In 2000, they arrived in Loppiano from Uruguay and from here they were to proceed to the permanent Mariapolis in Africa. But in the Florentine hills they understood that it was not necessary to go elsewhere. Three daughters were born here and their family has become a stable presence and a point of reference for many.
These two are incredible! When the first feelings of love blossomed between Juan Pablo and Leticia, what followed? Leticia left Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, to attend the Gen School in Loppiano, Italy, and then she continued her formation in the spirituality of unity at the Gen World Center in Rome. This was in 1993. And Juan Pablo? He encouraged her to go because of the strong experience he had had in 1987 when, for two years, he had gone to the little city of O’Higgins in Argentina. Then, in 1990, he spent a year in the little city of Montet, Switzerland. “They were profound and important experiences,” he said. “We got to know the charism and the Movement, as well as Chiara’s first companions. We both grew in our relationships with God.”
When Leticia returned to Montevideo, she was eager to understand God’s plan for her life. They both desired to have God – that Love – in the first place in their lives. In the meantime, with some gen, Juan Pablo began a carpentry business as a master craftsman of wood. A period of discernment, together with other adults, followed, and Leticia and Juan Pablo became engaged. In 1997 they married and a year later Maria Clara was born. The baby lived for only one week a heart wrenching pain, but both Leticia and Juan Pablo persevered in believing in God’s love.
Now that they were family, they felt compelled to help other couples. In 1999 they spent four months at the School for Families in Loppiano, returning to Uruguay enriched. Feeling both blessed and grateful, they had everything needed to put down roots and bear fruit in their own land, but the new light they had received beckoned them. Chiara Lubich’s words to the Gen, the young people of the Movement, about their commitment on behalf of Africa, kept returning to mind. Juan Pablo remembers being on a hill overlooking the Swiss abbey of Einsiedeln; it was from there that Chiara too had looked down upon that same monastery, envisioning that one day a little city would come to life, a little city – with chimneys and factories. “That word, ‘chimneys,’ was imprinted in my mind,” he says. So, the prospect of Africa plus their willingness to contribute to the development of a little city came to the fore. Trying to discern God’s plan for them, they remained open to signs, to the Word and to the words spoken to them. Before leaving for Africa, they took one piece of advice: Stop in Loppiano.
It was June 2000 when they arrived. “We didn’t care how long we would stay or even whether we were to go elsewhere,” they explain. “For sure we wanted to go to the poorer countries and not stay in Europe. But above all, it was essential to understand what God wanted from us at that moment. And we were told that the walls there were already built, but that perhaps we could give a different kind of contribution.”
Over the years, three daughters were born. Both Juan Pablo and Leticia worked at Azur Legno, he making prototypes of new products while Leticia – a painter and graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Montevideo – drawing and painting the handcrafted creations. When Azur Legno closed, both their work and some confidence as well disappeared. Reflecting on this difficult period searching for work outside the little city, they confide slowly, with weighted words: “We are as demanding with ourselves as we are with others. We have been hurt and we have hurt others because our culture pushed us to always say what we thought, out of honesty.”
Then, looking at each other with their eyes sparkling: “We wouldn’t take away anything from what we’ve experienced. We want to continue to be living stones in the little city, with families and with everyone. We have been given a hundredfold by God. We are in love with Him and we are happy to follow Chiara. It’s a story of love that continues.”