Chiara Lubich is the foundress of the Focolare Movement (The Work of Mary) and is regarded as one of the most influential spiritual leaders of the twentieth century. Born in 1920 in Northern Italy and baptized Silvia Lubich, she experienced a profound religious awakening at the age of 19 during a trip to the Shrine of Loreto, traditionally known as Holy Family’s home. Silvia was inspired by the radical life of St. Clare of Assisi and became a Third-Order Franciscan, taking the name Chiara after her patron. When Chiara was 23, she was traveling to buy milk in a nearby neighborhood when she heard God say to her, “Give yourself totally to me.” At once, she requested permission to consecrate herself entirely to God and did so on December 7th, 1943.
Many young people became attracted to Chiara’s great desire to place God at the center of her life and to live the Gospel radically. They began to meet regularly and soon formed the first focolare (Italian for “hearth”), which is a community composed of single consecrated women or men that lives and prays together. Members of a focolare, although consecrated, remain in the world as lay people and are committed to bringing peace and hope to all societies. They serve in a variety of capacities, from working in the United Nations to aiding the sick and poor in villages and cities. The Focolare Movement also has volunteers who are drawn to Chiara’s “spirituality of unity” and who are dedicated to renewing society through the witness of their lives and involvement in family, work, and politics. The movement was described by Chiara as a community “in the image of the Family of Nazareth, composed of consecrated and married people in the midst of the world, all of them given totally to God, though in different ways.”
Chiara continued to teach elementary school until World War II interrupted her work and studies. During the air attacks on her home city of Trento, Chiara and her companions would gather to pray in air-raid shelters and then worked to serve those injured and abandoned by the bombings. Chiara wrote: “Is there an ideal that does not die, that no bombs can destroy, an ideal we can give our whole selves to? Yes, there is. It is God.”
The Focolare Movement has spread rapidly throughout the world, embracing peoples of all faiths and none at all, opening new channels of ecumenical dialogue. Today it is present in 182 countries and has over 140 thousand members and about 2 million followers. At her death in 2008 at the age of 88, Chiara was noted by the New York Times as “one of the most influential women in the Roman Catholic Church.” Chiara recognized that the success of the Focolare Movement was entirely the work of God, and that she was His humble instrument. She wrote, “Doing what God wants from us, moment by moment, we will find that it satisfies us fully. It gives peace, joy, happiness and, indeed, a foretaste of heaven.”