Servant of God
|Born||Silvia Lubich |
22 January 1920
|Died||14 March 2008 (aged 88)|
Rocca di Papa, Italy
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
Chiara Lubich (born Silvia Lubich; January 22, 1920, Trento – March 14, 2008, Rocca di Papa), was an Italian teacher and author who founded the Focolare Movement, which aims to bring unity among people and promote universal fraternity.
She was a charismatic figure who broke with many female stereotypes as early as the 1940s, opening a previously unheard of role for women in society and the Roman Catholic Church.
Lubich is known for her commitment to build bridges of peace and unity between individuals, generations, social classes, and peoples, including various ages, cultures, and beliefs. She is considered a notable figure in ecumenical, interreligious and intercultural dialogue, as recognized by UNESCO, which awarded her the Prize for Peace Education in 1996; and the Council of Europe, with the Human Rights Award in 1998; among others.
She took her place in the history of contemporary spirituality among teachers and mystics for the authentic Gospel-based inspiration, universal outlook, and cultural and social influence that distinguish her charism, spirituality, thought, and work.
Chiara Lubich was baptized with the name of Silvia. She took the name “Chiara” when she entered the Franciscan Third Order (1942-1949). She was the second of four children. Her mother, Luigia Marinconz, was a fervent Catholic, her father, Luigi, was a socialist and convinced anti-fascist.
Luigi Lubich worked as a typesetter for the socialist newspaper Il Popolo, directed by Cesare Battisti. After the suppression of the newspaper by the Italian fascist regime, he opened an export business of Italian wines into Germany, but due to the crisis of 1929, he was forced to close it. Having refused to become a member of the National Fascist Party, he found it impossible to get work and had to resort to doing odd jobs to support his family. Thus, the family lived in financial hardship for years, and from an early age, Silvia gave private lessons to contribute to the family budget. Her mother and the local Sisters of the Child Mary provided her with a solid formation in the Christian faith. She developed a strong sense of social justice from her father; her brother Gino, who was also a socialist; and the family's life of poverty, becoming very sensitive to the needs of the poor. At the age of 15, she joined the ranks of Catholic Action in Trento and soon became a diocesan youth leader.
Even as a child, Chiara had a great desire to know the truth about life and began to look for God at a very early age. She attended a teachers’ college and became a passionate student of philosophy. Her great desire was to attend the Catholic University of Milan, where she hoped to learn the truth about God, but she failed by only one point to win the competition for a scholarship. Initially deeply distressed, she suddenly felt consoled by an inner certainty from God: "I will be your teacher." As soon as she graduated, she took jobs teaching in elementary schools in the valley regions around Trento (1938–39), and then in Cognola (1940-1943), a town close to Trento, in a school for orphans run by the Capuchin Fathers. In the autumn of 1943, she left teaching and enrolled at the Ca'Foscari University of Venice, continuing to give private lessons. However, due to the circumstances of the war, at the end of 1944, she had to interrupt her studies.
Focolare was founded against the backdrop of the horrors of World War II, with its millions of victims, mass deportations and the atrocity of the Holocaust – a catastrophic setback for humanity that caused people to question the meaning of life, the world and God. In the midst of this, Chiara discovered the life-giving alternative: God, who is Love. It would become the inspiring spark for the movement for peace and unity that would later emerge. In autumn of 1942, in the wake of a simple conversation about the love of God with a Capuchin friar, Casimiro Bonetti, he proposed that Silvia enter the Franciscan Third Order "to help revive and rejuvenate it". Attracted by St. Clare of Assisi's radical choice of God, she took the name “Chiara,” which is Italian for “Clare”. Her experience of God's love was the topic of conferences she gave to the young women of the Third Order. Among them was Natalia Dallapiccola, who, at the age of 18, was the first to follow Lubich.
On September 2, 1943, Anglo-American forces began bombing Trento, which took it by surprise. Following the armistice between Italy and the Allies, the territory around Trento was occupied by Nazi forces and annexed to the Third Reich. Her brother Gino joined the communist partisans and fought against the Nazi-fascist regime. In the summer of 1944, he was arrested and tortured. Amidst the uncertainty about the future and fear for life itself caused by the war, Chiara realized how everything passes, everything collapses, everything is “vanity of vanities” (Eccl 1:1) and “only God remains.” She became convinced that “the salvation of the twentieth century is love”. She shared this great news with “letters of fire” that she wrote to her relatives, to the young women of the Third Order, and to her colleagues. Soon other young women joined her in living what they called a “divine adventure”.
Two months later, at the end of November 1943, she felt a strong inner calling to choose God as the only ideal of her life. On December 7, 1943, in the chapel of the Capuchin College, she pronounced her total “Yes, forever” with a vow of perpetual chastity. That personal and private act would mark the beginning of something new in the Church, the Focolare Movement.
