Lieta Betoño

A Pioneer of the Focolare in Ireland (18 June 1951 – 22 November 2002)

On the day following Lieta’s death, Chiara Lubich wrote the following words: “Lieta, with the light of your faith and the flame of your heart, you’ve reached the place where the Sun never sets, resplendent and glowing now more than ever. Now you are there with your Mother, Mary, your “mould” and “model”. Now you are there with Jesus whom you longed to be with when you assured me that you were ready to take the big “jump”. When in the winepress of love you, forgetful of yourself, you plunged into loving all those who were near to you in each present moment. Paradise!  This was the word that came so often to your lips. Now that you have reached the One whom you most loved, and you’ve been given the prize for your efforts: the splendid zone of Ireland that you helped to build. As we await the day when we will meet again – never to be parted – “Arrivederci Lieta”until we meet again, with all my heart, Chiara.”

Blanca Betono, better known as Lieta, was born in 1951 in La Plata, Argentina. She was the sixth of nine children. She first came into contact with Focolare spirituality when she was fourteen years old, through her sister. Neldi had begun attending Mass every day and Blanca asked if she could join her. Then her sister told her how she was trying to live the Gospel. Blanca was fascinated by what her sister told here and exclaimed: “From now on I want to live that way too.”

In 1965 her sister left for the school of formation for focolarini in Loppiano, Italy. At that same time one of her brothers died tragically in an airplane accident. Blanca felt even more pushed to give God the first place in her life. A way of relating to people soon began to express itself in her, going directly to the essential and speaking the truth and making others feel loved.

Lieta with Vittorio Sabbione at the Mariapolis in Argentina (1967)

In 1970 she also decided to give her life to God in a focolare.She asked Chiara for a new name and received “Lieta” meaning joy and happiness.

In 1972 she and two other focolarine went to Ireland to begin the first focoalre. She was only twenty-one years old and would remain there for thirty years until her death. Her joyful and accepting personality was striking to the people who met her: “The joys and sufferings we shared cemented unity among us, and the people who would go to her said they  found a little paradise in her,” Pina Peduzzi recalls.

Lieta expressed an exceptional spiritual maternity, with her attitude of always being projected towards others. She also helped in bringing about the structures of the Work of Mary in Ireland. In 1998 at Curryhills  there was finally a place to build a  Mariapolis Centre and subsequently a Focolare little town.

In 2001 she had the symptoms of an ulcer. Since it didn’t seem like anything to worry about, she went to Argentina to visit her family. Two weeks later she was diagnosed with a tumor in the stomach and had to undergo surgery. Faced with failing health and the impossibility of returning to Ireland, her faith in God’s love acquired another concrete form: “First it was an idea, but now through this period of physical and spiritual suffering, I experience that God’s love is not like ours but something completely different.” Her “still more” was in the present moment, which she lived with intensity. She experienced the silence of God and contemporaneously the rediscovery of the neighbor: “The neighbor is like a pearl for us, in him and her we find the light again, we find the paradise of Jesus in our midst.”

When talking about her nine months in Argentina, she said: “I clearly realized during this period that God didn’t need me in Ireland. He wanted this to be a schooling in ‘losing and gaining’. God is love. His Will is love. You can be joyful even as you suffer. These have been months of suffering and of intense love, and I feel like I did when I was fourteen years old and had just met the Movement. Now I feel that God has taken Ireland away from me so that he could say to me: ‘I’m the first one in your life’ like back then with total freedom.”

Hearing about Chiara’s visit to Ireland was the biggest gift for Lieta. Even though it only took place in 2004, when the Mariapolis town in Ireland was inaugurated and given Lieta’s name.

On 21 October, to the joy of all, Lieta returned to the land of Ireland. A few days later she began to feel better and was hospitalized. During the final weeks there was a heavenly atmosphere in her room. People of all ages went to visit her, and each of them left her room enriched because Lieta never failed to love, always finding just the best words to say to each one of them.

She wrote to Chiara: “I offer everything to Jesus for you, for the Work of Mary and for each neighbor who draws near to me (. . . ) I’m fine becuase you’ve given us the secret. Our Ideal has everything inside it and Jesus Forsaken has taken over in my life. It seems to me that the supernatural has become normal for me. And this is Paradise.”

Following a doctor’s visit on 6 November, which gave her little hope, Lieta proposed: “Let’s make a pact to love all day long. I want to run. I’m happy, free and completely fulfilled thanks to unity.”

On 22 November, Lieta left this earth peacefully. Neldi remarked: “I would never have thought that one could go like that, accompanied by songs and singing. Her bedroom door was open. And the door of her heart was also open. She wanted us all to be around her.”

Now she is a cornerstone of the Focolare Movement in Ireland.

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