For "Protagonists of Fraternity" Chaira Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement that 7 December celebrated its seventy years old of foundation.Catholic, she was committed in person to building ecclesial communion, to ecumenism, to interreligious dialogue and among people of non-religious convictions.
Chiara Lubich (1920-2008), foundress of the Focolare Movement in 1943, is considered one of the most influential spiritual figures of the twentieth century. Catholic, she was committed in person to building ecclesial communion, to ecumenism, to interreligious dialogue and among people of non-religious convictions.
Decorated with 15 honorary doctorates, in the most diverse disciplines, and with recognitions from national and international entities, as well as with honorary citizenships from major Italian cities and Buenos Aires, she tirelessly promoted a culture of unity and fraternity among peoples.
Silvia, the baptismal name given to Chiara, was born in Trent on 22 January 1920. She was the second of four children, Gino, Liliana and Carla. Her father, Luigi Lubich, a wine-seller, ex-typesetter, anti-fascist and socialist, had once been a close colleague of the once socialist Benito, and later the unyielding political opponent of the fascist Mussolini. Her mother, Luigia, was animated by a strong traditional faith. (...)
When she was 18, Silvia received her teaching certificate with full marks. She would have liked to continue her studies, and she tried to be admitted to the Catholic University. It didn’t turn out: she came in last out of the twenty-three free admissions that were available. Since there was not enough money in the Lubich home to pay for her studies in another city, Silvia was forced to find work. During the 1940-41 academic year she taught elementary school at the Opera Serafica in Trent.
The decisive beginning of her human-divine experience was revealed to her in 1939 during a trip to the shrine of Loreto: “I was invited to a meeting for Catholic students in Loreto”, Chiara writes, “where, according to tradition, the little house of the Holy Family is kept within the walls of a great fortress-like cathedral. . . . I attended the course at a nearby college with everyone else. But, whenever possible, I would run to the little house. I knelt beside the wall, all blackened by the vigil light of the vigil lamps. Something new and divine was enveloping me, nearly crushing me. I contemplated in my mind the virginal life of the three (. . .) Every thought weighed upon me, squeezing my heart, my tears were falling uncontrollably. During every break, I ran there. Then the last day arrived. The church was filled with young people. A thought clearly entered my mind, a thought which was never erased: “You will be followed by a host of virgins.”
When she returned from the Marche to Trentino, Chiara found her students and the parish priest who had been following her so closely during those months. When they saw her so radiant and happy, they asked her if she had discovered her way. Chiara’s answer was disappointing for the priest, because she would only say which vocations she didn’t feel were hers, the traditional ones: not the convent, not matrimony, not consecration to God in the world. This was all she was able to say.
In the years following her visit to Loreto – from 1939 till 1943 – Silvia continued to work and study and to be involved in the service of the Church. When she became a Franciscan Tertiary, she took the name Chiara. (...) On 7 December 1943 at six o’clock in the morning, she consecrated her life to God forever. On that day Chiara didn’t have the slightest intention of founding anything: she was simply “marrying God.” And this was everything for her. Only later did this day come to be identified as the symbolic beginning of the Focolare Movement.
In the next few months, Chiara drew many young people around her. Some of them wanted to follow her in her path. In those months the war was waging in Trent, bringing ruin, misery, and death. Chiara and her new companions were in the habit of meeting in the air-raid shelters during air attacks. They had a great desire to come together and to put the Gospel into practice, following the overwhelming intuition that had led them to place God-Love at the centre of their life. (..)
One day, in the darkened cellar underneath the home of Natalia Dallapiccola, they were reading the Gospel by the light of candle, as was their custom by now. They opened it by chance to the chapter containing the prayer of Jesus before his death: “Father, that all be one” (Jn 17:21). It’s an extraordinary but complex passage of the Gospel, which has been studied by scholars and theologians throughout the Christian world; but in those days it was a bit forgotten because it was so mysterious. And then there was that word “unity” which had become part of the Communists’ vocabulary, who, in a certain sense, had claimed a monopoly on it. “But, for them, those words seemed to become illuminated, one by one,” Chiara writes, “and they placed within our hearts the conviction that we had been born for ‘this’ page of the Gospel.”(...)
Meanwhile the unrest caused by the war didn’t let up. The families of most of the girls fled to the mountain valleys. But the girls decided to remain in Trent: some because of work or study; some, like Chiara, in order not to abandon the many people who had begun to gather around them. Chiara stayed with an acquaintance until the following September when she found a flat at Number Two Piazza Cappuccini on the outskirts of Trent. This is where some of her new friends – first Natalia Dallapiccola, then the others, began living together. It was the first focolare: a modest two-room apartment in the clearing shaded by trees at the foot of the Capuchin church. They called it simply “the little house”. (...)
Around Chiara and the girls of the focolare, an impressive number of people declared adherence to the project of unity which appeared new, though just beginning to take form. And then there were the numerous conversions, conversions of all sorts. Vocations that were saved and new ones that blossomed. Almost immediately, even children and adults began to follow the girls of the focolare. What remains in everyone’s memory from those times are the crowded and intense Saturday-afternoon meetings, held at three o’clock in Massaia Hall. There Chiara would share her living Gospel experiences and announce the first discoveries of what would later become her “spirituality of unity.” The fervor grew out of proportion until, in 1945, some 500 people – of all ages, vocations, and social backgrounds – desired to share the ideal of the girls in the focolare. They put all their spiritual and material possessions in common, just as is reported of the first Christian communities.(...)
All of this didn’t go unnoticed by the city, which consisted of only a few thousand inhabitants at that time, nor the attention of the Church of Trent. Archbishop Carlo De Ferrari understood Chiara and her new adventure and gave her his blessing. His blessing and approval accompanied the Movement till his death. From that moment, almost imperceptibly, new frontiers opened in the region, with invitations to Milan, Rome, and Sicily.
In 1962 the first pontifical approval by John XXIII of the men’s part of the Focolare Movement under the name ofWork of Mary.