As she and her first companions ran to the air-raid shelters, they took only a copy of the Gospel, which they read and tried to put it into practice immediately. Those words became their code to live by. They realized that it taught them how to respond to the love of God, who is the truth that so many are looking for. To them it was a new medicine that could heal the wounds of individuals and society as a whole. In 1948 she wrote:
We have understood that the world needs to be healed by the Gospel because only the Good News can give back to the world the life it lacks. This is why we live the Word of Life (…). We have no other book except the Gospel, no other science, no other art. That is where life is!
The war brought destruction, hunger, and misery. Chiara and her early friends dedicated themselves to the people in the poorest sections of Trento, recognizing in them the presence of Jesus (cf Matt 18:20). They shared with them what little they had. Thanks to a growing number of people being involved, food, clothing and medicine arrived with unusual abundance. They experienced the truth of the phrase “Give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38; Matt 7:7). To their amazement, the Gospel promises were fulfilled in a timely. Chiara made a plan, with the goal of “solving the social problems of Trento”. In 1947, it took shape as “Fraternity in action". In February 1948, in an editorial signed by Silvia Lubich, which appeared in L'Amico Serafico, the magazine of the Capuchin Fathers, she announced the communion of goods to all those around her, following the example of the first Christians. After only a few months, close to 500 people were involved in a widespread sharing of material and spiritual goods.
In that dark time without much hope for the future, a universal project opened up for Chiara:
One day I found myself with my new companions in a dark, candle-litcellar, a book of the Gospel in hand. I opened it at random and found the prayer of Jesus before he died: ‘Father (...) that they may all be one’ (John 17:11). It was not aneasy text for us to start with, but one by one those words seemed to come to life, giving us the conviction that we were born for that page of the Gospel.
For Chiara, “that they may all be one” could mean nothing less than the unity of all humankind and another fortuitous discovery showed her the way to accomplish it. Unity with God and among human beings, which was the greatest aspiration of that time and of all times, could be achieved on one condition: by embracing the cross. On January 24, 1944, Chiara understood from a comment made by a priest that Jesus had experienced the height of his pain when he cried out on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). From that moment on, Chiara's choice of God became a choice of “Jesus Forsaken”. Gradually she and her companions realized that in that moment Jesus changed the course of history. He had transformed all forms of pain and suffering into “new life” and healed all the traumas of division. Years later,she wouldaffirm:
Jesus Forsaken won every battle in us, even the most terrible ones (…). But it is necessary to be madly in love with him, who is the synthesis of every physical or spiritual suffering, the remedy (…) for every pain of the soul.
He was the measure of the love they needed to live, to carry out his commandment, which they discovered as the heart of the Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). That commandment would prove to be the DNA of a new social order. Mutual love, lived radically, caused a qualitative leap in their lives.
We experienced joy, new peace, the fullness of life, an unmistakable light. Jesus was fulfilling his promise: ‘Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there among them’ (Matt 18:20). He is the one who binds us into unity with the Father, and into unity among us, the unity which had been impossible until now.
Chiara understood that the unity that she and her first companions were experiencing was destined for the whole world. In 1946 she already proposed that they aim at universal brotherhood, indicating the way that this can be done.
Look at all people as children of the one Father. Let our thoughts and the affection of our hearts go beyond the barriers imposed by our human vision of life, and develop the habit of constantly opening ourselves to the reality of being one human family in only one Father: God.
While Chiara and her first companions believed they were simply living the Gospel, the phrases that were coming into relief formed the basic principles of a spirituality of unity or “spirituality of communion”. This spirituality would be recognized by the Catholic Church and leaders of other Christian Churches as a gift of the Holy Spirit for our age. Chiara gradually deepened these principles in her spiritual writings and as she continually nourished the members of the Movement with the message of the Gospel. The spirituality of unity developed as a rich and solid synthesis of Christian experience, a remarkable patrimony of ideas and life experiences, with a distinctly communitarian character. Twenty years later, it proved to be in total harmony with the documents of the Second Vatican Council. It has also had a social, cultural, political and economic impact on society.
On May 13, 1944, the city of Trento was subjected to heavy bombing. The Lubich home was also damaged to the point of being uninhabitable. The family decided to look for shelter in a mountain village, while Chiara made the difficult choice to stay in the city to support the increasingly numerous group of young women who were inspired by her actions and her words. While she was going through the streets, looking for her friends, a woman, distraught with grief, grabbed her by the shoulders, shouting at her that four of her family members had been killed. For Chiara, this was a call to set aside her own pain to take on the pain of humanity.
