“Our story,” recounts Lucia, “began 42 years ago when we decided to share life journey. But the more we got together, the more we saw that we didn’t think alike, especially when it came to religion: I had faith, he didn’t. At first I didn’t worry about it. I didn’t think it would influence our future together. Instead, we had the first clash came when I became pregnant. We had to decide whether or not to continue the pregnancy.”
“I was too young,” continues Tonino, “to think about becoming a father and husband. I was still a student, I had many plans for the future, and now I found myself having to make a decision that would change my life! I grudgingly accepted Lucia’s determination to continue the pregnancy and to marry with a civil ceremony. The pregnancy went well, but as soon as the child was born, I once again felt crushed by the enormous responsibility to the point that I just ran away from everything and everyone.”
“Suddenly I found myself all alone – even though my parents never abandoned me – with a little girl to raise. The following years were marked by suffering, especially when he asked for a separation.”
“I wanted to live my life,” Tonino confirms. “I obtained the separation and then the divorce. I was free again. But many times I found myself thinking of them, and this is how I began to retrace my steps. I returned to courting my ex-wife again and to visit my daughter. We soon felt the need of a house for us to live in, the need for intimacy, to rebuild the family. I also accepted to celebrate the new marriage in church.”
“At that stage, those years of anguish were a thing of the past,” recalled Lucia. “We were living a new life and also our second child, Valentina, was born. It was very peaceful phase of our life due to the fact our economic situation had become more stable and also due to my gradual acceptance of living with someone who was different from me.
After a few years, the Focolare Movement suddenly entered into our family and turned everything around! Invited by a teacher, Valentina came to know the Gen3, the children of the Focolare. It was the beginning of a different path, first for her and then for us.”
“Taking Valentina to the Gen4 meetings was my job,” says Tonino. When I went to pick her up, she was always very happy and, as soon as she got into the car, she would ask forgiveness for being late (she always made me wait at least a half hour) and then begin to tell me about the beautiful evening. Contaminate by her enthusiasm and by the festive welcome that everyone in the Movement always had for me – even though I had no religious reference – I have also become a part of this family. Initially I joined the group for the “friends of dialogue”, comprised of persons with diverse convictions.”
“A while later – curious that a Catholic movement had accepted my husband the unbeliever – I also began to attend. And as my knowledge of the Focolare’s spirituality grew deeper, many of my questions found answers.
We have done some road together: many barriers have been knocked down. I’ve learned to listen, without fear of losing myself, to give space and listening, both inwardly and outwardly, so as to accept and understand others.”
“Our diversity – not only religious – “stresses Tonino, “has not in fact impeded the course of our life together. Valentina’s decision to become a focolarina, didn’t find me unprepared, since I have come to share so much with her. The relationship between us was minimally affected; on the contrary, it was strengthened, unlike for Lucia who, at least at first, didn’t accept it so well.”
“It wasn’t so easy for me to accept Valentina’s decision at first,’’ Lucia admits. “I would have liked her to have had other experiences first: a boyfriend, for example, a job; in order to compare the two choices and be able to make a more serene decision. But she felt strongly that this was her path. She’s already been in a focolare for eight years and more convinced than ever. I’m glad I went along with her decision. Even though she’s consecrated to God, she’s never neglected her relationship with all the family.”
“I thank Chiara Lubich and the entire community that I belong to,” Tonino concludes, “because you have given me and all those who share my same idea, the opportunity of strengthening this desire for unity through following a path based on the basic values of brotherhood and love for neighbour.”
Compiled by the international Centre for Dialogue Among Persons of Non-Religious Convictions