Counseling centres did not yet exist, but many people went to her for advice or a word of comfort. Soon hundreds of families were turning to her. Her idea of a clothing distribution centre was a destination for the poor, or anyone who wanted to draw nearer to the faith. That is how she was remembered by her fellow citizens in the pages of La Nacione the days after her death.
Anna Maria Belli, in Bondielli is considered a benefactor, especially in her own land of Tuscany, paricularly in the city of Massa. But what was behind her generous life that was characterised by giving to so many?
In the 1970s, Ia -as everyone affectionately called her – was already happily married with Andrea Bondielli, a marble industrialist. She shared his religious principles and she was looking forward to a comfortable and happy life. But a visit to the Focolare town in Loppiano, near Florence, marked a major turning point in her life and in that life of her husband. “Among all the things I saw and heard,” she recounts, “I was especially struck by one particular idea, of being at the side of each person, of living in reciprocal love. When I got home I was exited and thought: “If I manage to transmit this to the people around me in my life, it will be chain reaction.”
And that’s what happened. “I didn’t have time to become a depressed houeswife or a desperate mother of children with problems,” she writes, because trying to serve everyone led her to live and be enriched by so many varying experiences. Anna Maria certainly wasn’t able to solve every problem, but at times it was simply enough to listen deeply to others, so that many felt understood. “I burnt many pans, I learned hot to make lunches with lightning speed, to practice the virtue of patience and calm, which are not in my character. But all of this, along with my husband and other people who were attracted to this life, set off that chain reaction that I had foreseen in Loppiano, and now we see that a community has come to life in which the experiences, the efforts and the courage have multiplied; and we’ve even faced many serious situations.”
Far from distant reflections, at seventy two years of age she is able to say that she concretely lived out the words of the Gospel: “that all may be one,” through listening and offering fraternal help to many people, but also by conceiving the idea of a clothing distribution centre for the homeless and the poor.
Her illness lasted for a year and it was an opportunity for Anna Maria to prepare for the encounter with God whom she had tried to love during her whole life. She was always attentive and focused on welcoming her visitors rather than on her ailments. Therefore the testimonies that were given during her funeral said how “in the final days of her life the atmosphere in her room was Divine.”
In a message sent to Focolare members around the world, Maria Voce described the earthly experience of Anna Maria Belli as an example of Gospel life, and the Focolare community in Massa bore witness to this: “Ia bequeathes to us her love for all people, her bright smile, the strength of the Ideal of unity lived out in fidelity.” And the chain reaction continues.