In the autumn of 1944, Chiara was offered a small apartment in Piazza Cappuccini, where she went to live with some of her companions. This would be the seed of a small and rather unique community. The warmth of their love earned them the nickname, “focolare”, the Italian word for “hearth”. Even though they had no intention of starting anything, this small household marked the first basic structure of the newly born Movement. It would constitute its heart, its backbone. In the autumn of 1948, a young electrician, Marco Tecilla, and a merchant, Livio Fauri, decided to follow Chiara's new communitarian way and formed the first men's focolare community. In 1953, the focolare household would acquire its definitive form when also married people became full members of the community while remaining faithful to the obligations of their married life. The first to follow this path was Igino Giordani, the pioneer for a vocation that would be followed by numerous married people who are eager for spiritual perfection.
The terrible reality of the war was not the only difficulty they would have. Starting in 1945, criticisms, misunderstandings and accusations began to spread against this “new community” in Trento. Living the Gospel, communicating experiences, sharing their few possessions and making unity their ideal, aroused suspicions of Protestantism or a new form of communism, the great fear of the age. Their radical way of living the Gospel that Chiara proposed attracted the accusation of “fanaticism”, and the word “love”, not customarily used in the Catholic sphere at that time, was likewise misunderstood
“Whoever listens to you listens to Me” (Luke 10:16). This sentence from the Gospel of Luke motivated Chiara to go with her companions to see the bishop of Trento, Carlo De Ferrari. He listened to them, got more information about their life and then reassured them, saying, “Here there is the hand of God. Keep going”. He also confirmed that this was something new that was developing and should be separate from the Franciscan Third Order. In fact, on May 1, 1947, Archbishop De Ferrari approved the Statute of the “Focolare of Charity - Apostles of Unity.”In March 1949, a decree of the Vatican department for religious ratified the distinction of the “Focolare of Charity” from the Franciscan Third Order, which had been its cradle, so to speak, protecting it in its infancy as a movement. The charges against them, however, did not cease. During the 1950s, when movements were a new phenomenon in the Church, certain Vatican offices regarded the Focolare Movement with suspicion. In 1951, the Holy Office (now known as the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) began a long study and a series of interviews to test the young founder. During this time, it was uncertain whether the movement would be disbanded or approved. During this time of interior trial, Chiara compared herself to the grain of wheat of the Gospel, which has to fall to the ground and die to bear fruit.
The trial came to an end gradually, starting with the first pontifical approval ad experimentum in 1962, during the pontificate of John XXIII, at about the same time that he opened the Second Vatican Council. Further approval was given by Pope Paul VI in 1964.In 1990, Pope John Paul II approved the Statutes that outline the composite physiognomy of the Focolare Movement as it developed over the years. As early as 1984, John Paul II recognized in the charism of Chiara a “radicalism of love”, juxtaposing it with that of Ignatius of Loyola and other founders. The following year, in answer to a question posed to him by Chiara, he gave his support to the idea that in the future the head of the Movement would always be a woman, even though Focolare includes priests, men and women religious, and bishops. His answer was: “Indeed! I see you [the Focolare] as an expression of the Church’s Marian profile”. In that same year, John Paul II named her as a consultant for the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Chiara addressed the synods of the bishops in 1985, 1987 and 1999.
Various circumstances led Chiara to move from Trento to Rome. Looking for help to find an apartment in postwar Rome, she asked for an appointment with Igino Giordani (1884-1980), a prominent figure in Parliament. The meeting took place on September 17, 1948. Giordani, who was married and father of four children, was a prolific author, journalist, pioneer of ecumenism, scholar and expert in the history of the Church, and therefore able to understand the novelty that the spirituality offered. At the age of 56, he decided there and then to follow her, while remaining with his family, but becoming a spiritual member of the community of consecrated virgins. He was the first in this vocation of “married Focolarini”, an original way of consecration open to married people, as individuals or as a couple. Giordani would also contribute greatly to the development of ecumenism within the Movement, as well as to the civic and social dimension of the spirituality, so much so that he was considered by Chiara co-founder of the Movement. The process of his beatification is currently underway.
After years of intense activity, in the summer of 1949, Chiara went with her companions for a period of rest to a town near Trento called Tonadico. Unknown to them, this would mark the beginning of a special time of grace, with illuminations generally reserved for founders or persons for whom God has a particular plan. It was a mystical experience and has since been referred to simply as “Paradise ’49”. As far as possible for a human being, Chiara was given the grace to “enter into the bosom of the Father,”who opened to her a deeper understanding of heaven, including the mystery of the Trinity, the splendour of Mary, the creation, the new heavens, and the new earth. She also understood more about God’s plans for the Focolare Movement and its future developments. During those few months, Chiara constantly communicated with Igino Giordani, who had returned to Rome for his work. She would immediately share whatever she understood with the young women who were with her, in such a vital way that they had the impression of participating with her in the same experience.They had become, as Chiara would say, “one single soul”. It was the founding experience of the new communitarian spirituality and the ecclesial reality that it would generate.
