Chiara Lubich and Father Oreste Benzi. Surprises of the Spirit

The diocesan phase of the causes for the beatification of Chiara Lubich and Father Oreste Benzi, respectively founders of a Movement and a new ecclesial Community, was concluded during the month of November 2019.

Many new ecclesial communities, inspired by charisms, were born during the 1968 turmoil, a twentieth century revolutionary phenomenon that affected countries on various latitudes. Founded by lay people, they touched the lives of youth, spontaneously lay down their foundations and spread in society. Even these ecclesial communities stimulated a revolution, an evangelical one, the prayer to the Holy Spirit invoked by the Fathers who participated in the Ecumenical Vatican Council II, which ended in 1965.

At the dawn of the twentieth century there were already some new charismatic realities germinating in the Church. Towards the middle of the century, twenty years before the Council, the Focolare Movement was born. The inspiration that brought with it innovations was given to a young lay woman from Trent, Chiara Lubich, born in 1920. The Second World War raged furiously when this young woman of bountiful faith, realized her dream and gave herself to God on December 7, 1943. The preferential love for the poor, the community life sustained by a collective spirituality based on the Word of God, proved to be the place where the charism of unity incarnated and soon spread to the world.

Father Oreste Benzi was born in 1927 in San Clemente, a small village near Rimini. He was ordained priest at the age of 24 and dedicated himself to adolescents. The leitmotif of his life was “a friendly meeting with Christ”. He spent the summer months with adolescents at Casa Madonna delle Vette at Canazei, and the Pope John XXIII Community was born there in 1968. It embraced a constant commitment to love the poorest of the poor in close relationship with Christ because: “only those who know how to be on their knees can stand alongside the poor”. He carried out works considered to be unrealizable: from the daily sharing with the poor and the oppressed to the fight against human trafficking.

Chiara and Father Benzi were two different people: a woman and a man, a layman and a priest, a woman from a mountainous area and a man from a place near the sea, but they were both founders of works generated by a charism, a light that became part of history. They founded new realities in the Church, that re-propose the old and new message of Jesus, while involving those who adhere to them in a renewed journey of faith and humanity.

The adamant witness of the Gospel does not stop at the founders, but extends itself to members. It was also thanks to Movements and new Communities that at the end of the second millennium, the holiness of people started to advance, and continues to be part of daily life.

“Sarò santo se sono santo subito”- (I will be holy, if I am holy right away), this six S slogan was devised by Chiara for those who want to follow Jesus on their path to holiness. There are various Focolare members whose causes of beatification have been initiated. In 2004, when Father Benzi’s Association was granted the final recognition by the Holy See, he affirmed that this was: “an inestimable gift” because “the brothers and sisters who are members of the Community (…) can live joyfully and peacefully in the absolute certainty that the vocation of the Community is a sure way of sanctifying themselves (…)”. The cause for the beatification of the Servant of God, Sandra Sabattini, a member of the Pope John XXIII Association has been initiated.

On October 31, 2007 Father Benzi phoned the International Centre of the Focolare Movement; he was eager to inform Chiara about the latest initiative organized by his Association and to ask for her support. This was one of his last telephone calls; unfortunately he never heard Chiara’s positive reply as he passed away the following night. Chiara returned to the house of the Father on March 14, 2008. November 2019 marked their two paths, distinct but very close to each other.

Lina Ciampi

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