Over 500 teenagers will travel from all over the world to Italy, this month, to participate in a programme organized by Teens4Unity, the youth wing of the Focolare, with the theme “One City Is not Enough” in Trent, northern Italy, on the occasion of the birth centenary of Chiara Lubich, the Foundress of the Focolare movement.
When Chiara was born in Trent on 22 January 1920, Europe was passing through a period known as the “Golden Age Twenties” because of the economic boom following World War I. Her family was well off, but her father lost his job as he fought for social justice and opposed the fascist, political leaders ruling at the time, and this made the Lubich family go through a period of poverty. Her mother had a strong faith in God, and this instilled in Chiara a true sense of justice and deep spirituality.
At school, Chiara was fascinated by philosophy and the search for truth. Her great desire was to pursue her studies in philosophy; but her family could not afford it. She sat for a scholarship exam and was placed 34th, but only 33 places were being offered. Distraught, she cried her heart out; but then deep within she felt someone was telling her “I, myself will be your Teacher”. It was very strong, and she felt it was God speaking to her, and was confident He would keep His promise.
At the age of 18, Chiara got a diploma as a primary school teacher. She gave herself wholeheartedly to teach the children entrusted to her care. One morning, it was freezing cold in Trent and her mother needed someone to fetch milk from a farm a few kilometres away from their house. Taking it as an opportunity to do an act of love, Chiara offered to go. When she was half way there, she felt a strong impulse deep within: “You have only one life to live. Live it the best you can. Give yourself completely to me.” She understood it was a call from God to do something special in her life. Though she felt the pain of distancing herself from her family, she was overjoyed as she expected to receive everything from God. Some of her friends noticed a great change in Chiara, and they too decided to make the same choice: to look for God in the neediest persons of their city.
Meanwhile, World War II broke out in all its fury. Chiara and her friends chose to help those who due to the war were hungry, orphaned, mutilated or sick. Heavy bombing destroyed houses, schools, hospitals, trees and their city. Chiara’s house was also hit. She knew her family would have to find another place out of Trent to stay, but she couldn’t go with them, as she had promised to stay in Trent. It was really painful, but a thought came to her mind, a verse from Virgil, the famous Italian poet, which she had learnt in school: “Love conquers everything.”