Focolare Movement

Families in crisis and the world of separation: how New Families supports

The existence of struggling couples, separated couples and those in new unions is a cry for help in the world. The “New Families Movement”, a branch of the Focolare, endeavours to support these families. There are many couples in difficulty, who due to misunderstandings, lack of dialogue, coldness in their relationship, arrive at the extreme decision: separation. Families in crisis, torn apart, separated, new unions forming. Often problems between couples, small or large, cannot be resolved on their own but need help from the outside. The New Families Movement has been trying to help such families for many years, families who feel “different”, only because they have not had a straightforward path in life. Giulia and Andrea (names have been changed) are proof that despite the imperfections of life you can still be a family. During her adolescence she got to know the Focolare and discovered that the only ideal that is worth living: God-Love. Time passed, her friends got engaged, married, some consecrated themselves to God but for her a secure future has not yet appeared. She graduated, then her parents split up. “I experienced pain for my family that I discovered after almost 30 years, was different from what I imagined. Yet love is possible even after so many years, because I have experienced it in the “Ideal”!” Giulia moved city to pursue her work dream. One night a friend insisted that they go out with other friends for a village festival. So she met Andrea, nice and kind but he is separated and has two children. “No, thanks, was my answer to his calls inviting me out.  I was upset because I didn’t want to and couldn’t have an affair with a separated person. How could I reconcile my life, my being a Christian with someone like him?” Life goes on but her heart was increasingly anxious. “I knew the Church’s teaching on these unions so I went to Mass but decided not to go to communion, since I didn’t feel worthy anymore. I decided to talk to the priest who knows me from childhood. And so we entrusted the situation to Mary”. Time went on. Julia says, “Getting to know him,  I felt that this could be “my way” but this made me suffer, above all the thought of no longer being able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. However, if this is the teaching of the Church, I would respect it and go on. Thus I remain faithful to Sunday Mass, even if without receiving Communion.” In 2016, an invitation came from New Families to participate in a conference in Rome for separated couples in a new union. “Andrea and I adhered to the proposal. On the one hand, I was afraid of the reaction that he might have, on the other hand I felt that this was an opportunity for us. It was three intense days. I saw Andrea involved and very happy. For me it was a sense of feeling at home with the person who is important to me, even if not canonically perfect. Andrea brought home the feeling of being a living part of the Church. Not marginalised due to a finite marriage but a member of a living Body, no longer excluded. I told Andrea that the family I wanted in my life had to be built on the love we had experienced in those days, that measure and dimension and if he agreed with this, then we could get married. Yes, a civil marriage, but the family that would be born had to have that seal: the measure of mutual love that we had discovered”. We were married in September 2017, in the Town Hall. “I thought that my great youthful desire to go into the world came true on the very day of our wedding, where all generations and cultures were represented, where there were people from various backgrounds, believers and non-believers, but all happy, sharing our joy. For years now, we have been part of a group of New Families, where there are couples who live the same situation as us and this gives us the opportunity to express ourselves freely without the fear of being judged. This no longer makes us feel “class B” but fully accepted and recognized as a family. It helps us in our journey as a couple not to close in on ourselves, to keep alive the dialogue between us in sharing with other couples, to cultivate positive relationships and good friendships”.

Lorenzo Russo

Living the Gospel: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples” (Jn 13:35)

Loving others by generating good, going beyond the objective limits that life imposes on us, beyond our prejudices, breaking down barriers to build fraternal bonds. This is the mandate of Jesus’ New Commandment, the hallmark of a Christian: reciprocity in love. Two pancakes We are two Christian newlyweds, and we don’t have much. Not long ago we learned that a girl from Burundi, who was also poor, had planted a tree and was harvesting its fruit to help the hungry. It had never occurred to us that we could do anything for the destitute: our family’s income barely covers our outgoings each month, so we were always waiting for the day when we would have something “superfluous” to give. But that girl’s example was moving; it encouraged us to set aside the proceeds from the sale of two pancakes a day, since we run a small shop in our neighbourhood. Now at the end of each month we always have a small fund for others, and although it is a small thing, this act of love helps us act more carefully as well. Someone who learned about our experience remarked that this gesture is like the widow’s offering from the Gospels. Yes, it is, and we are very happy about it. J. O., Kenya A floral tribute In our village there are few pharmacies. I did not like to go to the one closest to home, because the pharmacist was grumpy and always seemed angry. Since I was not the only one who had this negative impression, I decided not to go to that pharmacy anymore. But one Sunday at Mass, listening to the priest talk about loving our enemies, the pharmacist came to mind. Knowing her name, I took advantage of her feast day to bring her flowers. With that simple gesture, she was moved, revealing an unusual friendliness. For me it confirmed of the words of St. John of the Cross: “Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.” It’s an evangelical law that applies to every situation. After those flowers to the pharmacist, whatever difficult situation arises, I put that saint’s motto into practice, and it’s sure to have an effect. Even my children now know that to overcome difficulties in relationships it takes more love, and it is good to tell each other about these small or big daily victories. K., Serbia With open arms My husband is Catholic, I am Evangelical. We have learned to accept each other in our diversity. When our daughter was baptized in the Catholic Church, the Lutheran pastor was also present. Ever since then a friendship was born between the two pastors that has led to several initiatives: common prayers, peace rallies, a service for visiting the sick… I am responsible for ecumenical activities in my parish council, and out of love for the Catholic parish I also devote time to raising funds for Caritas. Since the opening of a reception centre for political refugees (mostly Muslims from Tunisia, Libya, Romania, Bosnia and Kosovo), collaboration between Catholic, Evangelical and Orthodox Christians has intensified. A couple of Romanian friends who left for their country temporarily entrusted their daughter to us, and in addition we “adopted” a Muslim family in need. Making others’ needs our own is a real asset to our family. Edith, Germany

