It is the beginning of the 80s. Elda Pardi is about fifty years old and, after various travels, she returns with her husband to Florence, her hometown. Here Elda is happy because everything speaks of art. Until one day someone gets her involved in a dream, that is, in a dream to collaborate in the birth of a formation school for families in Loppiano.
Elda Pardi, today, has the beauty of her 87 years but she seems much younger. We visited her at one of Loppiano’s Focolares. She welcomed us into a living room with a large window, making us feel immersed in the greenery of the Tuscan fields and cypresses. It is the ideal place to walk on tiptoes as we learned the history of this woman, “a native Tuscan,” elegant and simple at the same time.
Elda met the Focolare Movement through Silvana Veronesi, one of the first companions of Chiara Lubich who, in the 1950s, was staying in the same boarding house of the university in Florence. Elda goes ahead to tell us: «I had a nonreligious formation. In the boarding house, I made friends with whom I thought was the smartest girl. She was from Trent and she was intelligent. Then I realized she went to mass every day! This was a great surprise for me! How could such a clever person need to go to mass every day!”
Thus, Elda reveals her doubts of faith, her criticism of the Church to Silvana who, instead of giving her dogmatic answers, tells her a story. “It was the story of God living among men, among that first group of girls in Trent , the beginnings of the Focolare Movement. It seemed to me that I had found what I wanted to teach, something that could change politics, society … So I told myself that I should hang on to this contact. “
In the midst of those discoveries, Elda after many years, returned to the sacrament of Confession, then she tried to live the Word, the Gospel, to love every person who passed by her as if it were Jesus: «Initially I categorized people, and I lived in a competitive relationship, almost of vengeance, towards men, when I discovered that there was God also in them “.
With this new way of seeing things, Elda began to look at a young engineer who had already expressed his affections towards her. “I had not decided to accept his proposal, because with marriage I saw no possibility of realizing my dreams, which for me was in the work and social fields. Little by little, I saw the good qualities in this young man, and in a nutshell, I got engaged with Alfredo.”
Spiritually, Elda starts a very intense period in her life: “I felt that I no longer needed to conform myself to external models. I had not only found God but I had also found my identity as a woman.”
Alfredo did not share Elda’s same enthusiasm for her faith but he respected her and they decided to get married. Elda wrote all this to Silvana Veronesi, with whom she had remained in contact: “Silvana, among other things, quoted a letter that Chiara Lubich had written to her sister. This letter became a literary piece for the New Families Movement and that I had learned by heart. It said: “Do not divide your heart here on earth. There is only one love, love for God, and you because marriage is His will for you, have to see it above all like this, with one heart … If you only love him a little, then you only love God a little.” That letter became the basis of her relationship with Alfredo.
Thus began a life of travel around Italy, following Alfredo’s job, the family, children, joys and sorrows, contacts with different social environments, where Elda continues to live and to witness to that God among men that she had discovered as a university student. In the ’80s, they returned to Florence, her hometown.
Thanks to the proximity to Loppiano, Elda began indefatigably to visit the Town and discovered: “A presence among the people, in the streets, something that, little by little, made me put aside that God beautifully painted in my city, to immerse myself more and more in this God simply alive and true among men.”
Even Alfredo, sometimes, accompanied her and helped her discover the concrete, social and political value of the experience lived in Loppiano: “How many times did he speak to me enthusiastically about the Loppiano Prima Cooperative! He appreciated the evangelical respect for nature, the organic production of ante-litteram that distinguished it from other cooperatives of the time,”says Elda.
Then,a request is made right from the Town: to participate in the foundation of a family formation school, the “Loreto” School: “At this request, I immediately answered: Here I am!”.
So, the first families began to arrive from various parts of the world but there was no housing or they had to be restored: “Whether one was an engineer or a doctor, everyone rolled up their sleeves and cleaned the bricks for the new apartments.”
This experience brought Elda and Alfredo closer to each other. “We discovered the beauty of our family, of the love that bound us that was like a gift from God. The words that Chiara pronounced at the Loreto School of Families seemed just for us: “Loreto, so that the experience of the family of Nazareth, Jesus among you, will be repeated in you, to give joy to many “. Therefore, unity in the family but for families, for the fraternity of all. Little by little our culture, in contact with people from all over the world, had expanded beyond the boundaries of “Tuscany”, and had become “intercultural.”
These first exciting and constructive years prepared Elda for the experience of the darkest moment of her life: in 1992, Alfredo was diagnosed with an incurable disease that, in a few months, led him to death.
“I felt an immense emptiness, something had broken inside of me, in soul and in body. During his illness we did not talk about death, even though I died a little with him every day, but he lived for me,”says Elda. At this time, Alfredo seemed to prepare her for this detachment. “He tacitly told me:’Do not fall back on yourself, on your pain. I leave you free from the bond of marriage, but use this freedom well.’ I believe that it was, for this reason, I felt the drive to give of myself, body and soul, and move to Loppiano not only for the Loreto School, but for the whole Town.”
From 1996 to 2008, Elda was the liaison between Loppiano and the local administration, and she took care of the dialogue with the institutions, of the urban planning, the tasks that today are entrusted to the operative co-delegate of the Town: “They were all things I had never done before, but that allowed me to follow, almost to accompany Loppiano in most of its evolution: the birth of the Industrial Park, the construction of the Shrine, the development of the schools of formation … ».
Today the school for families has accommodations for 12 families and every year they come from all over the world to live this particular experience.
“For me, it’s like witnessing a miracle every time:” concludes Elda “people who interrupt their work, who maybe sell their car, leave everything and come here. It is as if they were responding to a call from God, to a lay vocation. It is as if God needed whole families to bring fraternity to the world. And for this dream, I would give my life a thousand times over.»