Lia was with Chiara Lubich from the earliest times. In 1958, with another two focolarine, Lia Brunet was the first focolarina to travel outside Europe. In a period of tremendous social conflict in the whole of Latin America, she spent time in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
In her first trip, Lia began building up a network of love that soon planted seeds of spiritual renewal throughout the continent. Never sparing herself, she gave herself to building this network for forty-four years.
Lia was borne in the Cembra Province of Trent, Northern Italy, on Christmas day 1917. When she was eighteen years old, her life was turned upside down by the outbreak of war. Her fiancé left for the front and ‘It was if bombs were being dropped inside me as well as outside,’ she once said, ‘destroying one by one all the things I was keen on.’
In 1945 a friend told her about a group of girls who ‘might interest her’, and this led Lia to meet Chiara Lubich who spoke to her about Clare of Assisi’s radical choice of God. Lia recalled: ‘Eventually I couldn’t tell whether she was speaking about Clare Assisi or about herself even about me. I found her words on my lips: God alone. I too wanted to choose Him as the Ideal of my life.’
At this very moment her fiancé come back from the front. But, as Lia wrote later, ‘even though the break was exceedingly painful,’ she responded with a total ‘yes’ to the call from God.
A few years after that life choice brought Lia to Latin America. Her love and her radical way of living had a tremendous effect. There are now more than 35,000 active members of the Focolare Movement in Latin America. In 1998, when Chiara Lubich was given an honorary degree by the Buenos Aires National University, it was pointed out how great Lia’s contribution had been to spreading the spirituality of unity. It was said: ‘What is taking place is a prophetic and liberating humanism, an ideal that builds bridges between different ways of knowing.’
In a part of the world that has been deeply marked by social problems and consequent revolutions, Lia had a good idea what to propose: ‘Our way is also a revolution, using the most powerful weapon: the Love that Jesus brought to the earth. Our way also speaks of a “new humanity”, the new selves that St Paul talked about, and it speaks too of an “old humanity”, which we try to kill in first place in ourselves. Our way is a project of death and life. It aims to make “all be one.”’
Lia worked in particular to set up and develop the little town of O’Higgins, located in the midst of the Argentine Pampas. The town has since been given her name. It is home to a small piece of society renewed by the gospel, made up of families, focolarini, priests and hundreds of young people who flock there year on year from all over the Americas and Europe. Nearby an industrial zone, called “Solidaridad”, has been established. It is inspired by the Economy of Communion which Lia actively supported. It is impossible not to recall also that she was a leading participant in fruitful interreligious dialogue with Jews and was a promoter in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay of the Political Movement for Unity.
Lia’s time on earth came to a close on 5 February 2005, but it is still living in many hearts that she touched and in two books published by Città Nuova: Giornale di viaggio (Newsreel of a Journey) and Alle radici (Back to the Roots). In these books she shares her extremely rich experience of life and tells of how the Focolare Movement began in Latin America.