A long life-experience isn’t always necessary for leaving a mark on the world. The life of John J. Zwartjes was very brief. Yet only five years were enough for him to leave behind a trail of extraordinary love, a “comet’s life” in which this normal and simple boy drew many people to God and to the spirituality of the Focolare.
John was born in San Antonio, Texas, USA, on 27 October 1986. “He was a happy child,” his parents recall, “always wearing a smile.” He was born into a family that adhered to the charism of Chiara Lubich and John soon began to live it together with the Gen 4 who are the child members of the Focolare. During one Mariapolis (an annual Focolare event) John ran over to a couple of little boys who were starting a brawl: “We don’t do that here!” Another time a woman left the hall where the adults were meeting because of her disbelief: loving was not for her. Passing by the area where the boys were at play she noticed one boy with a big smile, looking after the other children in a very brotherly way. That boy was John!
When he was four years old strong headaches revealed some horrible news: John had a tumour! Although they felt distraught, his parents explained to John that he could also show his love for Jesus by offering his difficulties to Him. From then on, John was always repeating: “This fever is for You; taking my blood pressure is for You,” and so on.
Among the many people who were very struck by the way he acted there was one elderly woman who was quite frightened at the thought of starting her chemotherapy. “I asked John what chemotherapy was like,” she recalls. He spoke to me a bit and then added: ‘Don’t be frightened, it’s not so bad!’ He gave me such great hope; John had genuine compassion for others!”
During that period the Gen 4 in San Antonio kept a small notebook in which they recorded their daily acts of love, and John was also part of the competition. He was so enthusiastic that whenever he saw someone else do an act of love, he would exclaim: “Dad, Mom, they did an act of love!”
The illness was advancing and the doctors weren’t holding out much hope. His parents decided to take John home. On that day he exclaimed: “I’m big enough to receive Holy Communion!” The parish priest gave his consent and on the day of the ceremony a letter also arrived from Chiara Lubich: “I’m with you today, as you receive Jesus. I’m certain that He’s very happy to come into your heart.”
All the way to the end John never stopped doing acts of love and preparing for Heaven. One day he made a list of his toys and things: “The puppets for Elizabeth, the Batman trophy for Adam, and give the rest of my things to the children who don’t have things!”
On the 2nd of December John was quite tired and nearly asleep when he made up a song that he continued to sing in a very feeble voice: “Holy Spirit, would you hold my hand? Oh, Holy Spirit. . . Oh Jesus, would you?”
The next day, with his parents and brothers gathered around him, John left peacefully for Heaven. Even though he was only five years old, he still continues to produce abundant fruits. One man, for example, told the Zwartjeses that John’s story made him realize how closed he was in himself, and how he began to imitate John by being open to others.
Read more about his amazing story in the book “John of the Smiles”: