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 Trento, 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.”
Chiara and her friends found a small apartment from where they could look out for the poor and distribute food, clothing, and whatever was brought to their house by people. They felt they had to solve some of the social problems of their city, as well, like bridging the gap between the haves and the have-nots. They felt that only love could do this, love which moves hearts to look at the needy as brothers and sisters.
The word ‘unity’ sums up the life of Chiara Lubich and her unstinting work to weave relationships of friendship, trust and dialogue throughout her life. For her, love alone was the way of life, the rule of life, rendering human existence attractive and fascinating. “This is the great attraction of modern times: to penetrate to the highest contemplation while mingling with everyone,” Chiara once wrote.
People around them were attracted by their joyful lives and joined them. The number of people grew to become a movement of the people, the Focolare. After the war had ended and travel became less difficult, Chiara moved to Rome, from where she could easily connect with the growing movement.
An expression of this life of love in the Movement is the gathering of people of different ages called Mariapolis, taking place annually in many cities across the world during summer holidays. In one Mariapolis, Chiara addressed a group of politicians inviting them to go beyond the boundaries of their respective nations and to “love the nations of others as you love your own”. Internationalism became a hallmark of the Movement which rapidly spread, initially in Italy, and then throughout Europe and to other continents. “Little towns” called permanent Mariapolis began to grow all over the world. International Congresses and the use of the media also contributed to the formation of people who started to live for the ideal of a “united world” across the globe.
She was conferred the UNESCO Peace Education Prize, in Paris, motivated by the fact that “in an age when ethnic and religious differences too often lead to violent conflicts, the spread of the Focolare Movement she founded has also contributed to a constructive dialogue between persons, generations, social classes and peoples.” She visited the United Nations where she spoke on the unity of peoples. She was presented the 1998 Prize for Human Rights by the Council of Europe for her work “in defence of individual and social rights”.
Throughout her life, Chiara had a special love for young people. To her, they seemed just as radical and enthusiastic as those young people with whom she had begun her adventure. “You’ve stolen my heart,” she told the teenage members of the Movement one day. She gave them the words of one of her most famous writings, “One City is not enough” as a Manifesto:
“… If your action is determined
and your speech filled with wisdom,
many will follow you.
… If others, having got to know your life
and having seen with their own eyes the gifts you have,
ask you to talk, then speak,
but let the core of your speech be the things you have learned from life.
… And if the struggle costs,
know that there lies the secret of success,
… Do this for a city until victory,
to the point, that is, that good overcomes evil.
… but with a God who visits you every morning, if you wish,
one city is too little.
… aim further at your country, at everyone’s country, at the world.”
On 14 March 2008, Chiara died at the Focolare headquarters in Rocca di Papa, close to Rome in Italy, aged 88. Her great passion to build a united world lives on in her numerous followers, while she continues to be a light and a beacon to teenagers throughout the world.