Aitor is a diocesan priest focolarino who arrived in Loppiano two and a half years ago from Spain. He lives in the rectory at Saint Vito’s parish with two other priests, an Italian and a Portuguese. He is studying Trinitarian Ontology at Sophia University Institute and writing a doctoral thesis on the common life of the diocesan clergy, in theory and in practice…
Aitor de la Morena comes from El Molar, some 40 kilometers away from Madrid, Spain. It is “the largest diocese in Spain with 1000 priests,” he remarks with a bit of pride. Aitor has been visiting Loppiano since 2010 for summer meetings, courses, and a year at the Vinea Mea Priest School. Then came the decision to stay on for a doctorate in Trinitarian Ontology at Sophia University with Piero Coda. “It’s on the common life of the diocesan clergy,” he jokingly adds “as my friends say, here in Loppiano we do the theory and the practice at the same time!”
Aitor reports that he got to know the Focolare spirituality when he was still in the seminary in Madrid. “I had already noticed some signs that seemed to tell me that God was calling me to know more. For example, when Chiara Lubich left for Heaven, I felt like a friend had died. Strange? Yes.” Also, while navigating on the web, Aitor searched Focolare and felt a certain resonance in his soul, but something inside him resisted. “I could see that it was made for me, but I rebelled: I don’t want a movement. I didn’t have any understanding of the experience of movements and founders. . . all those things.”
Then, one day, while he was still in seminary, he was given charge of organizing a day of prayer for vocations, which would involve different groups from the diocese. At the last minute, the seminarian who was supposed to follow up with the focolarini called to say that he would not be able to get there on time: “So, I had to see to it myself. I welcomed the focolare from Madrid and also other communities. And I began to see how Someone with a capital S had made things happen the way they had: I was supposed to be the one welcoming them but felt far more welcomed by them!” Listening to the voice that he felt encouraging him to know the Focolare more, Aitor began to attend Focolare gatherings. “I became a Gens (young members of the Movement who are preparing for the priesthood). Now Aitor is a diocesan priest focolarino, newly ordained and asked to continue his life as a diocesan priest in a priest focolare, living the common life with other priests like him.
After several years as the director of a minor seminary, two and a half years ago, he asked his bishop if he could come to Loppiano, to attend the Vinea Mea Priest School and do a doctorate. “The Church is more and more advising the common life for diocesan priests. It is for our own ‘survival’ and to avoid solitude. But for me it’s not merely that. . .” And here we pass from theory to practice. Aitor lives in a focolare at the rectory of Saint Vito’s parish with the pastor, Italian Giampietro Baldo, and Portuguese Joseantonio Magalhaes. “Our life together is very beautiful. It flows with the naturalness of a family. There aren’t any great cultural differences among us, not with food, not with mentality. We don’t have to overcome those cultural challenges that many people experience here at Loppiano. There could be the problem of our ages – I’m 36, Giampietro is 69, and José is 58 – but we don’t seem to feel the age difference. Each of us gives himself as a gift to the others, which includes his age and experience. The spiritual masters say that the common life is either a paradise or it is a hell. Because either you live the Gospel or you immediately realize that you’re not living it. However, beyond that, spiritual help, sharing and seeing things together also helps.”
At the supper table José shares about his studies, Giampietro about his services for the parish and pastoral care of families for the diocese. Aitor shares about his efforts with the students at the university residence for priests and seminarians which is located on the first floor of the rectory at Saint Vito’s. “It’s a matter of making yours whatever concerns the other: ‘everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine’ (John 17:10). Not only the material things, but our life. As we look to the future we should focus more and more on the common life among diocesan priests and not be afraid to ask it of our bishops. Giampietro had always done that. So, it is possible! But we need to be a little braver, to put our comfort aside and insist with the bishop and make him understand that it’s important.”
What Aitor, Giampietro and José are doing is not merely living together, but being a focolare. What is a diocesan priest focolarino?
Aitor explains: “The answer can be found in a letter preserved at Vinea Mea which was written by Chiara Lubich in 1986. In that text she explains that when Jesus Forsaken looks at us, He should be able to say: There’s my vineyard! Each one of us is called to be a living Jesus Forsaken. This is our calling. This means to die to oneself, to be able lose God in us for God in our neighbor so that we can give God to our neighbors. But we aren’t the ones to give Him, it’s He himself who gives himself. So, it’s a Marian lifestyle, non-clerical, ever at the service, standing back, if you will. And, as a member of a focolare, keeping the flame of Jesus in Our Midst alive.”
A demanding program.
For our last question we ask Aitor what Loppiano is for him, someone who has been visiting this place since he was a young seminarian. . . He answers: “Coming to Loppiano for two weeks it’s all light, all Heaven. Coming for a school of formation and staying for one year is like staying on a roller coaster; staying here for a year allows you to see things with more serenity and realism, seeing the human and the Divine side of this Mariapolis. I feel like I’m active in building it, a participant in making a Mariapolis, I feel co-responsible for Loppiano. I feel like I can give what I have to offer because I have it within me, it comes out naturally. . . And each gives of his or her own. For me, it means to contribute to creating this spirit of a family that is never a given.”