In September 1949, Chiara returned to Rome from the mountains. A new stage began: total immersion in humanity,to bring it the light, the experience of God and the life of unity lived in Tonadico. Unity is the prerequisite so that “everything can be renewed: politics and art, education and religion, private life and recreation”.,
Before that year ends, another historic meeting took place. A young man from Pistoia (central Italy), Pasquale Foresi (1929-2015), was searching for the meaning of life, even though he had a solid Catholic formation. He was destined to become one of Chiara's closest collaborators, whom she considered a co-founder, alongside Igino Giordani.
The Movement had spread rapidly throughout Italy in the post-war period. From 1956 onward, groups of people living the spirituality could be found all over Europe, including Eastern European countries. In 1958, members of the Movement began to travelto other continents at the request of people who wanted to know more about it. In 1958, it reached various countries in South America, in 1961 North America, in 1963 Africa, in 1966 Asia and 1967 Australia.
Every summer between 1950 and 1959, in the mountain villages near Trento, young people and whole families, professionals and manual laborers, politicians and priests, men and women religious and bishops all joined Chiara and the members of the movement to live this new lifestyle, while enjoying a holiday atmosphere together. They came from the north to the south of Italy, from France and Germany, from other countries of Europe and other continents. The recent conflictsamong them, due to the war, were resolved, and mutual hatred and malice vanished. The first multicultural scale model of a society renewed by the Gospel took shape spontaneously and was given the name “Mariapolis” (“city of Mary”). In 1953, among other politicians, Alcide De Gasperi, then Prime Minister of Italy, attended the Mariapolis. In 1959, over 10,000 people came to the Valley of Primiero from 27 nations,including Czechoslovakia, Brazil, and Taiwan. The following year, at the Mariapolis in Fribourg, Switzerland, Chiara spoke to a group of politicians of the day when all nations would live in unity, foreseeing “a new era”:
The time has come when the homeland of others has to be loved as one’s own. Today the times require us to have the social responsibility to build up, not only our own country but that of others, too.
The Focolare magazine, entitled Città Nuova (“New City”), began at the 1956 Mariapolis from the desire of people to stay connected to the spirituality and the movement as a whole. In one of its first editorials, Chiara expressed her vision for it:
We would like to collect all the various experiences of people who are bringing unity all over the world (…) so that the good that one person does will become the common good and the common good will belong to each individual.
Chiara often described herself as a simple instrument in the hands of the artist, “formed by God through thousands and thousands of painful and joyful events”. And it is precisely in the painful years, during the 1950s, when the Movement was being studied by what is now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that God's work began. After the pontifical approval in 1962, the movement began to develop at a surprisingly rapid rate, resulting in the formation of various branches for more committed members and of movements for wider outreach. Chiara repeated several times that she never had a plan or an agenda:
Yes, because the pen does not know what the author wants to write. The brush does not know what the artist wants to paint. So, when God takes a person in his hands to produce a particular work within the Church, that person does not know what he or she will have to do. They are merely the tool, the instrument. And this, I think, is my case. When this life started in Trento, I had no plan, no program. The idea of this Movement was in the mind of God, the project was in heaven. That’s how it was in the beginning, and that’s how it has been over all the years the Movement has developed.
Constantly listening to the cry of abandonment of Jesus in humanity, Chiara has opened wide horizons to give concrete help to individuals and groups and make an impact for change in society. She has inspired people to see and heal the wounds of division through small and also widespread projects, carried out both locally and internationally. People have taken the commitment to develop movements that reach out to those in need on all levels.
In November 1956, an uprising of the Hungarian people was brutally suppressed. Pope Pius XII made a heartfelt plea that resonated powerfully in Chiara's heart. He cried out: “God, God, God! (…) make the name of God resound in streets, homes, and offices”. Chiara responded by calling for an army of volunteers for the cause of God, “volunteers of God”:
A certain society has attempted to erase the name of God, the reality of God, the providence of God and the love of God from people’s hearts. There has to be a society that can put God back in his rightful place (…). A society that witnesses to only one name: God
Hundreds of people responded, including men and women from all levels of society, from manual laborers to professionals, in many countries and of different cultural groups. Thus, the“volunteers of God” came to life, the first of 18 branches within the Focolare Movement. Groups met according to their area of engagement and, with Chiara's inspiration, began centers for politics, economy, medicine, and art. These later developed into a wider movement that Chiara launched in 1968 with the name “For a New Society” and later changed to “New Humanity”.
