About Chiara Lubich

Chiara Lubich was born on 22 January 1920 in Trent, northern Italy, into a family of modest economic means. From her mother she inherited the Christian faith and from her socialist father she gained a marked sensitivity towards social issues. She qualified as a junior school teacher and worked in this profession from 1939-43. Her thirst for truth led her to doing further studies at the University of Venice but she could not complete her course because of the Second World War. It was precisely at that difficult time, under the destruction caused by bombardments, that she discovered in the Gospel those spiritual values that can rebuild both individuals and the fabric of a disintegrated society. These values gradually attracted people of all ages, social categories, races, cultures and faiths on all five continents.

It was against the backdrop of general destruction and collapse, in the climate of hatred and violence of war that in 1943 Chiara made the “dazzling discovery” that God is the Only One who remains, God who she experienced as Love. She immediately shared this with other young people and the discovery transformed their lives and gave meaning to everything they did. It shed light upon the breadth of God’s plans for humanity that Chiara began to understand when, in an air-raid shelter, opening the Gospel, she came across the final prayer of Jesus, “May all be one, as you and I are one.” She spent her entire life contributing to the fulfilment of this prayer. Her charism was unity and it is from the perspective of unity that she read and lived the Gospel. The commandment of reciprocal love, “Love one another as I have loved you”, when practised in everyday life, produced the communion of material and spiritual goods and was seen as “the key to transforming life, the paradigm of unity on which to rebuild society”. This experience gave rise to a new spiritual current which gradually became incarnate and proved to be a means of social transformation with worldwide appeal since love and unity are inscribed in the DNA of every person.

Chiara was always interested in people and current affairs. From January 1944 onwards, visiting needy people in the most deprived areas of Trent at that time, she recognised in the countless situations of pain, division and trauma experienced by humanity the face of the Man-God who on the cross cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Her certainty that this Man-God had recomposed and healed all these situations became a living experience. He is the heart of her charism and has led her in the development of the Focolare Movement, a vast and complex work aimed at bringing together the human family in unity and fraternity. The Movement, like a tree with 27 branches, has spread all over world and is present in 182 countries. It had even spread to Eastern Europe before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

The drama of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 provided impetus for the first initiatives in renewing various spheres of society: in 1968 these actions developed into the New Humanity Movement, later to become an NGO with a voice at the UN. In 1966, even before the student protests and cultural revolution two years later, Chiara urged young people to be protagonists of a new world: a united world. This was the beginning of the Gen Movement (new generation). In the ’70s, foreshadowing the challenges of globalization, she spoke to young people about being “world-people”. In 1967 she launched the New Families Movement, in which families were among the first to show signs of emerging from social crisis in an openness towards others by developing international adoption and adoption at a distance. In the cultural field, in 1990 she established the Abba School, an international and interdisciplinary study centre. During the last months of her life she founded the Sophia University Institute, which is located in Loppiano, Florence, one of the Focolare’s twenty-three “little towns” that she founded. During a trip to Brazil, in 1991, witnessing the serious social disparities that affect Latin America, she launched the Economy of Communion project. In 1996, in Naples, she laid the foundations for the Movement for Policies and Politics for Unity. She was invited to set out its new ways of working to parliamentary groups in Brazil, Italy, Spain, England and Slovenia, and also at a UN symposium in New York.

Chiara became a forerunner in all areas of dialogue and was regarded as having a privileged role in facilitating unity and fraternity within her own Church, between Churches, among religions, with people without any religious affiliation and with contemporary culture. From the 1960s onwards, she spoke with leaders of the Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican and Orthodox Churches and of the World Council of Churches which she met in various parts of Germany, in Liverpool, London, Istanbul and Geneva. Her spirituality was gradually recognized as an ecumenical spirituality of reconciliation. It is still lived by Christians of 300 Churches. From the end of the 1970s, there were significant developments in interreligious dialogue. Chiara was the first Christian woman to share her spiritual experience in a temple in Tokyo when, in 1981, she spoke to more than 10,000 Buddhists. In 1997 she addressed hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns in Chiang Mai, Thailand. A few months later she spoke at the Harlem Mosque, in front of about 3000 African-American Muslims. In 2001 she was in Coimbatore, India, where she was awarded the Gandhian Defender of Peace prize. She also visited Mumbai where she spoke in a number of Hindu academic institutions.

At a civil level, her work was recognized in many ways. In 1996, she was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education, in 1998, she received the Human Rights Award from the Council of Europe and she was made honorary citizen of numerous towns and cities. In the cultural field, she was awarded 16 honorary degrees in various disciplines by universities in Europe, North and South America and Asia and, in the religious field, she received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (London 1977) and various honours conferred by Evangelical-Lutheran, Anglican and Orthodox Churches.

“I have never made plans,” Chiara repeated on several occasions. “The score is in heaven, we try to play that music on earth.” On 14 March 2008, after a long period of illness, she died at her home in Rocca di Papa, Rome. Her funeral was attended by thousands of people, many bishops and cardinals, civil society leaders, politicians from various parties and representatives of Catholic movements, Churches and religions. In his funeral message, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed that Chiara was a person “in full harmony with the thinking of the popes […] with an almost prophetic capacity to perceive and anticipate it.”