“I remember our first meeting in the ‘70s with the then Cardinal Wojtyla when we went to introduce ourselves to him. The Focolare movement was just beginning in Poland. I was struck by his humanity, his capacity to listen, his respect for each person; we were immediately put at ease. He listened to us with great interest, rapt in deep silence. We intuited that he was struck by the greatness of the charism at the base of the Movement.
He encouraged us to go ahead: “You have the grace to bring ahead the Movement, the charism was given to you; you do not need to be guided by a priest. We could ruin everything. Act, live and then let me know how you’re getting on…” To fully understand the significance of these words we must bear in mind that in Poland at the time everything was led by the institutional Church, there was always a priest at the head of every Christian group. And this trust was never lacking. He accompanied us with great esteem, respect and love.”
Our last meeting with him, in September 1978, shortly before his election to the Pontificate, is still vivid in my memory. He came to visit us late one evening, just after a meeting we had had in a convent with some families. Poland was still under communist regime and we were forced to move with great caution and secret. The Cardinal was visibly tired but he wanted to be among us. He was struck by the atmosphere and by the experiences that some couples told. At a certain point he said, “You have put the human person with all his dignity at the centre. Your charism is deep rooted in the Gospel. The Holy Spirit’s work here is tangible…”
Before his election to Pontificate, Karol Wojtyla only knew Chiara through her writings. As soon as he became Pope he wanted to meet her. I was visiting Rome in that period and I received a phone call from the Pope’s secretary Stanislaw Dziwisc who I knew very well. He told me that the Holy Father wanted to invite Chiara and I to his mass the next day at 7.
Chiara, Eli Folonari and I left very early in the morning. As you can imagine we were very excited. When we arrived we saw that the platforms for the Conclave were still in place and so we had to take a longer path to get to the Pope’s apartment. That mass in the Pope’s private chapel is still vivid in my soul. There was such a special atmosphere of recollection, a presence of God. Along with the Pope, don Stanislaw and the three of us there were only 2 or 3 Polish sisters.
After Mass the Holy Father greeted Chiara. I still remember with what high regard and great love he addressed her. He asked if he could have a map showing the different places where the Movement was present: “So that I can know where to lean on!” he said. It was the beginning of a special friendship, of an ever stronger unity between two people called on by God to do great works, two people to whom God gave two gifts for the Church and for all of humanity”.
By Anna Fratta