Brazil has the fifth most powerful economy in the world. It covers 8.5 million square kilometers, and its nearly 200 million inhabitants, descendants of European and Asian immigration and indigenous peoples, as well as other immigrants from every part of the planet, all speak a single language: Portuguese. It is a country the size of a continent, with varied climatic and geographical conditions, enormous natural resources and a powerful potential for growth. It is a country that is also marked by huge social contrasts, which are growing somewhat less, thanks in part to the efforts of the last governments. It faces the challenges of a young democracy, of a nation that has emerged from military dictatorship less than thirty years ago.
It was here that in 1991, Chiara Lubich, struck by the tremendous social problems, launched the basis for a real revolution in the economic field with the Economy of Communion (EOC), a project now known throughout the world. But the Focolare’s experience in Brazil has not only developed in the area of economics. It has had effects on the whole fabric of society: on education, health, politics, art, human welfare – as witnessed by the experiences of Santa Teresinha and Magnificat in the North East, of Bairro do Carmo e Jardim Margarida in São Paolo – and likewise in a whole range of areas of research. An example of such academic study is the group looking at ‘Law and Faternity’, which began in 2009 in the ‘Center of Juridic Sciences’ in the Federal University of Santa Catarina.
There have been various activities run by the Focolare in all the States of the Federation: from Civitas, the school for political formation in João Pessoa, to the Young People for a United World’s solidarity project and to the families’ weekend in the State of Alagoas; from the youth Olympics in the State of Rio Grande Do Sul, to the Unicidade Project in the Mariapolis Ginetta, which celebrated its fortieth anniversary this year – to name but a few.
But what gives rise to this life? Let’s take a step back in time. It was the year 1958. A ship landed in Recife, carrying three focolarini from Italy: Marco Tecilla, Lia Brunet and Ada Ungaro. They communicated their experiences in schools, universities, parishes, associations, hospitals, families. After a month they were travelling again: Rio de Janeiro, São Paolo, Porto Alegre, and then Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. On returning to Italy, the aeroplane made an emergency stop in Recife because of a serious fault which held them there for four days. They used that time to follow up a whole host of contacts. In this way the community in the North East of Brazil came into being. It was the first of many. With the arrival of other focolarini who came to stay, the first centres of the Movement were opened in 1959 in Recife. A rapid spread of the Ideal of unity began in the larger cities and in the villages, among young people and adults, whites and blacks, rich and poor… and all it happened with a characteristic mark: social harmony. Many social activities came in to being as an effect of a life rooted in the gospel. In 1962 a centre was opened in São Paolo. The publishing house Cidade Nova and the magazine Cidade Nova were founded. Other centres were opened: Belém, 1965; Porto Alegre, 1978. Today there are centres in all most all the 27 capitals of the federal states and in many other cities. In 1965 near Recife the Movement’s first little town of witness in Brazil was founded. It was called Santa Maria, a reference to this people’s love for Mary. Two years later there was established São Paolo’s little town, called at the time Araceli and now renamed Ginetta, after one of the first focolarine who had an immensely important role in the spread and growth of the Movement in Brazil. Following that Belém’s little town, Gloria, was set up and in Porto Alegre there was established the Mariapolis Centre Arnold which has particular a focus on ecumenism, and then Brasília’s little town called Mary Mother of the Light was founded.
Chiara Lubich always showed a great love for Brazil and its people, ‘a people who seem very like those who listened to Jesus: magnificent, magnanimous, good, poor, who give everything: their hearts and their goods.’ Her first visit was in 1961, to Recife. She returned a further five times. She received various forms of public recognition and honorary degrees. In 1998, on her last visit, she inaugurated the Spartaco Business Park, the first of such parks belonging to the EOC in the world. On this occasion, one of the fathers of democratic Brazil, Prof. Franco Montoro, referring to Chiara in a speech given at the State University of São Paolo, recognized in the thought and activity of the Movement – and not only in Brazil – ‘a consistent witness that has drawn behind it millions of people. It has protected human rights during periods of dictatorship and, in the scientific boom, it has demonstrated that we must be guided by ethics. It has promoted love, universal fraternity.’ These are values that today the Movement’s members are committed to living, together with others, in a historic moment that sees Brazil emerge on to the global scene and take a leading role in events such as the World Youth Day 2013 and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.