A world phenomenon among young people brewed during the 1960s and in 1968 exploded in protests and demonstrations all over Europe, the United States, and China. In 1967, Chiara proposed to young people a revolution of love, based on the Gospel. She issued a strong appeal: “Young people of the world, unite.”Youth from every part of the world responded in huge numbers. The Gen Movement was born (“Gen” for “new generation”). In 1972, Chiara predicted that the encounter between peoples and civilizations “will be irreversible” and will mark “a turning point in the history of humanity”. She pointed to a new model of person needed for this era, the “Global Person” with the whole world in their heart. In 1985, an even broader youth movement began, called “Youth for a United World” (1985) for young adults,while a year before, in 1984, Chiara had started “Teens for Unity,” for teens and children to build peace everywhere and to spread a culture of giving.
The profound socio-cultural upheaval of the 1960s also shook the foundations of the family, which had always been considered the indisputable basic cell of society. On July 19, 1967, Chiara announced the beginning of “an explosive, apostolic and diffusive movement” for families. She asked couples who were living the spirituality of unity to reach out to all couples, but especially to focus on those who most reflected the suffering of Jesus abandoned on the cross. Groups formed all over the world. Marriages have been renewed through a deeper capacity to live mutual love and hundreds of social projects to support family life now have an international impact. The “New Families Movement” reaches hundreds and thousands of families throughout the world, also providing concrete help for those in need and sponsoring children with their “Adoptions-at-a-Distance” project, and International Adoptions.
Ever since the early years of the movement in Trento, Chiara had frequent contacts with men and women religious of various congregations as well as diocesan priests. She encouraged them to implement in their communities and parishes the last desire of Jesus, “Father, that they may all be one.” This led to a widespread movement among religious and priests at large, while branches developed for those who wanted to commit to living the spirituality according to their vocation and their founder's spirit. Later, bishops also joined together, applying the spirit of unity to their role, thus contributing to the increase of communion within the Church, as requested by recent Popes.
In 1964, during the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Julius Peeters from Cameroon asked Chiara about the possibility of sending medical help to a region of his country where the people were at risk of extinction due to disease. She requested some of the Focolare members who were doctors or nurses to go to the village of Fontem, in the middle of a thick forest. They discovered that vaccinating the population already helped immensely to improve their situation. Seeing their great need, Chiara launched “Operation Africa” among the youth of the movement, who raised money to build a hospital and then schools for the village. “We from Europe have a debt to pay to Africa, and this is one way we can do it” she told the members of the Movement. She went in person to visit the Bangwa people in Fontem in 1966, 1969 and 2000, forming a strong bond with them, who called her “Mafua ndem”, meaning “queen sent by God”. Fontem became a town bearing witness to the fraternity between Europeans and Africans and drew people to experience and learn how to create unity among peoples and ethnic groups, thus spreading the spirit of unity all over Africa.
In 1954, Chiara met Bishop Pavel Hniliça who had fled Czechoslovakia and from him, she learned of the tragedy of the persecuted Church there. Starting in 1955, with the encouragement of Pope Pius XII and the German bishops, some men and women members of the Focolare moved to Czechoslovakia and then into East Germany and other neighboring countries. Chiara gave them precise directions - be perfect workers; live mutual love and love each neighbor without speaking about it; respect the laws of the country. She traveled to Berlin nine times, both before and after the wall had been constructed. In 1990, when travel outside their countries was permitted, several hundred youths from eastern Europe were able to participate in the GenFest in Rome and meet Pope John Paul II, to the joy of all. In August 1991, in Katowice, Poland, 6,500 members of the Focolare Movement, coming from Eastern European countries belonging to the communist bloc, met for the first time with Chiara and with one another.
The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 marked the end of the Cold War. Chiara's reaction can be summarized in these words: “Now the walls of the West also have to collapse”. With this goal in mind, Chiara worked tirelessly in the last thirty years of her life to bring a spirit of unity and universal brotherhood into every area of society, in particular, in economy and politics.
