The fourth of eight children in the Folonari family, Vincenzo was a lively boy. The day of his First Holy Communion marked an important step in his relationship with Jesus. One evening at table, Vincenzo asked his brothers and sisters: “At what age would you like to die?” “Me? When I’m young . . . “Me, when I’m one hundred. . . “. And Vincenzo: “Me, when I’m thirty-three, like Jesus.”
A few years later, during the summer of 1951, Vincenzo and two of his sisters finished school and went to the mountains for holiday. During the same period Chiara Lubich was in Tonadico on the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy. It had become a custom among the adherents of the nascent Focolare Movement to meet in the mountains of Trent. Their gathering was later named Mariapolis. The young Folonari, who had already known the Movement in Brescia, their city of birth, obtained their parents’ permission to spend their holiday close to San Martino di Castrozza. They never missed an opportunity to make frequent visits to Tonadico. The first evening, returning by bus, Vincenzo was overwhelmed with happiness: “Beautiful, beautiful!” he continued to repeat. It was as if he had found something that deeply satisfied him, the ideal to live for.
A few months later, Vincenzo moved to Rome to enrol at university; he immediately made contact with the focolare. On the vigil of Pentecost he went on foot to the shrine of Our Lady of the Divine Love to ask for some external sign which would help him to understand his vocation. The next day, when he met Chiara, he recalled the words of Jesus: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you!”. From then on everyone called him Eletto (Chosen One).
In a letter to Chiara, Eletto wrote: “I’ve chosen God forever, and Him alone! Nothing else!” He shared with her that he would like to give all the wealth he had inherited, to the Focolare Movement: “I don’t have a single right to own these things, because I received them gratis.”
Speaking with his sister Camilla, who had the girls entrusted to her, he would often say: “But can you imagine what would happen if this Ideal of unity were to take hold of teenagers, of all the youth. . . what would ever come of it!”
The twelfth of June 1964 was a Sunday. One of those boys named Gabriele was with Eletto who invited him to take a little excursion with him. They went to Lake Bracciano for a boat ride. Approximately two-hundred metres from the shoreline Eletto – who was a sportsman and a swimmer – fell into the water holding on to the boat with his hands. “It’s very cold,” he said to Gabriele, and then he became pale. The water in the lake was stirred up and became rough and a wave detached him from the boat, which was quickly carried away by a sudden change in the current. “Now I could just barely see his face appearing from the waves,” Gabriele recounts, “and he shouted to me: ‘I’m heading towards the shore. . . I’m heading towards the shore.’ Then he turned. I saw him for a few seconds more. He had a radiant smile on his face.” Then he disappeared, swallowed by the lake.
On the 19th of July Chiara wrote: “Eletto was so good, so humble that he belonged more to God than to us. And, perhaps for this reason, God has taken him to Himself. Now he’s with Jesus whom he loved, with Mary and with all those who are dear to us in Heaven. And from the latest that we’ve heard, he has become the first.”
His death dismayed not only adults, but also the children and teenagers whom he cared for. “It was also a trial for them,” Chiara wrote, “a tremendous trial, and an irremediable one. Let’s hope that something is born from this suffering for them, in the heart of the Movement, for the glory of God, something that will make the Church more beautiful. It’s the only thing that Eletto would have wanted.”
A few years later, the Gen Movement began, which now involves millions of youths, teenagers, and children from around the world.