Focolare Movement » People & Places Official International Website Tue, 04 Aug 2015 16:03:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 I discovered joy in Baobab Mon, 03 Aug 2015 06:00:47 +0000 baobabBaobab is one of many refugees welcoming centers, near the Tiburtina train station. It welcomes some 400 young Eritrean, Somali and Sudanese Christians and Muslims. “There’s a warm, happy chaotic and rather anarchical volunteer service – says S. – everyone goes, sees what is needed, helps, calls friends . . . And it works just fine!

With the consent of the people in charge of the Food Bank of Rome, together with a young woman who coordinates the volunteers from the Baobab Centre, we went to Fiano Romano and packed twenty tons of excellent food (pasta, sugar, canned meats, 600 yogurts, cases of oil, 120 pineapples, 30 cases of fresh fish and nectarines, 100 pieces of parmesan cheese, and much more). By ten o’clock it was already 40°C (104°F)! We got to the centre at around 13:00, where we found at least 500 quite organised and patient Eritrean youngsters, all of them from those notorious boats that we see on the television news.

The temperature was at least 42°C by then. In the span of ten minutes or so, the children formed a queue, and began to unload an overpacked van. Not a single yogurt or drink was taken, and everything was carefully placed in its proper place. Then they all entered the queue for lunch. I was also served a plate, which I was happy to share with them.

The welcome centre does not only focus on assistance, but especially on involving and integrating the refugees. This ensures that the individual dignity of each person will be respected and that each of them is welcomed and accepted. Many of them then contact relatives and friends in other European countries.

The long line of Roman citizens who bring all sorts of help is constant and also quite moving. So much assistance arrives that we often take boxes of supplies to other assistance centres.

As I was there shaking hands and meeting people, the first baby was born to a young refugee woman who had been taken in by the centre. She had just arrived from the hospital, 20 days old. Doctors, nurses, volunteers all gathered around her for a smile, hoping to get a glimpse of her face. It showed how life goes on.

I returned home more tired and sweaty than I ever have before. . . but in my heart and soul there was a unique and quite special joy, such tangible serenity, the true recompense for a small gesture toward those beautiful people whom everyone is calling “refugees”. . .

At the end of the month we’re already planning on taking another load of supplies. Moreover, through a friend whose family runs five supermarkets, we were able to organize regular food pick-ups of products whose expiration dates would soon expire but could be consumed within a few days at the welcome centre. I thank the Eritrean refugees and volunteers at the Baobab Camp for having given me the opportunity to live a truly beautiful and precious moment, which I am sure will happen again in the coming days and in the future. I feel so privileged, and I truly am!” (S.D. Italy)

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Cuba: Redemption of historic memory Thu, 30 Jul 2015 06:00:04 +0000 chiesa“We received the news that Pope Francis will visit our country from September 19th to 22nd with great joy. The Holy Father wants to show us his affinity in a time in which, thanks in part to his mediation, we breathe the air of hope in our national life before the new possibility of dialogue in progress between the United States and Cuba. What he is doing as universal Pastor of the Church is very, very important in the search for reconciliation and peace among all peoples of the earth!” So write the Catholic bishops of Cuba in a message to all Cubans.

While the Caribbean island prepares to receive the first pope from Latin America, we spoke in Avana with José Andrés Sardina Pereira, a Spanish architect with a specialization in sacred art and liturgy, who is also a Cuban culture enthusiast.

“The project we are bringing ahead,” explains Sardina Pereira, “aims to be a contribution of the archbishopric of Santiago to the work started by civil institutions; that is, to seek to have the historic center of Santiago (with the complex of its colonial churches and parts of the surrounding area) included in the UNESCO world heritage list, as are already the historic centers of Avana, Trinidad, Camagüey, and Cienfuegos.”