In May 1991, Chiara arrived in São Paulo, Brazil, to meet with the members of the Movement there. However, the misery of the favelas (slums), which are like a crown of thorns surrounding the city of modern skyscrapers, urged her to find a solution, also because of the communion of goods within the Movement had not been enough to alleviate the poverty of some of its members. The idea emerged for a project called the “Economy of Communion” (EOC) in which businesses would, first of all, live the spirit of unity among their employees, competitors, and customers, and then share part of their profits to raise people out of poverty and form a “culture of giving” rather than of “having”. The project was immediately taken up by business people all over the world. It also stimulated. the interest of academics who have studied the praxis being used and are presenting a new economic theory in universities worldwide. Chiara was awarded several honorary doctorates in economics and, in 1999, presented the Economy of Communion at the 50th anniversary of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. In October 1998, Fernando Cardoso, president of the Federal Republic of Brazil presented Chiara with the highest award of his country, the “National Order of the Southern Cross, ”recognizing the EOC as “an innovative and effective weapon in the struggle against poverty and exclusion”
During a time of profound crisis for politics in Italy, Chiara was invited to speak to a meeting of politicians of various parties. It was May 2, 1996, in Naples. Her proposal to them was that, first of all, they should live fraternity among themselves and then bring this spirit to all their relationships with other politicians of different parties, with the goal that together they might achieve the common good. This “seed” soon found fertile ground in various parts of Italy, among politicians and others who serve the public, as well as in other countries of Europe and Asia and North and South America, giving shape to the Movement of Politics and Policy for Unity (MppU). Chiara outlinedits fundamental features on several occasions when she met members of the government in Slovenia, Spain, France, the Czech Republic, Brazil (1998) and Italy (2000).
During her visit to Ireland in 2004, she met President Mary McAleese. Visiting the focolare center near Dublin in 2008, McAleese spoke of Lubich's “simple and beautiful idea of love as a lived reality leading to unity. Ideas such as hers” she added, “provide an antidote to the negative ideas that spread so easily, causing damage, breaking hearts and lives”. That same year (2004) Chiara visited England and spoke in the House of Commons in Westminster on the topic “Liberty and equality...What happened to fraternity”? She also addressed a symposium at the United Nations in New York, sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See in conjunction with the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) with the title “A Unity of Nations and a Unity of Peoples”. In November 2001, she was invited to a major conference held in Vienna, Austria, entitled “1,000 cities for Europe,” where she proposed “the spirit of universal brotherhood in politics as a key to the unity of Europe and the world.” On September 12, 2004, she gave was to be her last public address, in Rome, on the occasion of the second international Interdependence Day.
From the 1940s on, Chiara came to realize that in the charism of unity there is a unique doctrine that could shed light not only on theology but also on every other discipline. At the beginning of the 1990s, at the urging of Bishop Klaus Hemmerle, Bishop of Aachen in Germany and renowned theologian and philosopher, Chiara gathered together scholars in a variety of disciplines who had been living the Focolare spirituality for some years. They formed what is called the “Abba’ School,” an interdisciplinary study center, to draw out a doctrine from the illuminations received during the summer of 1949. This doctrine, based on a communitarian way of life, has already had an impact, not only on theology and philosophy but also on medicine, law, sociology, education, sports, the arts, the environment, etc. In December 2007, the pontifically approved Sophia University Institute was established in the Movement’s small town of Loppiano, near Florence, offering interdisciplinary graduate programs based on the culture of unity.
Throughout her life, Chiara became a protagonist and often a forerunner of a 360-degree dialogue among civil and religious leaders, movements and individuals within the Catholic Church, with Christians of different Churches, with followers of other religions and also with people without a religious affiliation. A “dialogue of life” helps people to meet and, even though they have different ideas, to speak with a sincere love for the other person, to find some point of agreement that can clarify misunderstandings, calm disputes, resolve conflicts, and even at times eliminate hatred.
Chiara had many practical ideas about how to develop a fruitful dialogue. She explained:
We have to love the other person, but not with words or feelings. We have to be concrete in our love and the best way to do this is to‘make ourselves one’ with them,‘live the life of the other’ in a certain way, sharing their sufferings and their joys, understanding them, serving and helping them in practical ways. ‘Making ourselves one’ is the attitude that guided the apostle Paul, who wrote that he made himself a Jew with the Jews, Greek with the Greeks, all things to all people (cf. 1Cor 9:19-22). We must follow his example so that we can establish a sincere, friendly dialogue with everyone.
This attitude suggested by Chiara also eliminates any idea of winning the other person over to one's religion or point of view. Instead, it leads people who were strangers to discover that they are all brothers and sisters in the one human family. Pope John Paul II defined the members of the Focolare Movement as “apostles of dialogue”
As everything in Chiara's experience, the ecumenical stage of the Movement began with a personal contact. In 1961, a group of Lutheran nuns invited her to Darmstadt in Germany to share with them the principles of her spirituality. Some Lutheran pastors were also present and were so struck by her radical evangelical lifestyle that they expressed the desire to spread this spirituality among Lutherans. In 2008, in his tribute to Chiara, the General Secretary of the World Lutheran Federation (LWF), Rev. Dr. Ishmael Noko, said: “Many in the Lutheran communion have drawn inspiration from this laywoman”. In 1966, in London, Chiara had an audience with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Michael Ramsey, Primate of the Anglican Communion, and subsequently with his successors. The former Archdeacon of Canterbury, Bernard Pawley, once described the Focolare as having “burst forth in the Church like a fountain of living water from the Gospel.”
