“My name is Paula. I have cystic fibrosis and therefore have to take many bitter medicines that I don’t like. But I offer everything to Jesus and take them willingly. I always have to inhale a ‘smoke’ that has a bad smell, but then I remember that you teach us to do acts of love and I breathe it in with love.”
These words are taken from the first letter that Paula wrote to Chiara Lubich when she was six years old. In this letter she described to Chiara the difficulties of living with the grave illness that had been limiting her since she was very young and, at the same time, her determination to live as a true Gen4, “a child who follows Jesus”.
She came from the city of Frutal in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. She met the Focolare Movement through her mother and decided to join. She was deeply affected by the illness from the earliest years of life, but the spirituality of unity helped Paulinha to set her life on a very precise course. “Chiara, I want to love the whole world like you do,” she wrote in another letter to Lubich.
Though the illness forced her to be hospitalized so often, outside the hospital she seemed like a very average child. Smiling and lively, she was also called to go against the current. One day she said: “I was joking with my friends and I began to be devilish and to talk like them, but then I remembered the other Gen and I began again to love.” Up until the last months of her life she continued with her studies.
In 2005, the illness suddenly worsened. Paula was aware of it and it frightened her. She continued to repeat: “I don’t want to die. I want to live!” It was a time of trial for her that was further compounded by the crisis in her parent’s marriage. On these occasions Paulinha would take the blame for the situation. If she had not been so ill, would the family have been more united?
The answer came to her when she attended a national gathering of teenagers who live the Ideal of unity, the Gen3. Here she heard explained the “Via Mariae” (Way of Mary), Mary’s path from the Annunciation to her Assumption into Heaven, Our Lady’s path as she followed Jesus. Stage after stage, Paulinha realized that she was also being called to follow Mary’s way: to continually say yes to God. Her relationship with Chiara deepened and Paulinha lived the worsening of Chiara’s health in parallel with her own illness. She was sustained by the sentence from the Holy Scriptures that Chiara had assigned to her just a few years before: “The Lord is at my side” (Jer. 10:11). Chiara explained it saying, “You’ll be able to be mindful ever day of the presence of Jesus who loves you and guides your steps.”
“I understand Chiara. I’m also having the experience of not being able to breathe without an oxygen tank. And so, I can offer everything for her!” After seventeen years of giving her life, Paulinha went to Heaven on 23 July 2008, only a few months after the Focolare foundress who died on 14 March 2008. Her funeral was one great feast which she had prepared well in advance (choosing the dress she would wear and the songs). It was quite striking to all who attended. One person recalls: “We see in a completely new way how simple the lives of the Saints are!”
In witness to the trail of light that was left behind by Paula Fuad Bichara, we recall one idea of Frutal’s Mayor, in the city where Paulinha was born, that a fully-equipped play area be built for children and teenagers in one of the most degraded quarters of the city. When it came time to name this small plaza, they chose the name Paulhina. Still today, the Young for Unity visit this small quarter every month to brighten it with their projects and their love.