Having a Cuban father, Sardina Pereira in addition to being an architect is a Cuban history enthusiast. This nation, also known as the “Big Island,” was also, “one of the last Spanish colonies to obtain independence (1898), therefore the process of ‘transculturation’ has been the most prolonged. Studies on the origin of Cuban culture, as opposed to that of Spain, place its solidification in the course of the 18th century, a time in which social, economic and cultural apprehensions, with a certain antagonism in respect to Spanish models and interests, were reawakened, all of which distinguish the island natives (the Creoles) from those arriving from the other side of the Atlantic.” Sardina Pereira clarifies that, “in the ethnic and cultural processes that give origin to the ‘cubanía’ (the essence of being Cuban), the Spanish and the Africans who arrived on the island brought with them cultures that were much more complex than those that are traditionally associated with ‘Spanish’ and ‘African’ concepts.”

“Men and women from different linguistic, social, and religious groups, with different levels of economic development, coming from countries known today as: Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Benin, Nigeria, Congo, and Angola, arrived in Cuba.” Also people from other European countries, from Asia, and from the American continent itself. “Just think of the presence of the French in Cienfuegos or of the coffee fields on the east of the Island.”

It is in this coexistence of a “rich and multi-coloured range of individuals from different geographical locations that the Cuban culture is born, one of the last cultures generated by humanity: audacious, integral, creative, and at the same time open, welcoming and respectful of diversity.”gente

Sardina Pereira stresses how the Gospel message has been key to this genesis, as “this new country was founded thanks to the coexistence of individuals who were very different from each other: whites, coloured, and of mixed race, slaves and free people; many of them united by the love that Jesus came to teach us, a love that goes so far as to lay down one’s life. Just think of the heroism, the consistency, and the love of many fathers of the Cuban nation and of the many men and women who, following their example, generated it with their own lives.” People united by their faith who “travel together on a new ship in the tempestuous sea of history.”

At this point in the conversation, our expert adds another element which he holds to be essential. Cubans are: “A people blessed by an extraordinary encounter with the mother of Jesus.” Such an affirmation alludes to that which tradition remembers as “the finding.” It is said that in the year 1612, three salt seekers (one of mixed race, one black and one white, three ethnicities who were up until that moment in conflict) found a small wooden board that was floating on the sea and upon which was the image of the Madonna with the inscription: “I am the Madonna of Charity.”

“And this encounter with a Mother,” continued the architect with conviction, “is one of the elements which permits the Cuban people to discover true fraternity, which will be converted into an identifying symbol of this nationality. Mother of all, of sailors of every land, colour and creed.”

Sardina Pereira likes to compare this hybridization to a typical dish of the center of the Island, made with a variety of ingredients called “ajiaco.” “In a globalized and ever-more interdependent world,” continues the architect, “many times intolerance of ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity continues to be the primordial cause of grave conflicts. Chiara Lubich, a great personality of the Catholic Church, in her discourse to the United Nations in 1997, affirms that to build a world more united and in peace today, it is necessary to love the homeland of the other as one’s own, and the culture of the other as one’s own.”

Sardina Pereira concludes with a personal confession: “Fulfiling this work I realised how much the knowledge and the diffusion of the Cuban culture can be a contribution to peace in the world, as long as we are able to redeem its historical memory and its deep Christian roots and keep them genuine.”

By Gustavo Clariá

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Nigeria. Yakoko and the gift of rain Wed, 29 Jul 2015 06:00:44 +0000 2In Nigeria, there is great inequality in the development between cities and rural villages where there are almost no infrastructures and no electricity, medical care, roads, etc. Yakoko is one of these villages located closest to the desert, amid mountains – where the Christian and Muslim communities have always lived in great harmony. In the evening after working the fields, the men gather in the square to discuss while sipping an alcoholic drink produced from their Guinea corn.

Some years back, a missionary, Sr. Suor Patricia Finba, had brought to Yakoko the spirituality of the Focolare and Felix, Abubacar, Nicodemus, Loreto, Father Giorge Jogo and others had made it their way of life. Last year they welcomed to their village more than 200 people who had arrived from the various regions of Nigeria, to get to know the Focolare spirit better.

This year a group of youth and adults of Onitsha decided to pass a few days there. After a journey of 24 hours – which was at times dangerous – in over-packed public vans, loaded with bags and packs, they were warmly welcomed by the community into their homes.