From 1967 to 1972, she traveled to Istanbul eight times, where she engaged in a deep fraternal dialogue with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras I, with whom she had 24 audiences over the years. This dialogue continued with his successors, DemetriosI and Bartholomew I. Chiara also formed a deep and lasting friendship with Frère Roger Schutz, founder of the ecumenical community of Taizé. Since 1967, she had contacts with the Ecumenical Council of Churches based in Geneva, Switzerland. Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of WCC in 2008, wrote in testimony of Chiara's life: “Chiara Lubich had a profound impact on the ecumenical movement and helped significantly to foster viable relationships between churches of different Christian traditions. (…) Our love for Chiara and immense gratitude for the gift of God she has been to the ecumenical movement will continue to motivate and inspire us in our work for the visible unity of the Church”.
In all of these contacts, Chiara referred her activities to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, where she received full support. She also felt confirmed in this work by all the modern Popes, beginning with Pope John XXIII who had placed Christian unity as one of the first goals for the Second Vatican Council.
On the eve of Pentecost 1998, in St. Peter's Square in Rome, Pope John Paul II held the first large meeting of ecclesial movements and new communities, with the presence of 250,000 people from many nations of the world. In his address, he said: “The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential in the Church’s constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal, and sanctification of God’s People. It is from this providential rediscovery of the Church’s charismatic dimension that, before and after the Council, a remarkable pattern of growth has been established for ecclesial movements and new communities”. And he added: “The Church expects from you mature fruits of communion and commitment. Chiara addressed the Pope with three other founders, Fr. Luigi Giussani (Communion and Liberation), Jean Vanier (L’Arche) and Kiko Argüello (Neocatechumenal Way) and she assured him that she would work for the unity among the movements. From then on, she dedicated herself with a particular passion to increasing the communion among the founders, directors, and members of movements and new communities.
The experience of Catholic movements coming together inspired members of other Christian movements who asked to join them. Since 1999, a network of collaboration among Catholic and Lutheran movements and communities was formed and gradually spread to many other groups and movements in Christian Churches throughout Europe. The result has been an ongoing project of working together called “Together for Europe”. It is ecumenical, but also includes political leaders, and the goal is to contribute toward giving “a new soul to the old continent,” considering the difficult process of integrating eastern and western Europe. The first major event took place in Stuttgart in 2004 with Chiara as one of the main speakers. 9,000 people participated while 163 similar events were held simultaneously in other locations.
The door to interreligious dialogue opened, quite unexpectedly, in London, 1977, when Chiara received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (now simply known as the “Templeton Prize”). In her acceptance speech, she outlined her Christian experience and mentioned that the Focolare Movement also had contacts with Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, since friendships had developed in countries where these religious groups are present. She also quoted some of the great mystics of other religions who exalt love as the essence of all being. The response from religious leaders present was beyond anything she would have expected and for her was a sign that the Movement had to develop its interreligious dialogue.
In 1981, Chiara was invited to Tokyo by Nikkyo Niwano, the founder of Risshō KōseiKai, a lay Buddhist movement, to offer her spiritual experience to 10,000 Buddhists gathered in a prestigious Buddhist temple. It was the first time a Christian woman had spoken there. The impact was great and many of those present said that it helped them to appreciate the basic tenets of Christianity.
In January 1997, she went to Chiang Mai in Thailand, where she had been asked to address 800 Buddhist monks and nuns. Again, she was the first Christian and the first laywoman to address them. Their Great Teacher, Ajahn Thong, explained, “The wise person is neither male nor female. When someone turns on a light in the darkness, one does not ask if the one who lit it was a man or a woman. Chiara is here to give us the light she has experienced”.
In May of that same year, she was invited to the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque in New York, where once again she simply shared her Christian experience with 3,000 Muslims, referencing quotes from Islam that were similar to the Gospel, to which the crowd responded, “God is great!” At the end of the meeting, she made a pact of fraternity with their leader, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed. Three years later, they met again in Washington DC, with 6000 Christians and Muslims to celebrate an event called “Faith Communities Together”. Since then, this initiative has been repeated throughout the United States in many cities, bringing together the two communities for fellowship and common concrete projects.
In Buenos Aires, in April 1998, Chiara met members of the Jewish community of Argentina and Uruguay at the invitation of the B'nai B'rith and other Jewish organizations.
In 2001, she took her first trip to India invited by Kala Acharya, director of the Bharatiya Sanskriti Peetham University in Mumbai, who said, “It is time to break down the walls of separation and discover the garden of the other”. Two prestigious Hindu-Gandhian institution sin Tamil Nadu conferred on her the “Defender of Peace” Award. She returned in 2003 on the invitation of the leader of a vast Hindu movement, the Swadhyaya Movement.
