First as a sailor and then in retirement, Giuseppe Belli for most of his life was not noted for his religiosity. Only at the beginning of the 70s, when he was 61, when he was visiting the Focolare’s international town Loppiano, where he’d been almost forcibly dragged by his daughter, did he have the encounter that changed his life. After that, for ten years he was deeply open to social needs, belonging to the Focolare Movement as a ‘volunteer of God’.
Initially from Piedmont, he moved south in Italy to the Province of Massa Carrara. He was a husband and father, a bit of an old-fashioned gentlemen, but always upright and sincere. Giuseppe recalled his first meeting with the inhabitants of Loppiano like this: ‘Among those young people, who came from various continents, I saw a serenity, a visible love that struck me profoundly within … for me, who had been a sailor and was used to living together aboard ship, I found it amazing because I knew how hard it is just to live together.’
He understood that the ‘secret’ was the Gospel lived out and ‘For my life this meant,’ he said, ‘a change in direction. It was not sufficient to be personally honest, not to steal, not to kill, and so on … I understood that instead I had to be love for others, no one excepted.’
This ‘change in direction’ inspired Giuseppe to share with Chiara Lubich his joy at the opening of a new chapter in his life, and he wrote to her: ‘I have never felt so young and strong. The days suddenly seem extremely intense, rich, so that at the end of each day the joy is immense, even at my advanced age, because I have managed to live not for myself but for others.’
‘You know, father, when you were at home you would hide behind the newspaper and when you weren’t reading it you would moan all the time. Nothing ever went right in your view…’ one of his daughters, proud of how he was different, once said to him. His wife Ines was also profoundly struck and she too started living Focolare spirituality. And when not long after that she fell ill Giuseppe decided to take on all that needed doing in the house – ‘something that once I refused to do because it was beneath my dignity as a man,’ he himself admitted.
When the first symptoms of his own illness began to show, he was taken to hospital and it was the focolarini who broke the news to him of how serious his condition was. ‘Giuseppe listened to everything without showing any sign of fear, with a huge smile and great peace,’ they remember. He took the news with the words: ‘Here I am!’
He lived out his last months using every chance he had to love his neighbour. In that period there was a Mariapolis (a time for a rest, reflection, witness and life together in the light of Focolare spirituality). It took place in Massa Carrara and Giuseppe, even though he was not able to be present in person, booked in and paid the whole cost with the request that it should be offered to someone who would not have been able to afford it.
Right up to the final moments he kept in close touch with his group of volunteers, the focolarini, his family and friends. With great tenderness he promised Ines, who was also seriously ill, that their farewell would only be a short one. He asked his parish priest for the funeral Mass to be a moment of celebration. And to his focolarina daughter he expressed the wish ‘if it isn’t a bother, to be buried in Loppiano.’ And so, having concluded his earthly life on 6 May 1989, he now rests in the cemetery of the international town. His last words sound like his testament: ‘All that remains is the love you have given.’