The wisdom of the meek


Memories of Anna Fratta (Doni) from Lucia Abignente, an Italian Focolarina who joined her in Poland for several years. A life of complete “giving”, true to the name given her by Chiara Lubich.

“An abyss of humanity”, “a ‘maestro’ of life”, “a small great woman”. Just three of the many reactions to the news that Anna Fratta, known throughout the Focolare Movement as ‘Doni’, reached the house of the Father on 24 September 2021.

She herself would no doubt feel rather uncomfortable about these epithets, shying away as she did from any kind of praise. She was always measured in her own words, which, few as they were, came out as ‘distilled’ wisdom. Her temperament, reinforced by her life experiences, made them such. The youngest of six, in her childhood she was no stranger to the dimension of suffering, particularly when she lost of one of her sisters. From a very tender age, she already began to pose profound existential questions about the meaning of life, and gradually drifted away from belief in God, seeking her answers elsewhere.

Later on, the study of medicine, which she undertook in a spirit of rebellion, showed itself to be providential. She found herself fascinated by biology, which had a significant impact on her interior progress. In nature she discovered a relationship of reciprocity and of service she could not explain, a law of love which she came to understand one night. “After a dramatic and painful interior struggle” she described how she accepted “there is a Being who contains love within”. It was a decisive turning point, followed by her meeting with God in the charism of Chiara Lubich. Not long after this, Doni perceived that God was calling her to follow Chiara in the way of the Focolare.

Doni was among the group of  Focolarini doctors who, at the invitation of the Catholic Church, went behind the ‘Iron Curtain’, where she lived for thirty years (1962-1992), firstly in the DDR (former East Germany) and then Poland. She worked silently and effectively in bringing Focolare communities to life there, following their growth and progress with awe and gratitude to God. From this region which suffered from lack of liberty and the impossibility of regular contact with the Focolare Center in Rome, Italy, she was then transferred right to its heart, living in Rocca di Papa, Rome, as part of Chiara Lubich’s own community house. With Chiara, she shared profound, luminous, eventful years, accompanying her at an international level and then, with great love and dedication also through the last part of her earthly journey.

The design of God on Doni continued through her wise contribution as General Counsellor for the aspect of “spirituality and prayer life” of the Focolare Movement. At the same time, alongside Gis Calliari, Eli Folonari and others of the first Focolarine, she lived total self-giving in welcoming countless visitors to Chiara Lubich’s home, transmitting the light of the daily life they had shared with Chiara. Later she moved to the Focolare little town of Loppiano, Italy, due to an illness which progressively reduced her physical capacities.

A profound interior coherence linked all her actions. “Love, we know, disarms. Our speaking was such that anyone could listen, friends and enemies alike,” she recalled, aware that in those years behind the Iron Curtain, the secret Police followed them assiduously. “Love, love, only love, and filling my suitcases with this love. It’s all I’ll be bringing with me!” she wrote in recent years, as she prepared herself for the final journey. No wonder then, that her professional activity had earned the respect of the authorities. In the DDR she was awarded three medals in honor of the work she did and for the “collective” she built up. Even clearer how her life transmitted the love of God to many. Perhaps the secret lies in her constant intimate relationship with Mary, particularly in the Desolation and ‘yes’ at Golgotha opening her arms and heart to humanity. This was the example Doni followed.

On 15 September back in 1962, just after crossing the Berlin Wall, she wrote, “There’s nothing to lean on here. And if you don’t keep your gaze on Mary at the foot of the Cross, you’ll fall down. There are times I feel like I’m suffocating and the only thing to do is pray to Mary. It’s the only way so that slowly, slowly the emptiness becomes a fullness, and the pain is transformed into peace. These are the most beautiful, most precious moments of the day, because in suffering I find an ever more intimate and profound relationship with Mary, and through her with all her children”.

Maybe here lies the secret of her fruitfulness, of her life of complete “giving”, true to the name Chiara Lubich gave to her – Doni (“gifts” in Italian).

Lucia Abignente

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