In 2002, among the official testimonies for peace offered by the representatives of the various churches and religions at the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, presided over by Pope John Paul II, Chiara and Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Saint Egidio Community, gave the address on behalf of the Catholic Church. In 2004, at Westminster Central Hall in London, Chiara, speaking to a large audience of people of various religions and cultures, proposed a strategy of fraternal love that could mark a turning point for international relations, “because fraternity is God’s plan for the whole human family”.
In 1978, Chiara inaugurated the Focolare center for dialogue with persons who profess no particular faith, but who follow their conscience and are committed to living and spreading the great common values of humanity. Groups were formed of persons with religious faith and those of other convictions, but who all share the same desire to work for universal brotherhood in the world and to recompose the unity of the human family. On the occasion of their first congress in 1992, Chiara told them: “You are an essential part of the Focolare Movement because the values of solidarity and justice that you promote contribute to the project of unity which is the goal of this Movement”.
Chiara soon realized that the spirituality of unity has something to offer to every profession and area of engagement in society. People began to meet with others in their field of work so that groups formed to increase unity and fraternal love within their profession or area of work. They promote scholarly research to bring the values of love of neighbor and unity to bear on the normal practice of medicine, education, art, sports, ecology, psychology, economics, politics, etc. and also sponsor conferences, training courses and various publications on these topics.
For Chiara, as for Mother Teresa of Calcutta and other persons of great spiritual depth, a biography cannot keep silent about a “hidden” side of their life, a mysterious aspect, but of considerable importance. Since the time of Saint John of the Cross, these have been called “nights” of the soul in the language of mysticism. Chiara said that her life was marked by “luminous peaks of love and the dark depths of pain. A climax came for her when she experienced the “night of God,” the last serious trial at the end of her life, from 2004–2008. It seemed to her that “God had disappeared, like the sun disappearing over the horizon and no longer seen”. It was a personal “night”, but she also saw it projected onto the “night of our age.” Once again, Chiara found the way out of this trial by embracing Jesus on the cross, who in the “darkest possible night” felt abandoned by his Father. She pointed out “signs of the resurrection” in many aspects of her work, particularly in the fields of politics, economics, communication, interreligious and cultural dialogue. She felt that these “resurrections” came from the faithful love for Jesus forsaken amid pain and darkness. This was her last public message, concluding with:
If we walk forward in these ways we can say: ‘My night has no darkness’, but all things shine in the light.
After a long period (from September 2004) in which her health failed, at the beginning of February 2008, Chiara was admitted to the Agostino Gemelli University Hospital in Rome. During her stay, she received a visit from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and a letter from Pope Benedict XVI. On March 13, 2008, since nothing more could be done for her medically, she was discharged and returned to her home in Rocca di Papa where she died peacefully the next day, March 14, at the age of 88. The funeral was celebrated in Rome, on March 18, at the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Thousands of people packed the church and overflowed outside where large screens had been set up to allow them to follow the service. Civic leaders as well as prominent figures from the Catholic Church, many other Christian churches and other religions, attended and offered their testimony to her life. An eminent Thai Buddhist monk, Phara-Maha Thongratana, said: “Now Chiara and her great Ideal are the legacies of the whole of humanity. “News of her funeral was reported internationally. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of the Vatican, read the letter from Pope Benedict XVI, who said among other things:
The continuous link with my venerable predecessors, from the Servant of God, Pius XII, to Blessed John XXIII and the Servants of God, Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II, was concrete testimony that the thought of the Pope was for her a sure guide. Moreover, looking at the initiatives she accomplished, one could even affirm that she had an almost prophetic capacity to perceive and anticipate it.”
On January 27, 2015, the cause for her beatification and canonization was opened with a message from Pope Francis which highlights its motivation: “to make known to the people of God the life and works of one who, by accepting the invitation of the Lord, has turned on a new light for the path to unity in the Church”. November 10, 2019, marked the end of the diocesan phase, with the cause being transferred to the Congregation of the Cause of Saints at the Vatican.
Byzantine Cross, from the Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople, Dimitrios I, in Istanbul, 1984, and Bartholomew I in Istanbul, 1995.
Declared the author of the year 1995 with the UELCI Prize, Chiara Lubich authored 58 books (including bestsellers such as Meditations), translated into 28 languages, with 30 editions, and over 3,200,000 copies. In March 2018, the first volume (Words of Life) was publishedof a series aimed at presenting systematically the heritage of her thought. Coeditors are Città Nuova Editrice and the Chiara Lubich Center, which was founded in 2008 to preserve her rich patrimony of thought and make it available in various formats to a wider public . A selection: