prepared strong women, and invited to the Council because of their expertise. These women represented a sure asset during the work of the Council. Even though they could not speak in the plenary session, and even though they had neither the right to speak nor to vote, they made their presence felt in the commissions, where they contributed, for example, to the drafting of parts of Gaudium et spes. In addition, they all transferred the experience of the Council into their commitment in the Church in the decades that followed.

Margarita Moyano was especially active in the ecumenical field. She established with the observer Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the ecumenical community of Taizé, a strong friendship that continued throughout her life. In addition, she was one of the promoters of the International Youth Meetings and the Youth Council in Taizé (France) from 1970 to 1974.

During that extraordinary conciliar experience, she shared the reflections of the Latin American bishops on “the Church of the poor”. As they used to go and pray in the catacombs, they were called “the bishops of the catacombs”. This led to a friendship with bishops such as Fr Helder Cámara, Mgr Enrique Angelelli and others. In 1978, she was called to be an observer at the Latin-American Episcopal Assembly in Puebla (Mexico). Her preferential option for the poor was an indelible seal in her essence and actions.

Margarita was very active in Argentina within Istituto de Cultura Popular (INCUPO), an association of profound Christian inspiration for the education of adults, Creoles and indigenous people. These included woodcutters, small farmers, labourers, migrant workers with no possibility of furtherment, so condemned to poverty and illiteracy. In this context, Margarita showed herself, as she had always done, to be creative, hardworking and active. Consequently, she was much loved by these families.

During the military dictatorship years, she moved to Brussels. For security reasons, in that period characterized by widespread institutional violence, she chose to live in a city where she had already lived. From her path prior to this, she had shown herself to be a judicious woman, with advanced ideas and a developed ecclesial sense. This combined with her capability of dissenting but without arriving at the point of confrontation, led to her appointment as a member of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Episcopal Conference of Argentina, from 1988 to 1992.

In her last parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, she dedicated herself to the catechesis of adults. Her parish priest Oscar Ojea, currently bishop of San Isidro and president of the Episcopal Conference of Argentina remembers her as a laywoman with an excellent formation, with remarkable abilities to discern and listen, a community builder and full of joy. She was the unfailing animator of the main community’s pilgrimages to the Marian shrine of Luján. She helped him to found the Hogar Albisetti, a centre for the reintegration of needy men. She was a pioneer and secretary of the Hogar El Arca in her country, a centre for hosting and accompanying people with disabilities. She showed great serenity and humility when she fell ill with pancreatic cancer. She died May 19, 2003.

By María Lía Zervino
Servidora, and President of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations (UMOFC)