The lifeblood of the house flows between
· Chiara Lubich and her friends ·
“We shall never be able to evaluate the help that our brothers and sisters give us, even if we do not realize it. What courage their faith and what warmth their love imbue in us, how their example attracts us!”.
Chiara Lubich (1920-2008), the author of these lines, is known throughout the world as the woman who attracted hundreds of thousands of people to follow Christ – because she was animated by a powerful charism of the Holy Spirit; she who spoke to the crowds and wove relationships with Buddhists and Muslims was followed by people with no religious convictions and restored a breath of life to politics and to the economy – on a reduced but real scale.
How can we evaluate the help she received from numerous brothers and sisters? On the scales balancing the contributions of every kind which made Silvia Lubich quite simply “Chiara”, her friendship with her first companions is of no small weight.
It all began with an intimate personal choice, the choice of God, and with her consecration to God in virginity in Trent in 1943, during the Second World War. Very soon, however, it was not an “I” but a collective subject which moved, acted, understood, prayed and loved: Chiara and her first companions.
They were called Giosi, Natalia, Valeria, Palmira and Silvana. They could have become just ordinary people; instead they were beacons on the five continents, fishers of men and women 2,000 years after Peter. And all this was because of their unfailing friendship with Chiara Lubich.
This story has something incredible about it and yet it is very simple. We understand it if we open chapter 13 of John’s Gospel and read: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).
This commandment was only practicable together, no one can experience it in solitude. When, in the bomb shelters, they heard this passage they exchanged looks of profound intensity, while they pondered on the commitment requested of them by the words: “as I have loved you”. They did not hesitate to declare to each other “I am ready to love you to the point of laying down my life for you”. It was a pact that each one sealed with the others. It was the determination to sweep away the roots of any form of envy or rivalry that so easily exist between women. Chiara considered this the fundamental event from which everything flowed, the beginning of a new lifestyle, the foundation, the cornerstone on which the edifice of the Focolari Movement was to stand.
This is not of course something unheard of in the history of the Church: Augustine, Benedict and Francis all inserted brotherly love into their Rules. But perhaps there was something new here.
Chiara had a talent for communication, it was impossible for her not to circulate everything among them. She therefore passed on to her companions the way that she deeply loved all that was living and all that the Spirit breathed into to her. Thus on the basis of the pact lived in what was sometimes heroic fidelity, this group of friends walked on together. They were of one soul.
Can one speak of friendship? Were they friends or sisters? There was a bond between them as solid as rock and I would like to illustrate with two examples the quality of this unique friendship which endorsed and liberated potentials and which sustained and developed the person, as well as building a work of God.
It was 1954. Since they had met in Trent about 10 years had passed among achievements, illuminations, love, joy and sometimes tears. Giosi, Graziella, Natalia, Vittoria (known as Aletta), Marilen, Bruna and Giulia (known as Eli) lived with Chiara in Rome.
One day, while Chiara stopped to look at them one by one, a sentence from the Book of Proverbs sprang to her mind: “Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven pillars” (Prov 9:1). She saw seven young women, each one with her own talent, with a brilliance of her own, united to each other and rooted in God. These were the seven pillars of wisdom on which to build her house, here were the seven colours of the rainbow that flowed from a single light, love. They were the seven aspects of love, interdependent on one another, flowing one from the other and into the other.
To Giosi Chiara entrusted the management of the communion of goods and of salaries, as well as the care of the poor. She was the communion of the saints in heaven, the communion of goods on earth: the red colour of love in the rainbow.
To Graziella she entrusted “testimony and dissemination”, orange. Graziella was to bring this spirit to the most varied milieus, without ever forgetting that the apostolate begins with “being able to give one’s life for reciprocal love”.
Natalia, known as Anzolon, “angiolone” [big angel] had been Chiara’s first companion: she was to personify the heart of this ideal, the cry of Jesus abandoned, to be loved in order to live as people who know how to give love by simply being. She was to bring this secret to the movement’s members and beyond the Iron Certain. She was the spirituality and the life of prayer, the yellow of the rainbow.
Aletta was to be remembered as the one who instilled in the movement’s members the commitment to take care of their physical, mental and spiritual health, to be able to form a community united in love and peace: she did so in the Middle East in time of war. To her Chiara entrusted nature and physical life, green.
Marilen lived for 15 years in a forest in Cameroon in the midst of a tribe which practised its traditional religion and bore witness to an unconditional respect for their culture. To her Chiara entrusted the colour blue: harmony and the house.
Bruna was an intellectual and Chiara saw her as the one who must develop the aspect of studies as a dowry of wisdom: indigo. Eli, who was always beside Chiara, taking care that all the members in the world lived in unison as one body, was entrusted with the aspect of “unity and the means of communication”, violet.
Let us then remember her other companions who were subsequently to have particular tasks or who were to travel to the five continents: they were Dori, Ginetta, Gis, Valeria, Lia, Silvana and Palmira.
Almost 20 years later, when the movement was firmly rooted in many nations thanks to the work of Chiara’s first female companions and – we must not forget it – of her first male companions, Chiara herself wished to explain the relationship which bound her to her companions in the intimacy of her house, of her hearth or “family fireside”:
“Philadelphia (brotherly love) is more than a reality at my hearth. It is here that I find the strength to face the crosses of every day, after direct union with Jesus. Here each is concerned with the other, according to need. Here one goes from wisdom communicated spontaneously [...] to practical advice about health, clothing, the house, food, continuous, everyday help, with sacrifices which often go unnoticed. Here, in short, you are convinced that you will never be judged by your brother or sister but loved, forgiven and helped. Here even the most minimal betrayal is unthinkable. Here flows the lifeblood of the house, but it is from heaven [...].
Then when I want to check whether an inspiration is mine, whether a conversation I must have with anyone or an article is to be corrected at one point or at another, I read it to them, asking only for freedom of judgement. They give it and I hear the voice of Jesus amplified within me which tells me: “Here it is good, here start a new paragraph, here it is too long, here explain better”. I reread the text with them and to the joy of all we find it to be as we want it”.
Thus it is not surprising that, as her testament, Chiara left this sentence to her followers, simple but pregnant with long experience and savoir-faire: “Always be a family”.
St. Peter’s Square
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