«What did you do when you were my age? What games did you like best?». 10-year-old Luis Francisco from Mexico, now in Loppiano, has these questions in mind as he awaits the arrival of Pope Francis. Together with all the residents of this international Focolare town, Luis has been counting the days to May 10th since early February when the Pope’s secretary first announced this surprise visit to the Christian communities of Nomadelfia and Loppiano, both located in the Tuscan hills. Pope Francis is coming in person to see how life is lived “in the school of the one and only Master”, as he once described Loppiano, the first of 24 Focolare towns around the world. Focolare President, Maria Voce expressed “surprise and profound joy” at the news of this totally unexpected visit.
Loppiano is full of life, its streets illuminated by the happy smiling faces of young people who came in their hundreds to spend the last week of April together. With thousands more, they have just celebrated the all-Italy “Genfest” on May 1st when their joy could not be dampened even by the threat of rain. Now, as the big day approaches, the atmosphere of hopeful anticipation is becoming even more palpable.
Video camera in hand, we walked through Loppiano, speaking to residents as they carry out their daily duties in this countdown period to the papal visit.
Benedetta came to Loppiano for formation in the school of the Focolarine (the consecrated members of Focolare). She is welcoming the Pope’s visit as a personal gift from God as it comes on her own birthday. «No matter how short the visit, I hope he finds a family. That’s what we try to build among us every day».
Since 1966 Loppiano has been home to Gen Rosso, a band inspired by Chiara Lubich’s desire to spread the message of a more just, peaceful and united world through music. The musicians strive to express this spirit in their own lives and not just in their songs, with a lifestyle of communion and fraternity. Michele Sole joined Gen Rosso a few years ago. He is preparing to sing “Sweetest of Mothers” on the steps of the town’s church dedicated to Theotokos, Mother of God. Michele is grateful to the Pope for having «the courage to take the name Francis. I don’t know how easy it was for him to choose a name which means preferential option for the poor and the least». The notes of “Turn on peace” float through the air, as Gen Rosso rehearse nearby with fellow Loppiano-based performers, the distinctively international band Gen Verde.
The artist Ciro, born Roberto Cipollone, has lived in Loppiano since 1977, where he exercises his gift of transforming discarded and waste objects into captivating works of art. This artist breathes new life into trash items. From his workshop emerge sculpture, craftworks and paintings, created in the fusion of an artistic imagination with love for the natural world. Ciro’s perspective on the forthcoming visit: «I hope the Pope may find some of his innermost desires fulfilled here».
Aranza came to Loppiano with her family from Mexico to participate in the “Loreto School” for families of different countries and languages who together deepen their knowledge of the spirituality of unity. The annual courses which run from September to June provide a unique experience of cultural exchange and mutual enrichment. Aranza’s question to the Pope would be: «How can we young people best overcome the conditioning stereotypes the world tries to impose on us?».
Natalia, is a Brazilian student attending Sophia University Institute in Loppiano. She would like to ask the Pope about the role of young married people in the Church.
So many different questions, hopes and wishes, united in such joyful anticipation.