They arrived in Loppiano in September 2021. Brazilians from São Paulo, João Francisco and Soraia, were at the top of their professional careers when they made a bold choice with an innovative perspective. Encouraging them in the enterprise were their three children and the experts they consulted.
Take a happily married couple, both brilliant in their studies and at the peak of their professional careers, with three beautiful children. They enjoy well-being and prestige; they are generous and supportive. On September 11, they arrive in Loppiano. What is behind such a choice? Too much stress? Our two protagonists are João Francisco and Soraia Giovàni, Brazilians from São Paulo. Their three children have remained in Brazil, having already left home for university studies in other cities.
“Three reasons brought us to Loppiano,” João Francisco clarifies. “With the pandemic, many friends got sick, some died, and we saw everyone’s life change. In 2020, during the pandemic, we both turned 50 and we asked ourselves what we wanted to do in the second half of our lives.” Soraia continues, “We have always worked with passion and put ourselves at the service of so many families. But there was a need, personally and as a couple, for a deeper relationship with God.”
And what did they do? “We began a process of discernment to figure out what to do,” the couple Giovàni recounts. “First with our children. Because of the pandemic, we lived with them locked in the house for seven months. In the end, they told us: ‘If you devote yourselves more to others, it’s okay.” The discernment then continued with the focolare centers in their city, with friends, with specialists in various disciplines and with business experts. In all of the interviews, a clear direction and scenario emerged: study to become consultants in their specific fields.
João Francisco is a chemical engineer, with a master’s degree in sustainability. He has worked at the top of multinational companies but also specializes in contemporary theology. Soraia is a pedagogue and psychopedagogist, as well as a couple and family therapist; she was the director of a school with 1,300 pupils and, since 2014, had opened a practice as a therapist. They researched where they could continue their studies, looking for courses in universities in Brazil as well as in other countries but found nothing that met their expectations. Finally, they investigated the Sophia University Institute. They explain: “Here we found the novelty of interdisciplinary paths. Moreover, to come to Sophia is to get to the roots of the spirituality of unity, which informs the disciplines taught here and allows us to take classes from professors who collaborated with Chiara Lubich.”
On June 29, 2021, they received Sophia’s answer of acceptance to begin doctoral studies and in two months’ time they had left their jobs, moved house and overcome all the obstacles of Covid. “We arrived in Loppiano with an enormous happiness in our hearts,” they recount with sparkling eyes. Soraia’s doctorate will be in the “Culture of unity with a pedagogical focus and the research will concern education about difficulties in the family in the parent-child relationship,” she says. João Francisco’s doctorate will be in the “Culture of unity with an environmental focus, with the aim of opening” he says, “a new path to sustainability, the relational one, with healthy relationships between people, associations, businesses, and governments.”
They are clear about what path to pursue. “Right now it’s a time to invest in our studies and then go back to work as consultants so that we have more time to devote to others,” they explain. Both doctorates will last four years, but only the first one requires attendance at Sophia. “Then we’ll see,” is their thinking, rooted in the present. In the meantime, they celebrated 25 years of marriage on November 9 and, over Christmas, their three children came to visit. “Loppiano is a city of Mary,” they explain. “You can feel it. Here there is an air of the divine, which coexists with our humanity, with our weaknesses, and here one experiences authentic family relationships.”