“Recently, just before the Holy Father visited Loppiano, I was in close contact with five Buddhist monks from Thailand,” says Luigi Butori. Originally from central Italy, Butori has lived in southeast Asia for close to 30 years. “I speak their language, and for the occasion I was their interpreter. It’s been an intense, profound, and demanding experience.
“When they visited the Focolare Movement’s international center for religious near Rome, they were struck by way two religious brothers, who are no longer so young themselves, served them concretely and did everything they could for them. That’s when the monks began to perceive a light, a harmony, or as one of them put it: a unique ‘voice’ within and around them.”
“The monks’ stay continued with a visit to the capital, accompanied by a guide who is a focolarina. The monk’s saw that her eyes ‘had that same smile as the brothers we met earlier.’ Then they spent a day in the city of Lucca, with the Focolare community there – close to 80 people ages 2 to 94. ‘You could see the same light in their faces,’ they said.
“The monks briefly stopped for a few hours in Pisa, where the Leaning Tower is, and there was someone from the local community there. They had the same smile.
“At this point one of the youngest monks exclaimed, ‘This child of Chiara Lubich has the same type of smile that we found in Rome, Castelli and Lucca – how is that possible?’
Then Loppiano. “In that city of 850, where everyone knows and was waiting for Luce Ardente, as the monks’ teacher is known, there was a ‘special harmony,’ as they put it. It was an entire city of smiles! The monks’ hearts opened like flowers in spring, since they are so sensitive to the spiritual atmosphere.
“But the moment of moments came when the pope’s helicopter appeared in the sky. One of the monks, who had never experienced anything similar, was moved inside, as he told me later, and even shed tears, which is quite rare for monks. All the joy and hands waving to Pope Francis overcame any Buddhist restraint, and spontaneous joy shone from their faces and gestures.
“They listened to the songs by Gen Verde and Gen Rosso and nodded, happy with the meaning that they express. I tried to translate the Holy Father’s words, but I noticed that they understood them from within, beyond whatever I told them.
“‘We want to be a sign of unity and peace for the whole world,’ they told me.
“When they personally greeted the pope, they did so with an incredible serenity within. They told him: ‘Holy Father, we are Buddhist monks and we are a part of the Focolare: we studied the spirituality of unity of ‘mamma Chiara’ and want to live it: loving everyone, being first to love, loving right away with joy. We want to live unity as Chiara taught us to, like the rainbow in the sky: different colors, but united. We offer you this Thai fabric, so you can remember us.’
“The pope listened and agreed, smiling.
“Then, beyond what they had planned to say, one of them added, ‘Thank you for everything you said, but especially how you move – it is a sign of love and peace that I will always take with me wherever I go.’
“Later one of them told me: ‘Such an important man moving in such a simple way and sitting on a simple chair is a shock for me. It is not by chance that we met him: it means that we must work together for the good of humanity.’”