«We participated in their lives – Luce recounted – sharing all with them», «and – Cike added – we noticed that the youth were interested not so much in material goods, the clothes and medicine we had brought, but the spiritual ones, our friendship and our life-treasure: the discovery of God who is Love. »

And so they decided to stay with us for a day of meditation, going on an excursion in the mountains which with its arid beauty, is an invitation to meditate. «It was an important event – Imma recounted. In an atmosphere of deep friendship we shared the values we believe in and on which we have based our lives.» And then in the following days, together we brought the material help to those in need, especially the elderly and the children and the many refugees who had come from the northern regions. We visited five villages.5

A Muslim community welcomed them with particular joy. Some of them had already started to live for unity in the world and with them we immediately felt a family atmosphere in which we shared joys and sufferings in that area. The villages, in fact, were undergoing a really difficult time due to the drought, and by tradition they had asked an important person of the village to pray for rain. But the rain did not come, and they had thus decided to kill this person.

«On hearing this decision we were shocked and also started to pray to God to send rain – Luce continued – and in fact, on the third day, He blessed us with a great rainfall! But apart from the rain, we were so happy to have saved a person’s life.»

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Paraguay: our thanks to Pope Francis Mon, 20 Jul 2015 06:00:12 +0000 giovani_paraguayOre aguije Papa Francisco pe, ha peeme avei pe ñembo’ehaguere ore rehe. In the Guaraní language: «Our thanks to Pope Francis and to all of you for your prayers.»

«As we had imagined, overflowing graces have fallen on the entire Paraguay people, ever since His Holiness was here among us,» Nelson Benítes and Margarita Ávalos, heads of the Focolare in Paraguay wrote, after the Pope’s visit to their country. «The children, the sick and the youth were the main protagonists of the visit. Over 80,000 “servidores” (“stewards” – almost all young people) from all over the country worked day and night for three days. But the preparations started at least three months earlier, a concrete fact that gives true hope!»  Nahuel Espinola recounts: «I was a ”servidor” of the Pope – It was simply fantastic! I’m 15 and I don’t know when I shall experience something like this again. I hope that his message will reach all the youth.»

«There was  instant bond with the people,» and some scenes will never be deleted from my mind: the children of the choir of Luque running towards Pope Francis for a group embrace, the thousands of people who filled the streets, his car stopping in front of the women’s jail. «When they found out that the Pope was coming, the children afflicted with cancer in a hospital did not want to be discharged!». Then there was the visit to “Bañado Norte,” one of the poorest districts of the capital, where the Pope visited a sick woman at home. «For that event, she had prepared the “chipa” and “sopa paraguaya,” typical dishes the Popes likes. This was followed by the surprise visit to the parish of Cristo Re, to pay homage to the still intact heart of the martyr and first Paraguayan saint: San Roque González de Santa Cruz.»

In Caacupé, Pope Francis consecrated Paraguay entirely to Mary. Then came the meeting with civil society, one of the most striking moments when he launched a discourse on dialogue, inviting all to dialogue, by losing all in order to understand the other, and “enter” into the other. «Concepts like the humane side of development, giving priority to the person, and not treating the poor like objects, impressed me deeply,» affirmed Julia Dominguez, a member of the Economy of Communion of Paraguay, «From now on, we must not dwell on sentimentalism, but live this daily.» César Romero, active in the association for families added: «In the dynamism and freshness of the programme, I saw a Church that was making a big effort to update itself in its methods and messages.» Silvano Malini, a journalist in Paraguay wrote: «In these three countries of the Latin American “periphery,” Pope Francis decisively stood on the side of the “rejects” of society and victims of injustice and inequality, but in doing so did not “attack” anyone but human miserliness – the only sources of the serious and dramatic problems of this country (corruption, egoism, low-quality democracy).» Malini went on to say: «The Pope’s exhortations fell on soil tilled by the Church in Paraguay, as could be seen in the meeting with the representatives of over 1,500 civil society organizations. Pope Francis, with authority, gave an example of concrete dialogue which is not easy but does help to make small but sure steps towards a common project. »

nu_guazu«At campo Ñu Guasú, a million faithful awaited him. The sun shone on the crowd that had been waiting for 15 hours in the mud, because it had rained over the last few days. But nothing could stop the celebrations.» Esteban Echagüe recounted: «Neither the mud nor the weariness could deter the immense joy we all felt. I was so struck by the Pope’s affirmation that the parishes should really be places of encounter with one’s brethren, and a place of acceptance and fraternity, and if this is not so, we would not be true Christians.»

