July 12, 2021 is the 57th anniversary of Vincenzo Folonari who donated the land on which Loppiano stands. Michele Zanzucchi, journalist and instructor at Sophia University, remembers him.
«Folonari was that famous wine family from Brescia, extremely wealthy, and relatives of Pope Paul VI. They owned a lot of properties around Italy and were familiar with the Focolare through their eldest daughter, Giulia, who would soon follow Chiara Lubich to Rome», Zanzucchi explains. We met at “Sophia” in Loppiano, where he teaches Communications. The weather is quite warm, just as it was on July 12, 1964 when Vincenzo, the young son of the Folonari family, lost his life by diving into the waters of Lake Bracciano.
Vincenzo was the owner of the land on which Sophia University Institute now stands. He donated it to the nascent Movement when he entered the focolare community as a consecrated member, drawn “by that state of consecration that was assumed without any external changes in work or in dress, and by the spirit in which that consecration was lived out in a harmony of simplicity, innocence and modernness”, as Igino Giordani explalined in Vincenzo’s first biography. He was a rich young man who had decided to become poor. . . «Vincenzo was not a person whom you would have called attached to material things. He was very free and very pastoral in the apostolate» says Michele. At that time Vincenzo (called Eletto) had been entrusted with the young boys in the Movement, the popetti, a Trentinian term for children, like popette in English. Michele was one of them: «I recall that we would go from the focolare house on Mariano Dionigi Way in Rome, where we held our meetings that were 99% play, to the ditch near Castel Sant’Angelo where there were grand football matches and wall-climbing in the garden. Eletto was particulary gifted with children, always coming up with new games. We loved him like crazy, he was a beautiful human being».
But let’s go back to Loppiano.
Michele explains: «There was this property in Loppiano that was waiting to be inherited by Vincenzo. Father Foresi, whom Chiara Lubich considered to be a co-founder of the Focolare along with Giordani, wanted to take a look at it before selling it off to help pay for several projects, the first of which was the setting up of the Roman Mariapolis in Castelli Romani». It seemed that there was already a potential buyer, a businessman who was interested in creating a training center for race horses.
«[Foresi] came with my father and saw how beautiful the place was and how the agricultural properties were good. There was the large villa which had once hosted the Italian writer and essayist Giovanni Papini. There were 3 plots of land: the one around Campogiallo, the one around the villa, and the one in the middle. Eventually they came to the conclusion that this site would be a good place to build the School of Formation for Focolarinos, along with some other things. So we decided to keep it . . . it was 1963».
The adventure of building the citadel began in October 1964. Eletto was no longer around, because on July 12th of that year he had drowned in the cold waters of Lake Bracciano. “He fell into the waters never to resurface. [. . .] He was 33 years old when he died” writes Giordani his biography of Vincenzo. Giordani also recalls the letter written by the young man on the day before his total consecration to God in the community of the focolarinos: “I chose God forever, only God and nothing, nothing else! [. . .] My soul has gone back to being a child, emptied of everything, disposed only to love with gentleness and with perfection. I’ve left behind all my possessions once and for all. (I had no right to own them, because I had recevied them freely, and it was God, God alone, who was able to gradually get me to this point…“
 From Vincenzo Folonari, by Igino Giordani, 1965, Città Nuova Editrice