“Never forget that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a lay person and his first disciple,” Pope Francis told some 6,000 members of the Focolare movement during a visit to its international center in Loppiano, in the central Italian region of Tuscany.
Francis left the Vatican early this morning on May 10 to visit the Nomadelfia community and the Focolare movement, two lay groups founded in the 1940s. He believes both communities offer concrete ways for lay people to live the Gospel of Jesus in today’s world and wanted to encourage them to do so in their different vocations.
For his 22nd pastoral visit in Italy, the pope went first by helicopter to the Nomadelfia community, founded in 1948 by an Italian priest, Don Zeno Saltini, known as “Don Zeno” (1900-81). He gave the community the name “nomadelfia,” which comes from Greek and means “the law of brotherhood.” It is a community of families and unmarried lay people over the age of 21 who have adopted the lifestyle of the first Christians, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. In this community on the Tuscan hillside, all goods are shared and there is no private property; they do not use money and they work mainly on the land.
“Never forget that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a lay person and his first disciple.”
It is currently made up of 60 families who take in orphans and other children living in severe difficulty. When the children are accepted into a family, they are handed over with the words of Jesus on the Cross: “Mother this is your son; son this is your mother.” The community members use their baptismal names, not their surnames, to avoid making the fostered children feel different from the rest of the family.
Greeting some 4,000 members of the community, Francis recalled that for Don Zeno “the law of brotherhood” was “the dream and goal of his whole life.” He encouraged them to continue this style of life, “trusting in the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.”
He recalled that “faced with the suffering of orphaned or disadvantaged children,” Don Zeno realized “that the only language they understood was the language of love.” The founder developed “a peculiar form of society, where there is no space for isolation or solitude, where the principle of collaboration reigns among the families and where the members recognize each other as brothers and sisters in the faith.” This has led to the creation of bonds in the community that are stronger than the bonds of birth, the pope said, because they are “blood bonds with Jesus.”
Francis commended the community for this and for “another prophetic sign of great humanity: the loving care that is shown to old people and those who are sick.”
The pope encouraged them to make incarnate the model of communal love “in a world that is often hostile to the ideals preached by Christ.”
He encouraged them “to continue on this road” and, in the spirit of Don Zeno, to make incarnate the model of communal love “in a world that is often hostile to the ideals preached by Christ.”
From there, after a celebration marked by song and dance, Pope Francis took the helicopter to Loppiano, the first international center, or citadel, of the Focolare movement. The movement of “focolari,” which are small communities of lay volunteers, promotes the ideals of unity and universal brotherhood among all people. Through their ecumenical approach, they have strengthened bonds of communion within the Catholic Church and have initiated important work for Christian unity, interfaith dialogue and dialogue with contemporary culture. Indeed, the presence of Buddhists, other Christians and members of other religions at the encounter with Pope Francis this morning was testimony to these bonds.
After praying at the chapel dedicated to the Theotokos (“the Mother of God”), Francis addressed this international audience of Focolare members from a covered outdoor platform and responded to their questions. He said he had wanted to visit Loppiano because it is “an illustration of the mission of the church today as outlined by the Second Vatican Council.”
Loppiano is “an illustration of the mission of the church today as outlined by the Second Vatican Council.”
He recalled that Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare movement, was inspired to build Loppiano in 1964 and later similar citadels across the world after visiting the Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln, Switzerland, two years earlier. There, the pope recalled, “she was moved to give life to something similar, in a new and modern form, in harmony with the Second Vatican Council, starting from the charism of unity: a blueprint of the new city in the spirit of the Gospel.”
Today, Loppiano is home to around 1,000 people from many countries and professions, married and single, as well as priests and religious, who work and study together and seek to live the Christian life to the fullest extent.
Francis, the first pope to come here, described Loppiano as “a citadel in which the beauty of the people of God shines forth, in the richness and variety of its members, in the diversity of vocations and of social and cultural expressions, each one in dialogue and at the service of all.”
It is a town, he said, “that has the Eucharist as its heart, the source of unity and ever new life” and shows to all who visit “its lay, inclusive and open spirit” through “its work on the land, its entrepreneurial and industrial activities, its schools of formation, guest houses and houses for the elderly, artistic ateliers, musical complexes and modern means of communication.”
The pope encouraged its inhabitants and the members of the Focolare movement not to abandon their spirit of “speaking candidly” (“parrhesia”) and of “perseverance” (“hypomone”), which he said are key elements of the Christian way of life. He encouraged them to continue to live “the charism of unity,” to live this spirituality of the “we,” not of the “I” or the “you.” The pope assured them that to do so “can have formidable consequences—if lived with authenticity and courage—at the social, political, cultural and economic levels.”
He said, “One lives the experience of walking together, in a synodal style, as the people of God.” He called on the movement’s members worldwide to commit themselves in this change of epoch “not only to the encounter between persons, cultures and peoples and to an alliance between civilizations” but also “to win, all together, the epochal challenge of building a culture of encounter and a global civilization of alliances.”