, 23 January, 2020 / 4:31 AM
On Wednesday, January 22, the centenary birthday of Italian-born Chiara Lubich who founded the Focolare Movement, various members have reflected on the significance of this celebration and recounted her legacy through messages that are inspired by the goal of the 76-year-old movement of spiritual and social renewal, which is “to promote brotherhood and to achieve a more united world in which people respect and value diversity” in the light of Gospel values.
“Chiara Lubich made me discover a way of living my faith around the clock. She opened the eyes of my soul to see the real and powerful presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of those who truly love one another,” Kenya-based Ernst Ulz, a consecrated member of the Movement shared with ACI Africa Wednesday, January 22.
“She helped me to stand up and love again every time I had failed. She widened my spiritual and mental horizon and helped me to embrace all people of all cultures, nations and believes,” the Austrian-born Focolarino said and added in reference to the prayer of Jesus that inspires the movement, “She awoke and nourishes in me the unshakable dream of Jesus: that all may be one.”
Another member of the worldwide Movement, Prof. Justus Mbae, recounted how their founder instilled in them the value of love saying, Lubich “taught us to love God in a deep way because God loves us immensely. She taught us to be humble, to accept and to love every individual in the world because everyone is a candidate for unity.”
“She taught us how to love others in our lives (the art of loving),” the Kenyan member of the movement’s Volunteer of God branch said and added about Lubich, “She constantly reminds us that it is possible and desirable to live our unity in diversity even as we appreciate each other’s difference and uniqueness.”
Prof. Mbae, former Vice Chancellor of the Kenya-based Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) would like that the good news of "the culture of unity" that defines Focolare founder’s legacy is spread to all people
For the purpose of sharing this good news, Prof. Mbae said, “The Focolare Movement in Kenya, as well as all the other countries in the world, will be carrying out several public events to sensitize and share with different communities within this centenary year."
"If we are going to transform the world into a haven of peace and unity, we need to engage everyone, we need to reach everyone and to include everyone without exception,” Prof. Mbae who is part of the team planning for year-long celebrations of their founder’s centenary birthday in Kenya said.
Chiara Lubich, baptised as Silvia, was born in 1920 in the Italian city of Trent. In 1938, she enrolled at the University of Venice to study Philosophy but the second world war prevented her from continuing her studies.
She discovered her vocation to serve in the Church in 1939 when she visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto. Four years later, she became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis where she was attracted by St. Clare of Assisi’s radical choice of God and adopted her name Chiara (Italian for Clare).
December 7, 1943, marked as the beginning of the Focolare Movement, Chiara consecrated her life after taking the perpetual vow of chastity. In 1944, the city of Trent experienced bombings and Chiara’s family fled after their house was damaged. However, she remained in the city and went to stay with other companions, forming the first community of Focolare.
In her lifetime, Chiara traveled to different continents of the world and met different people including leaders of other Christian denominations while spreading her message of unity in diversity.
After a long illness, Chiara died March 14, 2008 at her home in Rocca di Papa, outside of Rome.
According to Mary Kristine Nene Ngirwa, a Co-Director of the movement in Kenya, even in her death, Chiara continues to unite people.
“Even today after her death through this light she continues to attract people of all races, cultures, religions to build and be bridges of universal brotherhood,” she said.
She added, “Celebrating 100 years is like re-lighting in all of us the desire to be authentic Christians by living practically the Gospel. Her value is up to date: when she speaks of respecting the other through a silent dialogue that doesn't overshow the other; our society needs sincere, and silent dialogue.”
Nene’s sentiments were echoed by Ugandan-born Ronald Mulenzi who said, “Celebrating her life therefore, is testimony to the whole world that putting the Gospel into practice can change the world which is characterized by all forms of vices e.g. war, hate, greed etc. It also calls for each individual to develop a sense of responsibility towards a neighbor.”
Mulenzi further said referencing Chiara, “right from the time of her childhood in Trent to her discovery of God Love and her acts of charity during the second world war and throughout her life time as a promoter of the Focolare Movement, her life inspired and is still inspiring many as a champion of universal brotherhood.”
For the Ugandan-born Focolarino Charles Besigye, “These hundred years are significant not only to the members of Focolare, not just for the Church and Churches that she dedicatedly spent all her life loving and serving, but also to the entire society, especially the contemporary one with its challenges.”
“Her charism of unity being lived fully has brought total transformation of lives and consequently the societal environments where people live,” Besigye who is based in Rome told ACI Africa.
Fr. Casmir Odundo, a diocesan priest of Kenya’s Nakuru diocese described Chiara as “a prophet of our times.”
“I have encountered many of her writings and watched many of her videos. I have come to the conclusion that though she passed on, her work and her writings live on. She always called on priests to be like Christ,” Fr. Odundo added and expressed his joy that the canonization process of Chiara is ongoing.
Testifying about the changes in her life as a member of the Focolare Movement, Triphonie Barumwete, a native of Burundi said about Chiara, “she transformed my life, she gave me a new meaning of what means to love really, to say that I’m united with the others.”
For Barumwete, the centenary celebration of Chiara’s birthday is important “because I'm remembering somebody who was born with a special gift for the whole world.”
Meanwhile, the President of Focolare, Maria Voce has, on the occasion of the centenary birthday of the Movement’s founder, invited members to “be people who can create relationships and welcome others without prejudices, without preconceptions and without agendas, and be bridges for others.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa