A local tribute to Chiara Lubich

Michele Lafferty gave this tribute to Chiara Lubich and the Focolare Movement at a memorial service in Wellington on March 27.

If we lived in Europe we would all know who she was because her death was a big deal in other parts of the world. It was big here, also, to those who knew of her and those who belong to her movement.

I am not a member of the Focolare so I am surprised that I am writing about her influence on a lot of people—even me. Ten years ago I did not even know that the movement existed but when my friend Veronica and I decided to share a house together, I learned that she belonged to the Focolare and that it was very important to her.

At first, in the way that I have, I tended to dismiss it as something ‘cultish’ and strange. Well, I would, wouldn’t I? After all I hadn’t heard about it so it can’t have been that important.

Veronica and her friends were extremely patient with my ignorant comments, and I began to meet the members of the movement at various times and occasions.
Eventually, I began to see that these people appeared to be a little different from other people. For one thing, along with the older people, there were a lot of young families at the meetings and a lot of youth—the same age as the ones we are always complaining about and they seemed to be having a very good time at places and gatherings that I thought young people wouldn’t want to be seen dead in. The whole thing was very inclusive.

The other thing I noticed was that they were always happy, always very welcoming and never forced anything about the movement on you if you didn’t ask. Wherever they were, there was joy and love and it was not as if their lives were easier than others, often some members lived through very difficult times.
It seemed that their main aim was to be living love to all and that, amazingly, whatever they said they would do, they did!
Being the character type that I am, I had plenty of chances to try and trap them into behaving badly, but not one of them took the bait! This was becoming serious! Who were these people?

I eventually asked Veronica to lend me the book about Chiara which she did (not without a sigh of relief I think).
I read about this young girl and her friends, who, after the horrors of the Second World War, decided that they had to do something to unify all of humankind.
They chose the biblical phrase ‘that all may be one’ as their inspiration and, undaunted by the task they had set themselves, went about achieving it.
Now I don’t know for sure the steps they took and whether they had endless committee meetings and spent hours writing up the paperwork, but what I do know for sure is this.

I bet that Chiara and her first companions lived the values they believed in and as others saw them living them, they too saw that those values were what mattered when all was said and done, and chose to be part of the deal.
I know this because I have seen her people here in New Zealand doing exactly this and I have listened to their stories.
Chiara may have gone from the world as we know it, but what a legacy she has left behind.

She has left a movement which has as its members, both vowed and not, women and men, married and unmarried, and hers was the first Catholic organisation to admit members of other Christian Churches and faiths to its communities.
I can’t help feeling that this may be the face of the church of the future. A simple message based on love and unity.
She was, I am sure, and would still be, proud of her relatively small group of members here in New Zealand. She would see for herself that she has left them with Jesus in the midst, that unity is everything to them as it was to her, and that they have created a loving family further away than she ever dreamed. What she started will never die because each of her people here in New Zealand and throughout the world will always carry in their hearts their beloved Chiara Lubich. Indeed, I think, so will I.
May she rest in peace.

Michele Lafferty