«After a brief but intense moment with the Paraguay bishops, the Pope “miraculously” regained his strength to resume his pastoral journey! One could feel that he was tired as was natural for a 78 year old! But everyone was convinced that in front of the youth, Francis would be transformed.» In fact, more than 200,000 were waiting for him along the Paraguay River! He asked all to have a free heart and furthermore…, «continue to raise a “ruckus” but an organized one.» Leonor Navaro confided: «The Pope aroused in the youth and in all, the desire to be better… because he saw us the way we should be – and through his eyes the world discovered us as such. From now on we want to reflect ourselves in his eyes!»

Along the way back to the airport, he was moved upon blessing a place which is a really painful symbol for the country: the remains of a commercial center where ten years ago, around 400 people died in a fire. Nelson and Margarita continued: «Through Bishop Adalberto Martínez, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Paraguay, we wrote to the Pope that the Focolare Movement is praying for him. We had sent him a gift of a book on the Guaranì culture and on the development of Economy of Communion in the country. To conclude: «This visit, like that of Pope John Paul 27 years ago, will bring about vital and positive outcomes and spiritual effects also in the civil life of the country. Pope Francis was very clear in his words, but conveyed them with the tenderness of a Father! It is now up to them to make use of these moments of grace, “a before and an after” of the first visit of a Latin American Pope to Paraguay».


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Pope Francis in Bolivia: A multifaceted and inviting harmony. Sat, 11 Jul 2015 14:09:55 +0000 Al II incontro mondiale dei movimenti popolari - (C) Copyright Osservatore Romano

“I’ve discovered how the Pope favors the excluded. In some way it’s also my choice, but by his example I have understood how at times I continue to exclude, or I find myself in a group of people who keep silent in the midst of exclusions or injustices,” says Ana Maria Ceballos, a social worker in Bolivia. An impression that speaks of true conversion towards the excluded, one of the strongest themes of this step of the voyage of Pope Francis in Latin America.

The same for Nestor Ariñez di Cochabamba, who lives in the Casa de los Ninos, a social project animated by the spirituality of unity: “In Palmasola the Pope said: reclusion is not the same as exclusion.” There, in the largest penitentiary in Bolivia, the most striking message was the pope’s “listening first of all, and then his saying that he too is a man who makes mistakes and who must do ‘penance.’ A message of hope for all the detainees.” “The pope’s visit to Bolivia leaves us with much to reflect upon,” he continues. “But I believe that what remains very clear is his preferential option for the poor, the motto of the Church in Latin America given to Puebla in 1979, which reminds us that the gospel brings the good news to everyone, but especially to those who are excluded and rejected by society. I felt that the Pope was speaking directly to us.”

“His words are a call to conversion,” confides Pat, a Bolivian focolarina, after the meeting with priests, religious, and consecrated people. “But it is also much more: the sole fact of his presence in the midst of many ‘rare flowers of every age’ who one day said their yes to God, pushed me towards a greater commitment to sanctity, which then means to live with coherence the choice I made.”

“Even from Bolivia, Pope Francis spoke to the whole world,” writes Lucas Cerviño, now 11 years in Bolivia, instructor in Missiology and intercultural theology. “At the mass in Santa Cruz there were many Latin Americans from nearby countries who listened to his call to not despair before the difficult situations that the world presents to us and that bring us to exclusion.”

At the second meeting of popular movements, Pope Francis–before representatives from various continents who welcomed him with enthusiasm and attention–clearly indicated the way for social renewal, both local and global. “Land, Home, and Work,” continues Cerviño, “are sacred rights which permit us to dialogue with everyone in order to contribute to the common good. Pope Francis clearly highlighted for the members of social and popular movements that the fundamental aspect is the process, the starting of processes, for an economy at the service of peoples, to unite peoples on the way towards peace and justice, and for the defense of the homeland.”