Edited by Maria Grazia Berretta

From “Il Vangelo del Giorno”, Città Nuova, Year VIII, No. 2, May–June 2022.

Chiara Lubich: experiencing the presence of Jesus in the midst

In this text, Chiara Lubich tells how the pact of mutual love with her first companions led them to experience the presence of Jesus in their midst. We too can have the same experience on condition that mutual love is the foundation. “On one occasion, … I was asked how we understood for the first time that Jesus was present in the midst of two or more united in his name. To answer this question in complete faithfulness to the Holy Spirit, I began by describing what came before that in our history. It was when, for example, we might have been killed by the bombings at any time and we, first focolarine, asked ourselves if there was a will of God that was especially pleasing to him so that we could live it at least during the last days of our life. I spoke of how Jesus’ new commandment was the answer – the commandment of mutual love, based on the measure of the love of Jesus, who gave his life for us. I spoke about the pact that followed: “I am ready to die for you,” “I am ready to die for you,” but then, of course, I explained at length what happened afterwards. Do you remember? We felt that our life had taken a qualitative leap forward, as if a net had lifted us higher; and for the first time, we experienced a peace we had never felt before. This is what we said and what we always say. We experienced a light that gave full meaning to all that concerned us. We had a new and steadfast will in the place of our own which was often so inconsistent in keeping resolutions. We felt a fresh, rare, effervescent joy, and a new, very lively, ardour and zeal… I explained how we had wondered, in those moments, what might have been the cause of all this. And how we understood that, in that moment, Jesus had come into our midst spiritually because we were united in his name, that is, in his love. Our peace, light, ardour, and joy, and so on, were signs of this. In fact, when he is present, there are all these effects; otherwise, there’s no point in fooling ourselves, he is not present. Therefore, I concluded, we understood that he was in our midst when we were able to experience his presence. In fact, believing in his presence isn’t only a matter of faith, believing because he said so. No, if Jesus is among us, we feel that he is present. We can experience this. This is what is so beautiful and great about this particular presence of his, to which we are called.”

Chiara Lubich

(Chiara Lubich, Conversazioni, Città Nuova, 2019, pp. 580/1)

Second competition – “One City is not enough”

Second competition – “One City is not enough”

The prizes and some commendations for the Schools Competition, held for the second time, have been awarded. This year over 3,000 students from 144 classes took part. On Thursday, 19th May, the award ceremony for the Italian National Competition “One city is not enough, Chiara Lubich Citizen of the world” was held for the second time. The Competition was organized by the Chiara Lubich Centre in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Education, the Historical Museum Foundation of Trent and the Focolare’s New Humanity Movement.

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Some classes from various parts of Italy were present in the auditorium of the international headquarters of the Focolare Movement for the occasion. They were also able to visit the Chiara Lubich Centre and the house where Chiara lived. Other schools were connected by videoconference, for example, Class 3A of the “Aldeno Mattarello” school in Trent, which followed the ceremony from the City Hall together with the Mayor, Dr. Franco Ianeselli, who said, “I remember what Chiara Lubich asked of the city of Trent: to be and to become ever more, an ardent city. It means being a city that is passionate about thinking of others. Thanks to the many social actions that our young people do, I can say that they are ardent. As a City, we have included in our statute the desire to be a city that is open, that welcomes cultures and is dedicated to collaboration. We know how important this is, especially at this time of war. We are all aware that this aspiration, this mission, must exist in the institutions but it must become part of the life of each one of our citizens. So thank you very much again for this fantastic project.”

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This year, the Competition attracted numerous views on social media and reached about three thousand students! There were 314 entries from individuals, small groups and whole classes, from almost all the regions of Italy. The Competition involved 14 Primary Schools with a total of 33 classes (68 entries), 28 Junior Schools with a total of 49 classes (102 entries), 39 Senior Schools with a total of 62 classes (144 entries). Alba Sgariglia, co-responsible for the Chiara Lubich Centre commented, “In all of these entries, the objective of the Competition seems to have been achieved: to make known the person of Chiara Lubich, her commitment and her witness for the construction of peace, fraternity and unity among peoples. We greatly appreciated the variety of expressions used by the students: games, drawings, comics, short texts written with reflections and personal experiences, interviews, diaries, newspaper articles, songs, poems, PowerPoints, videos. Each one expressed commitment, imagination, and enthusiasm. It was really hard to choose. So we would also like to give tribute to all the entries that have not received an award but that deserve to be mentioned! To those who could not be present here today, we invite you to come to Rocca di Papa to visit the places where Chiara Lubich lived and the Centre dedicated to her”.

