A life in God’s will

Our tribute to Palmira Frizzera (1927–2022), one of Focolare’s earliest pioneers, who had a unique way of connecting with young people and stayed young at heart

Photo courtesy of Citta Nuova

6 min read

Palmira Frizzera, one of Focolare founder Chiara Lubich’s earliest friends, died on January 5. She will live on in the memories and lives of the focolarini, young people and families that she accompanied in their spiritual studies at the Mariapolis Foco in Montet, Switzerland, a little town of the Focolare. Drawing on her own words, we offer some moments that marked her path in life.

Finding joy and purpose

Palmira grew up in a small village outside of Trent. Her dream was to become a nun, a missionary in India, so she attended a school of a religious order she chose with the intention of entering right after she graduated. 

However, she fell ill, and the doctor told her that with her condition she could not enter the convent. Her dream was shattered. 

“I was 18 when I left the convent. My brother had loads of friends to visit. Instead, I used to lock myself in my room crying. For me, all ideals had collapsed.” 

Not long after, a young woman came to visit her. “She did not tell me about Chiara nor about the Focolare. Only that God was the ideal of their life, and that in order to love him I have to do his will. And his will is to love God and to love my neighbor as myself.” 

That was astonishing to her, because “other people for me were like the devil,” she said. Palmira immediately understood that her dream of giving her life to God was possible in every walk of life, not only as a missionary. 

She found a new joy and purpose — so much so that her family thought she had become engaged!

A huge shock

Later she understood that God was calling her to Focolare life. However, a few months after she arrived at the first Focolare in Piazza Cappuccini in Trent, her illness flared up again, so she consulted a local specialist.

Telling the story of her life to a group of young people in 2004, Palmira said the doctor told her after an examination: “Nothing can be done for your eyes. The right eye is already lost, and the left eye is about to go.”

It was a huge shock. “As soon as I left that doctor, I burst into tears, sobbing my heart out. I thought, at only 21 years of age I would go blind, just when I had found the most beautiful ideal of my life. Now that I have found the joy of living and would like to shout it out to the entire world, I will go blind.” 

It was raining, and under the umbrella her friend Natalia Dallapiccola held her arm and silently accompanied her. “At a certain moment,” Palmira continued, “I stopped in the middle of the road and said: But Natalia, why am I crying so much because I will lose my sight? To see Jesus in my brother I do not need these eyes, I need the eyes of the soul, and I will never lose those… 

“If I give more glory to God with my eyes, then let him leave them to me, but if I give him more glory without my eyes, let him take them, because I only want to do his will. Didn’t Jesus say in the Gospel that it is better to go to heaven with no eyes than to hell with two eyes? 

“From that moment, the situation didn’t make me suffer any more,” she remembered.

“Later, full of joy, I wrote to Chiara Lubich to share my experience, and I was happy… I really lacked nothing.” 

In the meantime, Palmira went to see a specialist in Rome who, after having examined her carefully, told her that the disease was serious, but only on one side. It had only affected the right eye, which she would lose, but the left eye was healthy and not at risk.

“With this left eye I have always seen for two,” Palmira said. Often we are afraid to give something to Jesus, an affection, an attachment, something of our studies, while it would be worthwhile to always give him everything. Jesus does not allow himself to be surpassed by our generosity, which is always insignificant compared to his, because God is love, and he always responds with a hundredfold.”

Establishing the center in Montet

Over the years Palmira took on several roles in the Focolare Movement in Italy. Then in 1981 Chiara Lubich asked her to go with some other focolarini to Montet, Switzerland, where a little town was being created. She was only planning to stay for three days to assess what renovations would be necessary, but then was asked if she could remain to oversee the construction and guide the beginning of the new spiritual center.

After three days, the others returned home, and Palmira was left alone in an apartment in Estavayer-le-Lac, the neighboring town. Overcome by despair in front of the magnitude of the task that awaited her, she knelt down and recited the Our Father. “When I came to the phrase, ‘Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,’ I said it aloud, and a peace came into me that never left me after that.” 

Those three days became 40 years. Palmira was one of the founders of the little town. She accompanied and shaped generations of young people, future focolarini and focolarine, as well as Gen, the youth of the Focolare. 

She stayed young at heart alongside the young people and fully understood their needs and the changing world they were living in. 

“I am not the same age as you, but I also have a bit of experience and can help you a little” she used to say. “However, you too can help me with making Jesus’ presence among us possible, with unity, to make Chiara’s charism of unity credible, to bring this about together.”

Jesús Morán, Focolare’s co-president, said: “It would be impossible to think about Montet without Palmira. She gave the little town a sense of the movement as a whole as only one of the first focolarine can do. Her rich humanity and her wisdom have always had a particularly transforming effect. Her talent for welcoming people created a unique sense of family… “She has always been the beating heart of the little town.”

Bridging the eras

In 2017, with her particular way of simplicity and frankness, she asked herself: “Did I make it? I do not know. I have always tried to love with my heart so as not to make mistakes, because if I only use my head, I can always make mistakes, but not if I love with my heart, ready to give my life.”

She was a bridge between the founding phase of the movement and the new phase after Chiara’s passing. She encouraged the members to let go of everything that was only part of the first phase, and instead to discern what is truly the core of the charism of unity. 

A growing child, said Palmira, needs new clothes, but that doesn’t change the child!

Focolare’s current president Margaret Karram wrote: “Palmira was there for me in times of joy and pain; she was attentive to every event in the movement, to what was happening in the world and in the Church. 

“In many ways, she accompanied me, supported me, loved me, was there with me. Through her I felt Chiara’s presence. She would contact me with a few words, almost guessing — I can assure you — the times when I needed it.”

Palmira’s final message was on New Year’s Day this year: “Yes, being Jesus with courage and joy! May he be in our midst to illuminate the darkness of the world. Let us entrust ourselves totally to Mary.”

With gratitude for her life, we imagine her continuing to follow the little towns of the Focolare from heaven, especially the spiritual journeys of all those young people who lived there through the years.    

With material from focolare.org

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