“Finally,” concludes Cerviño, “he left the Bolivian people a clear and beautiful consignment.” “Bolivia is at an historic crossroads: politics, the world of culture, the religions are all part of this beautiful challenge to grow in unity. In this land whose history has been marred by exploitation, greed and so many forms of selfishness and sectarianism, now is the time for integration. And this is a path we have to walk. Today Bolivia is capable, with its wealth, of creating new forms of cultural synthesis. How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralyzing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development! How attractive it is when those cities are full of spaces which connect, relate and favor the recognition of others! Bolivia in its process of integration and its search for unity, is called to be an example of such ‘multifaceted and inviting harmony,’ a harmony which invites along the path of strengthening the greater country.”

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A family in Hong Kong Sat, 11 Jul 2015 06:00:40 +0000

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Pope Francis in Ecuador: evangelize with joy Mon, 06 Jul 2015 06:00:13 +0000 ” I want to be a witness of this joy of the Gospel and bring to you the tenderness and caress of God, our Father, especially to his children most in need, to the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, to those who are victims of this throwaway culture.” Pope Francis spoke from the heart in the video message to his “dear brothers and sisters of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay,” on the eve of the voyage that from July 5th to 13th will bring him to three South American countries, praying “that the announcement of the Gospel can reach to the farthest outskirts and continue to make the values of the Kingdom of God a leaven of the earth in our days as well.”

“Right from the preparations we sensed that this visit would be a providential grace for the people of God in this land,” write Bernadita and Fabián, who are responsible for the Focolare Movement in Ecuador. Inés Loato is on the organizing committee. She remembers with gratitude the path undertaken in just two months of preparation: “it has been a new discovery meeting members of other Movements and church communities, a tremendous richness. We all feel we are truly brothers and sisters.” In this period they sought to “testify to this love as preparation for the grace that we will surely receive.”

Many others were involved as volunteers, thousands throughout the country: “Joy, humility and love are the three consignments that the Church has given us for our volunteer work,” explains Adriana Guallasamin, a young volunteer and coordinator in the formation sector. A mission of “proclamation, door to door, in contact with many people who are far from the Church, but slowly responded to the invitation to help with the logistics.” “I am grateful to God,” she concludes, ” for this unique opportunity to serve the Church.”

What to expect from the pope’s packed schedule, in the first stop in Ecuador
There are the two mid-ocean masses in Guayaquil and Quito, a meeting with the world of education, with representatives of civil society, a visit to the Sisters of Mother Teresa nursing home, a meeting with priests, religious brothers and sisters, seminarians, and the Bishops of the nation. In addition to the greeting for President Correa and the visit to the Cathedral of Quito and the Church of the Company.

In Bolivia ( with the motto, “Renewal and Reconciliation,” awaits –among other appointments–the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements and a visit to the imprisoned in the Center of Reeducation in Palmasola.
In Paraguay ( the visit to a pediatric hospital and the inhabitants of a barrio (neighborhood) in the capital city, Asunción. The voyage concludes with a meeting with young people on the riverfront, Costanera: “messenger of joy and peace,” or as they say in guarani, the official language of Paraguay along with Spanish, to highlight the cultural variety and preciousness : Oguerúva vy’a ha py’aguapy.

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A Bed and Breakfast near Florence Wed, 01 Jul 2015 06:00:54 +0000

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The challenge of moving on together in Latin America: UNIRedes Wed, 24 Jun 2015 06:00:14 +0000 20150624-03In 2013 the Colombian city of Medellín, with its 2.4 million inhabitants, was recognised as the city that achieved the most rapid modernisation process in the world, also due to the developments undertaken over the last years, like for example, the drop in carbon dioxide emissions, creation of cultural areas, and reduced criminality. The Mundo Mejor Foundation operates in Medellin and due to this was chosen as the seat of the 3rd UNIRedes Seminar, that was held from 3 – 7 June. There were representatives of over 30 organisations from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Venezuela and Colombia, with the addition of other 10 countries that participated via streaming.

