The Focolare Movement rejoices with Chiara Amirante and the New Horizons Community she founded, at Pope Francis’ surprise visit to their ‘Sky Citadel’ (‘Cittadella Cielo’) near Frosinone, Italy.
“If I start answering your questions, it will be words, words, words… which I think would risk spoiling the sacredness of what you have just said. Because what you’ve spoken are not words but lives, your own lives. Your stories. Your journeys. Quests, yes, but quests of the whole person, flesh and spirit together”.
This was Pope Francis’ spontaneous response to five young members of the New Horizons Community who had presented their own powerful testimonies of suffering and rebirth during the Pope’s private visit to the Community’s centre in Frosinone province, Italy on 24 September. “Each of your stories speaks of a ‘glance’, a ‘look’,” continued the Pope. “At a certain moment, you felt a glance, unlike any other: a look gazing on you with love. I too know that glance. With that glance, Someone takes you by the hand and lets you go, without taking away your freedom”.
The Pope arrived in the ‘Sky Citadel’ at 9.30 in the morning to an emotional and joyful welcome. It is the headquarters of New Horizons, which offers a Gospel-based approach to healing and self-knowledge that has succeeded in allowing many young people to escape from the infernal tunnel of suffering and dependency and in their own turn become witnesses of hope for other troubled youth. This “fruitful witness” was highlighted by the Pope in his talk. “Your witnessing is sowing, and what you are sowing is not an idea but fact: the fact that God is love, that God loves us, that God is always seeking us out every moment, that God is close to us, that God takes us by the hand to save us. (…) We are women and men of the Magnificat, of Mary’s song, proclaiming how God has looked upon me, has gently touched me, has spoken to me, has won. And He is with me. He has taken me by the hand and brought me out of hell”.
The Pope spent time greeting Community members and Centre leaders from Italy and abroad who were gathering for their annual central Assembly. He celebrated Mass with them, shared lunch and planted an olive tree in the garden. There were representatives from all five ‘citadels’ of the New Horizons Community, founded by Chiara Amirante. Chiara got to know the Focolare spirituality as a child, and knew Focolare foundress Chiara Lubich personally. As a young person, Chiara Amirante was struck by the sufferings of the young people she met on the streets and listened to their cries for help to escape from the hell of all they were living through. In response, she felt called to create a community which could welcome them. And New Horizons Community was born.
This recent visit by the Pope follows his telephone call and video message in June this year to congratulate the community on its 25 years of life.
In her welcome to Pope Francis, Chiara recalled the beginnings of her adventure, when, in contact with ‘people of the night’, she was guided by the certainty that encountering “the Risen Christ would bring life once more to where I could only see death”. In 1994 the first community was formed in Trigoria, Rome. In 1997 a community offering welcome and formation was established in Piglio, Frosinone province, Italy. Today there are 228 centres of reception, formation and re-integration, and many initiatives promoting solidarity, human and social development in different countries. In 2006 Chiara launched “Knights of the Light” (“Cavalieri della Luce”) for people who commit to living the Gospel to renew the world with the revolution of love, and in particular to witness the joy of the Risen Christ to the most desperate in our societies. So far, more than 700,000 have accepted this challenge. As Chiara explained to Pope Francis, “There are new forms of poverty which constitute a real emergency, causing millions of ‘invisible’ deaths ignored by the majority” … the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs, anorexia, bulimia, depression, compulsive gaming and gambling, internet-addiction, bullying, sexual addiction and abuses. “Now more than ever,” concluded Chiara, “we feel the urgent need to do everything possible to respond to the unanswered cry of so many”.
Anna Lisa Innocenti