Chiara Lubich and I: A Reciprocity of Love

Photo © CSC Audiovisiv

1 min read
Hans Jurt

My name is Hans. I am Swiss, eighty years old and currently live in the Focolare house in Harlem, New York. I had the privilege of working in close contact with Chiara for five-plus years while at the international center of the Focolarinos—the consecrated men of the Focolare Movement—from 2000 to 2008. To be able to work with the founder of a work of God, with a person constantly trying to be attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, was an exciting experience of great intensity, a true “school of unity.”

A welcoming love

When I was elected to the role of leadership for the Focolarinos worldwide in 2002, Chiara considered my lack of experience and yet decided to confirm my election. She chose to trust and help me, not in the sense of giving me a hand, but in the sense of helping me mature in trusting the Holy Spirit and in allowing him to guide me.

Whenever I went to see her or when she called on the phone, I would become concerned about saying or doing the right thing, as if I were entering holy ground. But as soon as I was with her, I felt a great peace; she always created an atmosphere that made one feel comfortable and free, treated as an “equal.”

On one occasion, we were working to prepare a meeting and it was time for merenda, the Italian afternoon snack. Not being Italian, I didn’t have much experience with merenda. We interrupted our work and she asked, “Hans, do you know what babà is?” 

I replied that I did not know. 

She said, “It’s a typical Neapolitan pastry. You really have to taste it. They just brought us some freshly baked babà from Naples.” And then, “Here. Try one.” And we enjoyed merenda together.

Teacher and guide

She was a true teacher, patient, but also demanding and sometimes strict.

I found myself at times despondent, anxious and worried when faced with certain situations and I turned to her. She always welcomed me, made my concern her own and gave me the help I needed. But after a while she said, “It’s okay that you come to bring issues to me, but I put you there to solve problems, not to bring them here!”

Once, when I presented her a proposal to address a particular situation, she replied, “In the solution you propose, the Holy Spirit is totally absent. Now go back to your friends, try to understand your mistake, and then come with a different proposal.”

In this way, Chiara forced us, so to speak, to have among ourselves, in our center, that deep listening and unity that made us sensitive to the will of God, and to not take a step or make a decision unless we felt that Jesus present in our midst was guiding our work.

It was also around that time that Chiara suggested we precede the practical items of each meeting with a moment of “co-interest,” of sharing. This moment of communion became the first item on the agenda of our council meetings, which usually went on for three days.

I recall that on one occasion we started to share, but we felt that there was something among us that blocked us. We did not feel comfortable. We continued the sharing, but “the fruits of the spirit,” freedom, joy, peace, light—signs of Jesus’ presence, were not manifesting: on the contrary! 

Time was passing, we had so much work to do! We continued the sharing for several hours, morning and afternoon, but the discomfort remained. 

At one point, one of us burst out and loudly expressed his displeasure at something that had happened among us. In that instant everything seemed to unblock and we were able to speak in truth. When we finished, a great joy invaded us and we began to work efficiently, expeditiously, and with the certainty that Jesus was working together with us. It was a great lesson for us, and thereafter the slogan “Make room for discomfort” accompanied us always, knowing that Jesus could work with us only if we did this.

Whenever Chiara perceived that the project or solution we presented to her had been moulded in the fire of Jesus among us, she immediately endorsed it and encouraged us to continue along that path. 

One day, when she was particularly pleased with some proposals we had prepared, she exclaimed, “The beauty of your center is that you can’t see who is in charge. It could be anyone!”

An open mind and an open heart

Again and again, and spontaneously, she confided in me things that were in her heart, or bothering her, things that were sometimes very personal.

When Chiara traveled to various parts of the world, she often had to make decisions on the spot. If the decision had to do with the Focolarinos, she would call and ask what I thought. This required listening to the voice of God within me and expressing my views, which sometimes conflicted with hers. Perhaps I had to say that what she suggested did not seem appropriate, or I would propose a different solution. She would then ask for a clarification, and based on those conversations she would then make decisions.

What would happen from time to time is that she would ask about a certain situation, “What do you think?” I would share my thoughts, and she would say, “Ah, I just think differently!” A few days later she would call me, “You were right. Let’s do as you suggested.”

Waning of new vocations

At a certain moment it became clear that, after decades of growth, the number of Focolarinos was on the decline. Some felt a sense of anxiety and unease about this situation. Chiara was concerned too, but also convinced that this state of affairs was transient, that it would be surmounted in a short time. It was thought that all it would take was a few conversations with those experiencing a difficult time, and some inspirational talks. She launched herself fully into this task. 

The situation was not resolved, but a journey, an evolution, a change of mentality had been set in motion and it needed time to unfold. In truth, it seemed to me that a kind of “birthing” was taking place, the birth of a reality that was in Chiara’s heart and thought, but that still had to take shape and be realized more fully: the Focolarino not as someone who does, but as someone who is, what she referred to as the Focolarino-Jesus.                                              

Chiara, Hans, Focolarinas

Photo © CSC Audiovisivi

Two dimensions

I was aware that there were always two dimensions to be taken into account. One is the charism that God has given to a person and which I would call divine and unchangeable; another is the incarnation of the charism entrusted to human creatures, with our merits and limitations, a mutable dimension. When working with a charismatic person one always encounters the two dimensions, and this fact made Chiara immensely close and lovable. I felt love, esteem, and respect for her growing in me every day.

In December 2003, I had to make a short trip overseas. I returned very tired and feverish. I couldn’t sleep at night; I was restless and full of worries. I got up around 3am driven by the need to find “the thread of the skein.” I read a short passage of Chiara on Jesus Forsaken. That text made me take a step within my soul, a step that dispelled in a few moments the deep darkness and filled me with great peace and serenity. I experienced in that moment the “divine alchemy” that transforms pain into love. Filled with joy, I thought that something very special, very big should be invented to express to Chiara gratitude for revealing to us Jesus Forsaken!

In the following months (we were in early 2004), she was working on a new theme on “Jesus in the midst,” but she was not able to finish it because of her illness. What remains fundamental for us is her assertion that, in order to have Jesus in the midst, and live a full Focolare life, we need “first the reciprocity of love and equality among all,” including in this “all” the Focolare house leader. Chiara had led us over the years giving us the example, and now she had embedded her example in our hearts as a legacy.

The final years

During the long period of her illness from late 2004 onwards, we tried to repay her love by bringing joyful news and letting her experience the affection, warmth, and gratitude of her spiritual children. My last visit to her home, a few hours before her departure for heaven, remains vivid in my heart and soul. Entering her room, flooded with sunlight, I felt enveloped by a sense of peace and great normalcy. I was able to address a few words to her, which she, though at the end of her strength and in the fatigue of breathlessness, listened to attentively: “Chiara, I bring you the love and immense gratitude of all the Focolarinos of the world.... You have entrusted us with your inheritance, Jesus in the midst: I promise you that we will carry on this inheritance of yours to make it become a source of life for the whole Work of Mary. Count on us, Chiara. Thank you also for what you did for me, for always believing in me, for trusting me, for nurturing me and helping me grow.” Then, “Goodbye, Chiara, we remain in your heart forever.” 

At that moment, Chiara raised her hand, moving it in greeting. I took it from her and kissed it. She kept looking at me and making the gesture of greeting as I backed out of the room. That loving gaze never leaves me.                                                             

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