Seventy-two years ago, on July 16, 1949, a pact of unity between Chiara Lubich and Igino Giordani marked the beginning of a period of light that remains as an icon of all that the charism of unity would generate from then on. We asked Anna Pelli, a member of the Abba School Interdisciplinary Center of Studies, who studied the writings of 1949 with Chiara Lubich herself, to accompany us in a reflection on the relationship between that mystical experience of ‘49 and the citadel of Loppiano.
July 16, 1949. Sitting on a red bench beside the stream channel that flows to Tonadico, Chiara asked Foco: “Do you know where we are?” This is how the recount begins of what had just happened to her during the celebration of Mass at the nearby church of the Capuchin Fathers, after having entered into a pact of unity with Foco. She saw herself placed with Foco in the Bosom of the Father and immersed in the mysteries of God. From within that divine space, Chiara perceived and contemplated it to be the eternal Origin from which everything comes to life and which informs everything, even the original form of the Work of Mary (Focolare Movement) that she would see taking form.
“Do you know where we are?” I felt this question re-echoing in me when I came across a writing of Chiara’s dated March 25, 1967. She had written: “I’m in Loppiano. From the city that I dreamed about in God, to the city that has been realized or is being realized in God.” The intense incisiveness of that statement struck me out of nowhere, like a shining arrow that brought into evidence the intimate link between our citadel and the mystical exprience of ’49.
Even the physical appearance of Loppiano – where Chiara was visiting in 1967 – seemed to transfigure before my eyes, transporting me to another place where Loppiano’s ideal is contained and from where it still draws life – that vital space “in God” where it was revealed in a particular way in 1949.
It was in that foundational framework that, over the years, Chiara wrote a historic account of that dream. She was its bearer, after all, and therefore its interpreter and very close to us.
In several foundational texts we see Chiara giving attention to the plan for Loppiano in terms of its dimension as a source of that light: bringing it to birth, giving it form in a proliferation of structures and projects in a long season during which mystical intuitions and a sense of history come together, the question of the city and the word that a mystical vision can give.
We can think of three moments in which this story of light was weaving together the citadel.
The first goes back to that moment in 1965 when Chiara entered into the “the real meaning of a permanent Mariapolis” that was shown to her in a sort of illumination as a place in which God’s plans that had been unfolding in the history of the first ten Mariapolises on the Dolomite Mountains, “merged, materialized, became visible, eternalized”.
So, when we look at the first Mariapolis in 1949, what is the plan that we see unfolding?
Chiara says: “It was a vision a thousand and thousand times flavorful and luminous with that reality that is the kingdom of God in the midst of us, Jesus in our midst. (. . .) We called it Paradise. (. . .) Now, here at Loppiano this Paradise must repeat itself, beginning from today. And you know what Paradise is: Paraidse is burning everything you can see, in order to show what you don’t see. Managing, that is, to erase from your own soul, from your own spirit, the houses, the things, the people, the gilded olive groves that you see, the green hills, the amazing cypress trees, to allow to shine only what you do not see: God”. Making God shine, building up the kingdom of God in our midst. This is the essence of the Mariapolis that emanates from the experience of the original Paradise.
The second moment. Several times visions, dimensions of Paradise ’49 resurfaced in Chiara precisely when she was in contact with the concrete realities of Loppiano. She would be so intimately touched, that they would be able to reveal in a fuller light what they really were: “incarnation[s]” of Heaven in a “new Heaven” “in which everything is made up of the divine” (as Chiara would note in one of the margins of the writings from ‘49’).
This is what happened in November 1975 when she came to visit the Cooperative Loppiano Prima. While looking out the window that opened onto the cultivated countryside, she had the impression of “a vision of Paradise, because,” she explained, “everything was beautiful, everything full of sunlight, everything sunlight, everything! … I seemed to remember that day when I saw the sunlight beneath all things”.
Thus a new perspective was given from that “vision of Paradise,” an impulse of new life. Chiara continues: “It seemed to me that our Volunteers were helping the Creator to better develop Creation. And so we gave them the Litany: Mother of the Creator, pray for us”.
The third moment. We are in May 1987 when Chiara, in a conversation with the focolarini, sums it up like this. Paradise is a light that informs everything: it shapes the mind, encourages the search for the truth that underlies all things, generates a new lifestyle. This is, she observed, what is happening in Loppiano. And this is how a new people is being formed, that new people made to the measure of Paradise, “that one soul which we forged in ’49”. Perhaps I can dare to imagine that this is the mandate that Chiara renews for us again today on this July 16, 2021.
Some members of the Abba School Center of Studies with Chiara Lubich. Anna Pelli is the third from the left in the row behind Chiara.