The last visitors left a few days ago. A coach of young people from Oporto, the second city of Portugal, accompanied by their bishop, was among them. They came to Sassello, a province of Savona in Italy, to visit the place Chiara Luce Badano had lived and to get to know how she lived the Gospel in everyday life.
Since her beatification in September 2010, the town where the eighteen year-old was born and grew up, has become more and more a place of convergence for young people from all over Europe and beyond. Monday 6 August saw another, quite particular, proof of a fame that is spreading far and wide and of a holiness with universal appeal, because 65 bishops and cardinals from all over the world came to the town of 1900 inhabitants on the border between the Italian regions of Liguria and Piedmont.
Of course, these bishops are friends of the Focolare Movement and live the same spirituality as Chiara Luce. But as they point out to Maria Teresa and Ruggero (Chiara Luce’s parents), Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti (Focolare President and Co-President), from the outset the beatified young woman’s influence has spread beyond the Focolare Movement.
‘Now lots of young people from all over the world are coming,’ Chiara Luce’s mother confirmed. ‘There is one coach after another. Large numbers of boys and girls who don’t believe come to our home and look and listen and when they come out of Chiara’s bedroom they make the sign of the cross, as if taking away a gift from my daughter.’ The bishops, in small groups, also went into the room where she had suffered and died. They saw her king-size bed transformed into an altar by the pain she offered and into a pulpit by her example of suffering transformed into joy.
Monday was the feast of the Transfiguration and Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, until recently in charge of the Pontifical Council for the Family, presided over the Eucharistic celebration at the conclusion of the day at Sassello. He pointed out an aspect of Chiara Luce’s holiness ‘precisely in her capacity to show that life conquers death, showing the transfiguration of the human person.’ Shortly before she died, indeed, she said to her mother, ‘Please be happy, because I am happy.’
Such a large number of bishops all in one go have never been seen before in the town, and the mayor, Paolo Badano (the surname is common there) found himself filled with admiration and pride. He expressed his gratitude to Chiara Luce and, after reading out a message of greeting from Claudio Burlando, the Regional President, he called her ‘the smiling saint.’
The bishops went to the tomb ‘to ask Chiara Luce’s intercession and protection for the path to holiness along the way of the spirituality of unity opened up by Chiara Lubich,’ as Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop Emeritus of Prague, emphasized.
One moment of the entire day seemed to be the climax, both for its meaning and for its symbolism. A brief moment with the Badanos in their garden had been arranged for the large group of bishops. The skies were darkened by clouds and a slight wind was rising. The couple were concerned. The bishops carried on and asked their questions: what kind of young people come here? Does Chiara Luce only have an effect on young people? How do you become a saint? Chiara Luce’s parents drew from their daughter’s wisdom, telling the bishops about things she did or said. It was, as it were, 45 minutes of catechesis by this attractive eighteen year-old girl: almost a foretaste of what she would like to do on earth in the future. In the end a warm sun shone down from the heavens.
‘The Church has now a very contemporary example of what it means to live the Gospel and Christian love,’ commented Archbishop Francis Xavier Kreingsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok. ‘But we have seen the nature of a Christian family that walks in faith during trials, suffering and death.’ Archbishop Francisco Pérez González of Pamplona in Spain agreed: ‘’Jesus has shown himself to the young and uninstructed. I saw it yet again in Chiara Luce and I have reflected on the humility displayed by her parents.’
‘We may be in front of another two saints, seeing the simplicity and wisdom of the Badanos,’ said the Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. ‘Chiara Luce shows us a fulfilled life that teaches the joy found in accepting the unforeseeable plan of God. By choosing love she hit upon the heart of Christianity. Her greatness comes from having remained a normal girl. We need people like her. Young people who don’t go to church find in her an example of normality that takes them to God and then leads them to the Church.’
Before the bishops arrived, Maria Voce had visited Chiara Luce’s room for the first time and had stayed for thirty minutes with her parents. ‘I feel she’s like a sister because of the charism of unity linking us,’ she confided to Maria Teresa and Ruggero. ‘A younger sister because she is a child of the Focolare Movement I am President of and an older sister because, running like an Olympic athlete, she has gone before me in holiness.’
From our correspondent Paolo Lòriga.