"We are Women, not Fake, Disguised Puppets"
Our last contribution to the Women's History Month this year is about Luisa Chiellini, who was a pioneer of the Adventist church in Italy.
Luisa, daughter of Ulisse Chiellini and Fanny Varé, was born in Genoa in 1864 into a family of noble origins. She lived part of her youth between Rome and Switzerland. At the age of 33, she was in Basel where, during a period of illness, she met Adventist believers. Following a passionate study of the Bible, she was baptized in 1896 and became a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Missionary Magazine writes that Luisa, after her conversion, returned to Rome where she began her work of witnessing. She was the first person to bring Adventism to the Italian capital, soon supported by three other women: her sister, who had been baptized in London, and two American ladies, mother and daughter with the last name Prescott, who had come to visit Italy. In the book Granel di sale, Giuseppe De Meo writes: "These four women devoted themselves to a work of correspondence and translation... Their commitment and influence were decisive for the Adventist work in Italy".
When the other women returned to their countries, Luisa remained alone, doing admirable social and evangelistic work, despite her poor health. In the capital, Luisa Chiellini was one of the points of reference for all the 57 years that followed her baptism. But these were not easy times.
In 1908, Pastor Charles T. Everson gave started the periodical L’Ultimo Messaggio (The Last Message), which would have an Italian and an American edition. The magazine, which ran monthly, contained theological articles as well as news reports and questionnaires. Luisa Chiellini, a woman of culture, collaborated with both editions, and her name appeared 47 times.
Of particular interest is one of her articles, contained in the Pro Famiglia column, entirely dedicated to women. "We are women", is the reason that Luisa constantly repeats, "equal to man in intelligence and superior to him in heart, we have duties towards God and towards humanity... "We are women", not fake, disguised puppets who fall victim to absurd fashions, and turn into an incongruousity of vain superficiality who live only for their frills; who delight only in vain pleasures, who graze only on fashion magazines or novels, more or less instructive, more or less scientific... Every Christian woman should have the holy and noble desire to be able to say to herself, when she reaches the end of her earthly journey, that "she has done everything she could" to live up to the task assigned to her by God, when He created her, so that from her emanated everything beautiful, good, edifying and holy, so that she might be "the heart" of this sad world! ...".
The political situation became less and less peaceful and the economic crisis serious. In 1914, news of an imminent conflict became more and more frequent, and Luisa expressed herself in this way: "In these dark hours, for all of us, we search in vain, in human affairs, for some glimmer of light that might lighten the way, even if only slightly... but there is no light. ... and the human groaning becomes, more and more heartbreaking and cruel... and, it finds no response... it finds no relief... because, for too long alas! we have, stubbornly, looked, trusted and hoped in the earth and in the things of the earth, instead of in those of Heaven... Understood by the sacred task, grave with solemn responsibilities, we implore strength and grace from God, not to fail in these dark hours, which must precede, by a little, the supreme and glorious dawn... because, He who must come, will come soon... to render to each one according to what his work will be (Heb.10; Rev.22)". In 1918, the publication was censored.
After the First World War and the emergency of the post-war period, efforts were made to organize and coordinate the Adventist presence in the country. In 1921, the periodical L'Araldo della Verità, published in Florence, was launched. Its director was Diolode Werner and its edi F. Foschiatti. From the very first issue, Luisa Chiellini collaborated with the magazine and continued to do so when it became Il Messaggero avventista. She wrote articles of various kinds, revealing herself to be a poet, editor, translator, author of theological articles, and editor of columns. She also wrote for other newspapers such as La Vedetta and translated into Italian various Adventist books, including Steps to Christ (Guida a Gesù) and Christ our Saviour (Gesù nostro Salvatore) by Ellen G. White.
But, despite her efforts, Adventism in the capital struggled to take off and it is no wonder. The fascist period and the laws in force hindered in every way the propagation of religious news and ideas. Between 1929 and 1930 the legislation of the so-called "admitted cults" was issued, created to better control the confessions outside of the Catholic church, but, in some way, it also gave them a certain legal statute and some rights.
Finally, on October 25, 1931, the Eternal City had its first Adventist meeting place, but the political period the nation was living through, the fascist laws, and the lack of freedom urged caution. It is only after the Second World War that the Adventist community regained strength and bought an apartment to house the offices of the national headquarters.
Luisa Chiellini, in the last years of her life, paralyzed by illness, was no longer able to attend the church services, but she was always surrounded by the affection and esteem of all. She died in Rome on January 20, 1953. She did not have a family of her own, but in the church she had found a wider family than the one she was registered with. In the obituary that appeared in April 1953 in Il Messaggero Avventista, she was described as "a pillar of Italian publications for many years".
Extract from the book Libere donne in libera Chiesa. 150 anni di presenza femminile avventista in Italia (Free Women in a Free Church. 150 years of Adventist female presence in Italy).