It could be said that 21 February 1966 is the date of the beginning of the Focolare Movement in Portugal. This was the day when two young Brazilian women arrived in Lisbon to open a focolare house. Chiara Lubich herself had wanted it in Lisbon so as to have a place of welcome for the first focolarini who were leaving from or arriving in Europe, because at that time many flights from South America stopped off there. In 1967 the some men arrived in the city as well, opening a second focolare house.
Many people met the spirituality of unity in Portugal in those early years: adults, lay people, religious and priests, but above young people who, attracted by a gospel way of living that was simple and totally committed, threw themselves with enthusiasm into telling others of this new discovery that had given fulfilment to their lives: ‘God is love, God loves us immensely,’ they proclaimed. Urged on by the presence of Jesus among them, with no worry about age-differences, they worked among the poor, organized day meetings and concerts to spread the Ideal of unity. Like this they managed to contribute to building a more united world. And in this way a community like that of the early Christians grew up – where everything was shared by all, spiritual and material goods, sufferings and joys.
On 25 April 1974, with the collapse of Salazar’s dictatorship, the thirteen-year colonial war came to an end. The Movement had expanded greatly: the Mariapolises (typical Focolare meetings over a few days with people from all walks of life) were attended by thousands of people. Similarly the day meetings for young people, both in Lisbon and Porto, were attended by large numbers. The growing number of vocations to the focolare and other kinds of commitment within the Movement were also being consolidated.
Today throughout the country (and its islands) the Movement has more than 2000 members and thousands of sympathizers adhering to its spirituality, ten focolare houses in Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Faro and, at 50 km from Lisbon, the little town of Arco-iris which is the living heart of the Movement in Portugal.
Some of the pioneers of the Focolare in Portugal are no longer on this earth, but their witness has left the perfume of genuine gospel love.
Others have given their lives to God to build unity and universal brotherhood in the world. At this moment there are Portuguese focolarini in Japan, Vietnam, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, USA, Canada, France, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium…
Publishing House: as an instrument to spread the spirituality and to offer the chance for formation in it, in 1973 the publishing house Cidade Nova was founded. It has so far published 83 titles by Chiara Lubich and other authors. In 1976 the magazine Cidade Nova was launched and it now comes out monthly.
In the world of the Church: the Focolare Movement in Portugal is characterized by its participation, both locally and nationally, in activities run by the Roman Catholic Church. It is part of the National Assembly of the Laity and is present in diocesan commissions for the pastoral care of families, of young people and for ecumenism.
Social Commitment: the NGO Acções para um Mundo Unido (Action for a United World, Portugal) supports projects in disadvantaged areas with problems of social cohesion. It has also set up small self-help schemes in Portuguese-speaking African counties and offers study grants to students from these same countries.
Family: the Focolare’s New Families Movement is involved – as it is in many parts of the world – in the ‘Adoption at a Distance’ project. In Portugal there are currently 73 children supported in African, Asia and Latin America.
Economy of Communion: in May 1999 during a visit to Brazil, in response to social and political inequality, Chiara Lubich set up the Economy of Communion. It has spread to Portugal and now 12 businesses freely invest their profits three ways: in aid to the most needy, education to support a ‘culture of giving’ and the further development of the business itself. Some of these businesses are based in the industrial zone ‘Giosi Guella’ established in 2010 in the little town of Arco-iris. The Association for an Economy of Communion and Action for a United World, Portugal, have also promoted academic study of the Economy of Communion by means of conferences, forums and regular meetings of specialists from the economic and social fields.
The little town Arco-iris is to be found in Abrigada, in the municipal area of Alenquer. It began in 1997 and is appreciated by Church and by civil authorities who recognize its possible public benefits. The Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, present at the little town’s inauguration, said his hope was that it should be ‘a fixed point of unity, in communion, to demonstrate that unity among all is possible.’
There are about 50 inhabitants: adults, families, young people, children and a priest who the Cardinal has also made the parish priest of Abrigada. It is in constant development and encourages the growth of the spirituality of unity through practical experience of the gospel lived. A moment of outreach that goes beyond the members of the Focolare and appeals, most especially, to young people is the gathering of youth every 1 May for a day of sharing and celebration. The little town is a privileged space for dialogue with civil society and with people of every conviction and culture.