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The Ministry of Education approved the project this year too, making it possible to invite entries from all primary and secondary schools. Dr. Roberto Frisone and Dr. Francesca Di Giugno, who attended the awards ceremony on behalf of the Ministry, explained, “The Ministry supports and promotes a range of competitions for Italian students and schools. Why did we decide to support this competition? We honestly did not know Chiara Lubich and we were intrigued, we were struck by the fact that she spoke in a secular way of values that are common to all and that we could talk about it to schools and students with the clarity with which Chiara spoke to the world. Hers is a positive message to give to schools, and that is why we shared it.” The first prize for the Primary School Section went to Class 5A of the SS. Sacramento Parity School in Vermicino. They devised a board game with the name “Lightness Darkness”. Lara from Class 5A explained, “Our teacher told us a lot about this project because it helps us develop. She allows us to participate in various competitions and this attracted us because it’s about love for others. We started with the film, ‘Chiara Lubich, love conquers everything’.  It made a big impression on us. So, thinking about the well-known game of the “Goose”, we invented a game that we called, “Lightness Darkness”: the light part represents the light that overcomes the darkness in such a way that we are always happy. There are several boxes with phrases that help us to stimulate love and friendship: ‘try to give a hug to a person who is sick’ or ‘love your enemy’”. The first prize for the Junior School Section went to the “Giosuè Carducci” school in San Cataldo (Caltanissetta) for the multimedia project entitled “A world without poverty”. The first prize for the Senior School Section went to the classical state high school “A.D’Oria” in Genoa, for the multimedia work “Koinonia, which portrays a company inspired by the values of the Economy of Communion. All the entries will shortly be available on the website www.centrochiaralubich.org

Lorenzo Russo

Action for a fragile planet: a network for the environment

Action for a fragile planet: a network for the environment

The culmination of a whole year’s activity for the planet, the “A Network for the Environment” event in May 2022, welcomed a hall full of students, together with other colleagues linked online around the world. Over 500 youth filled the splendid Aula Magna of Rome’s ‘Sapienza’ University on Friday 13 May 2022, to celebrate the conclusion of this academic year’s (2021-22) action for the “A Network to Protect the Environment” project. 10 institutes of higher education in the Lazio region of Italy sent representatives, with many other students from different parts of Italy and the world participating online, to review the fruits of their combined efforts. Throughout the year no less than 8,000 students from 89 schools in Italy and 12 other countries, accessed formation in energy saving. They were invited to sign a pact and 200 actions of personal energy saving were recorded. These actions were sponsored by relatives (at 0.10 cents per action), through the DPSAR App, raising money for several solidarity projects in areas of poverty and environmental damage due to climate change. A planetary perspective prompted by simple daily life. We spoke to project coordinator Andrea Conte, a specialist in Astrophysics and teacher of Mathematics and Physics at the Liceo Classico of Pescara, Italy. What do you mean by a “network” for the environment? This program of formation in environmental protection was first developed in Rome in 2008 by educationalist Elena Pace, a member of the Nuove Vie per un Mondo Unito (New Ways for a United World) Association. The original name of the project was “Giving to Protect the Environment” The introduction of the word “network” came about in 2019 and helped take the project to the next level. Each individual class continues to organize activities but is no longer on its own. Each pupil, with their classmates and the support of their family members, continues to act in favour of the Earth, but is now part of a network of many schools doing the same thing. We began by linking up schools within Italy and this network is already spreading beyond. Has radical change been brought about by any of these actions? The natural creativity of the students makes itself felt. One school in Rome, Italy, for example, decided to completely exclude the use of plastic bottles. But they opted for a scientific method to achieve this goal by inventing a form of “plasticometer” to weigh all the single-use plastic in the school. And every time someone discarded an empty plastic bottle, they made a commitment to use a re-usable water bottle or flask in future. Almost immediately they noticed a reduction in the weight of plastic waste, and in a remarkably short time it was reduced to zero. A real revolution. Why do you think interest in ecology is growing amongst today’s youth? Ecology is not something new. Climate change has been talked about for decades. But today’s youth are feeling the effects of a society in continual evolution and are noticing the need to act decisively. As well as continual bad news about the worsening situation, there is also increased awareness, as seen in projects run by local administrations, by individual citizens, by schools etc. Through this, our sense of citizenship grows, the desire to be well-informed and active in helping our own planet to become a healthier place. What is your main message to students today? I am lucky enough to teach a subject I am passionate about and in which I believe. This is truly a great gift. When I was at high school, there weren’t the same resourses available as now, and I’m happy to be able to introduce them to my students. I myself only began to realise the challenges our planet is suffering when I was in university studying astronomy and astrophysics. When you’re detached from the earth’s surface and turn your gaze to the universe out there, it’s then you contemplate the fragility of the Earth. So I always make this comparison to my students, telling them it’s when we detach ourselves from ourselves and turn towards the others that we truly realise how much each of us has to give, each one in our diversity.

Maria Grazia Berretta