They are from different continents. They live at the “Visitation,” a farmhouse in Loppiano that houses the Focolare Movement’s Women Volunteer School. Together with the Men Volunteers, they are called to help build a society renewed by the Gospel.
You can find it driving past Tracolle, past the small lake, walking among olive trees and vineyards. It is called “The Visitation,” and it is one of the most beautiful farmhouses in Loppiano. It owes its name to that encounter between two women that Luke, the evangelist, recounts which took place, a couple of millennia ago, near a “mountainous region, in a town of Judah” (Luke 1:39). The episode is well-known and has been depicted by the likes of Giotto, Raphael, Pontormo, and Ghirlandaio. Mary, already pregnant with Jesus, goes to the house of her cousin Elizabeth to help her with household chores, since Elizabeth too, though elderly, was pregnant.
Like Mary and Elizabeth, the inhabitants of the Visitation are also women. They are of different nationalities and ages. You will find an architect, a housewife, a chemical engineer, an accountant, a teacher… Some have lived here for several years or months. Some have arrived within the day to help them. Others have simply dropped by for a visit. On the other hand, it is their home! In fact, since May 31, 1984, this has been the home of the Women Volunteer Formation School. These lay women, single or married, follow the spirituality of the Focolare Movement and are particularly committed to living the Christian revolution in their daily lives, wherever they are: at work, in the family, in society. They are also involved in generating social works, so that God’s plan for humanity – universal brotherhood – may be fulfilled.
Antonella, from Puglia, Italy, along with Maria Mercedes from Colombia and Jackie, from the Philippines, are part of the formation team. Elisabetta and Rosaria, from Tuscany, Italy, collaborate with them, although they do not live here permanently.
“I really didn’t want to come here in the first place,” confides Antonella, 65, who arrived during the pandemic. “I had offered myself to help the volunteers. However, you will understand my hesitation since I had a stationery store in Lecce, and was surrounded by a vibrant community. Many relationships were built with people who passed by the store. So I asked myself: What are you going to do in the countryside? Yet as soon as I arrived, I felt a grace. I felt I was in the right place.”
Many of them, in past years, have had formation experiences at the Visitation. “One came back completely changed,” Elizabeth recalls, “ to see that the Gospel could be lived and that it gave joy! That one could share life with people who were different in culture, profession, social class. It was like drinking from a fountain of Heaven.” And Rosaria added “I used to come to help with what I could do: sewing, gardening, etc. There were volunteers from all continents … and for me, a housewife, it was like opening myself to the world, to other cultures!”
As Maria Mercedes testifies, even today, the experience at the Visitation is no less intense: “I learn a lot from Jackie and Antonella. We are so different. Our life is a continuous formation to welcome each other, to love the other and to accept her as she is. I don’t always succeed. Even those who come here for a time notice that we don’t always agree with each other, that we even get angry. But, then, we apologize, we ask each other how she is, and we start again — like in a family!”
Antonella recounts that from July 2020 to December 2021 during the pandemic time, about 180 people came through the Visitation, and they were not only volunteers. Some people come to rest, others come because they are going through a difficult time, or others want to deepen the vocation of the volunteers. “We feel that the most important thing is that these people experience love, the welcoming of a family. By being here, we volunteers have the opportunity to give Jesus to everyone who passes by. This is our daily life. That’s why it would be great if every volunteer in the world could live this experience of service at least once in their life,” Maria Mercedes dreams.
The women of the Visitation are wonderful. They help us recall the simple, familial love that guided Mary to serve Elizabeth. In the logic of the Gospel, universal brotherhood is built from here.