March 14 marks the 13th anniversary of the death of Chiara Lubich. We take this opportunity to ask some questions of two people who can help us to know her and how her charism speaks to us today: Lucia Abignente, historian and author of the book Qui c’è il dito di Dio” (Here there is the finger of God), and Donato Falmi, writer and journalist, member of the scientific committee who guided the recent conference Beyond the 1900s – Chiara Lubich in dialogue with our time.
After having seen the film Chiara Lubich, Love Conquers All, many of those who met Chiara during the last part of her life feel like they know her a little more and the disarming simplicity with which she lived the Gospel, which was one of the main characteristics of those early years. It is the same simplicity that shines through the pages of the book Qui c’è il dito di Dio [The Finger of God is Here], which describes her relationship with Archbishop De Ferrari. Lucia, how would you describe the Chiara of the 1940s, and the experience she lived back then that can speak to us today?
You talk about the disarming simplicity of the Gospel life in those first heartbeats of the Focolare Movement. It’s true. I think, however, that we must understand this simplicity well in order not to trivialize it. The film showed the exquisite frankness and the naturalness with which these young women lived the Gospel. On the other hand, embracing the gift of God, they also let the Gospel live them, they let it penetrate their being in the small/big choices of daily life. Their ease with which they constantly referred to the Gospel – which reveals a familiarity that was the result of practice – was shown in the film and conforms to reality. Their proclamation was very fearless, because they were very certain of the truth of the Gospel. This disarming simplicity reveals a solid faith, capable of courage, of going against the tide, of compromising themselves. Let’s not forget that access to Scripture was limited or even forbidden for the laity! Such radicalism and coherence come to the soul of Archbishop de Ferrari to disarm all the accusations that were being made.
The experience of Chiara Lubich and the first group that gathered around her has a lot to say to us today. We remember a speech she gave one day to the focolarinos that was published in the Roman Observer the day after her departure: “A thought keeps returning to my soul: nothing but the Gospel to those who follow you,” which “will remain forever” and “does not suffer the wear and tear of time (see Matthew 24:35). By entrusting them with this, Chiara recalled her initial experience in Trent. She said: “We constantly have to go back to the beginning of the Movement and remember how God offered us the precious key to enter into the Gospel.” She considered this an “essential” commitment, that would “always” be “required” as the starting point for “igniting the life of the Gospel in the whole world”.
The evangelical courage that had led to the birth of the Movement challenges us to respond with new gusto and radicality to the gift (charism) that has been received.
The Beyond the 1900s Conference was recently held with the participation of important speakers who delved into the thought of Chiara Lubich, placing it in dialogue and comparing it with great personalities from the last century. Donato, can you tell us which aspects of Chiara particularly stood out? What path does Chiara Lubich’s charism indicate today to the women and men of the troubled twenty-first century?
The conference, which was awarded a medal from the President of the Italian Republic, tried to interpret Chiara’s thought and experience in the context of the twentieth century in which she lived almost entirely. It tried to relate her figure with other protagonists of the ‘short century’ to grasp convergences and divergences. But above all, it was noted how her historical story is prophetically projected towards the change of epoch into which we have definitely entered.
Twenty speakers took the floor from several fields such as history, philosophy, literature, sociology, economics, and law. I will only name a few for the sake of brevity: Andrea Riccardi, Miguel Angel Moratinos, Massimo Naro, Giulia Paola Di Nicola, Cristiana Freni, Vincenzo Buonomo, Alessandra Smerilli, Adriano Roccucci and Piero Coda.
What emerged from the reports presented at the conference was how much and how original Chiara’s contribution was, both from a religious perspective and a civil perspective. In the ecclesial sphere, her experience radicalizes a living relationship with the Word of God, a relationship that was not at all usual in the Catholic Church at that time. Just as the emphasis on love for one’s neighbor as the privileged way to go to God sounds unusual and against the trend in a Christian environment very focused on individual prayer and devotion and the practice of the sacraments; and this was a consequence of the Council of Trent. Chiara thus projected herself towards a self-understanding of the Church which later would be affirmed in an authoritative and universal way by the Second Vatican Council.
And precisely following in the same direction, the conference drew attention, among other things, to two things that run through the whole Christian culture of the twentieth century: the re-evaluation of the role of the laity and the growing attention to the place of women in the Church. Two issues that put religious culture in strict relationship with the civil culture – to which Chiara gave a decisive and determinant contribution.
And here I turn to consider what has been expressed regarding the social and political dimension. Chiara enters much more than what it could seem into the great themes of international relations and peace. And she does so by providing tools of doctrine and practice that the experts can now enhance and make use of both at the theoretical level and at the political and diplomatic level. The conference intended to reiterate (it could not fail to do so) also the original contribution made by Chiara to doctrine and the action of economic activity, and it was underscored that she did it ‘as a woman and because she was a woman’.
I conclude by underlining that the long-distance dialogue these two days allowed between Chiara and some other major ‘prophetic’ personalities of the twentieth century has touched upon a topic that is crucial still today – God in modernity is a terrible problem. We even continue to brandish him like a flag to unleash and justify violence and conflict. Chiara did it on a global level and in the most diverse socio-cultural and spiritual situations what he truly is: a factor of encounter and unity, a fundamental factor of peace. Indeed, even more: God is the author and the principle of unity and peace. These are some of the key words that Chiara hands on to the third millennium.
As we listen to these last words of Donato Falmi, we cannot fail to have in front of us the historical images of Pope Francis in Iraq with the interreligious meeting in the Plain of Ur, and his great appeal for human brother-and-sisterhood.