During this seminar the various social organisations inspired by the spirituality of unity accepted the challenge to strengthen their joint efforts. Anabel Abascal, member of the Coordinating Committee affirmed: “As social associations members of the UNIRedes believe that, in society today, working within a network is the only way in which we can call attention to universal fraternity which is our source of inspiration.”

The discussions of the four-day meeting revolved around the tools available to be able to best respond, with daily work, to the great social challenges. Susana Nuín, of the Episcopal Conference of Latin America (CELAM) illustrated the Regional Church’s viewpoint, by presenting the 4-crossroads for social intervention: care of nature, building of peace, migration and social justice.

An Italian Professor, Giuseppe Milan, expounded on intercultural pedagogy based on the spirituality of Chiara Lubich – a pedagogy that recognises and takes upon itself the sufferings and needs present in social diversity. Milan affirmed: “The principle of education is fraternity, education of universal-men who centre on dialogue to build new societies. The methodology is the art of loving. Accepting all and respecting the different cultures.”

The other themes undertaken were related to the institutional consolidation of the organisations and network management. To this end, Francesco Tortorella of AMU (Action for a United World), explained how the projects are designed, starting from the funding phase up to direct participation of the protagonists.

20150624-02To conclude, the working groups formed a new Coordinating Committee and the various working commissions that will have to pursue the various UNIRedes objectives: develop new communication strategies to intensify communion and diffusion of the various actions, giving visibility to the hope of diffusing the small, but important changes our actions generate in the lives of people; achieve a greater impact in the local public policies; weave new bonds of cooperation between organisations; work in such a way so as to give the beneficiaries of the project an active, leading role; incentivise reciprocity; promote social volunteer work as a strategy to improve the management of organizations and form a new humanity.

The various discourses of the 3rd Seminar can be view via streaming and in the web page Sumá Fraternidad.

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Back from Iraq Tue, 23 Jun 2015 06:00:33 +0000 20150623-01“Iraq is going through its worst period in ten years,” write Gemma and Pierre from the Focolare Movement in Jordan and Iraq, following their short trip to Erbil, Iraq. Their objective was to make the people there feel the closeness of the Focolare community that has been in that region for many years. “Being with them, even though we found them so tried and exhausted, we were struck by how their generosity towards others, and how they continue to believe in in God’s love.”

“Nine months have passed since the villages of the Nineveh Plains were invaded by ISIS. The general situation of the country has worsened with recent developments, that is, the taking of new territories. The people, including our friends, feel a great sense of uncertainty about the future. Many have already fled the country and others are planning to do the same.”

Spiritual closeness no small matter if, at the conclusion of the days together, one person confided: “We’ve lost everything, I wasn’t able to finish my university studies, there are no jobs . . . but finally, I have peace again, and I decided to begin my relationship with God again.”

Pierre and Gemma recount: “During the meeting with the Focolare community there was one very important moment: it was when we openly declared our desire to give our lives for one another, to love each other with the measure of Jesus’s love, so that He could be present among us as He promises. Then we meditated on the link between the Eucharist and Church, using a 1982 talk by Chiara Lubich, The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist. We also met Archbishop Bashar Warda, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, who was pleased by our visit. In concluding he asked us to pray for Iraq like never before.”

20150623-02I have come for you, each one of you is like the whole world to me. . .” said Bishop Salomone Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad, from the Chaldean Catholic Church, who had travelled from Baghdad just to be at our gathering. He exhorted everyone: “Have no fear, carry on in the life of the ideal of unity, because each one of us has a mission to accomplish.”

One person said: “I try live love in concrete ways until [love] becomes reciprocal within the community. In the Eucharist I find the strength to carry on loving.” Then there is the joy of being together. In spite of the situation there is very lively group children and teenagers who held a local edition of the Run4Unity sport relay for peace, with 35 boys and girls. “These were intense days for us,” conclude the two focolarini from Jordan, “a deep and divine experience. They gave much more to us than we were ever able to give to them. Who knows how much life must be coming from this suffering that is being lived in a Christian way.

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