Carlo Degasperi, a Focolarino, is one of those pioneers who helped start the Focolare Movement in the Philippines in 1967. He also set up the Focolare Carpentry Shop, now called St. Joseph Training Center, a shop based in Cainta and Tagaytay, which is well-known for its quality carpentry products. He passed away last February 23, 2018.
“Yes, it is true, because at the end of each day, a glass of water offered out of love has more value than having built a hundred tables”. This was part of a letter written by Carlo in 1973, a statement that clearly expresses the gospel message of love which Carlo lived so radically all throughout his life.
Carlo was born near Trent, Italy on August 18, 1929 – 88 years ago. His was a beautiful Christian family with 8 siblings – two of whom became religious sisters, and Lucia, a focolarina. This Christian family, therefore, had solid principles, and did not compromise with the Fascist regime of the time, and for this reason the father and the whole family had to suffer much. In 1940 they then had to transfer quickly to another city, where the family had to start again from scratch.
This was a setback from which Carlo would slowly recover over the years. He said: “My mother gave me security and serenity amid suffering; instead to my father I owe the gift of unity in the family because he was always a true example of courage and effort in the face of adversity “.
Carlo then met the Focolare through a friend in 1957. He recalled: “Initially I was not really interested in these people as I had suffered so much because of the war. But slowly my attitude changed, until one day – in 1958 when I was invited to Trent and there I met Chiara personally. I was impressed! That day she told us that we should never end the day without having conquered at least one soul through our witness and love.” He continues, “There, even amidst the pain I had within me, I discovered something greater – the love of God; and I also felt loved by Chiara, with whom I had a private talk.”
A few years later when he had entered the Focolare, and was assigned to Manila he wrote her saying: “I remember very well how a year and a half before I met you, every time I received Jesus in the Eucharist I would ask him first of all to help me get to know a person who would help me understand the will of God…”
He used to say: “Chiara gave me a light that helped me a lot. At first I did not think of joining the Focolare community, but I was struck by the love of God for me, it was a wonderful thing to feel loved by Him!”
Carlo had studied to be an agronomist, but in Focolare he was asked to become a carpenter, and slowly he became very good at it, so much so that his transfer from one Focolare center to the next was always linked to the setting up of a carpentry: in Grottaferrata at first, from 60 to ’65, and later in Loppiano from ’66-67.
Then the great adventure of the Philippines began – from 1967 to 2012 where Carlo gave his best.
Carlo lived out the Spirituality of Unity faithfully, and radically, with tremendous self-discipline. On his table, the missal was always opened to the Gospel reading for that day. On the wall of his room, a poster with the faces of the Focolarinos/as who had already left for heaven. Every morning at 5 am, rain or shine, for years and decades, he would first attend Mass, and then proceed to work at the carpentry shop on the outskirts of Manila. (It’s the shop that he started in 1968).
He had introduced the life of the gospel to the shop, winning over numerous clients from ambassadors and businessmen to housewives and newlyweds, with the shop’s quality, but even more, with his capacity to build lasting relationships. Since he was rooted in the divine he could come back every evening after a full day’s work, tired but calm, and still able to laugh with the others at the dinner table, able to love everyone.
The Focolare Carpentry has become quite well known in Manila and it is in itself a tribute to Carlo’s efforts to translate the gospel of love into action. He was the driving force behind the shop – it wasn’t just his dedication to work, nor his sense of responsibility… it was his love for the poor.
It was this genuine love for Jesus in the least that motivated him! The Focolare Carpentry, in fact has given work to hundreds, has imparted livelihood skills to underprivileged youth, and has even built an entire village for the employees’ families. Carlo knew each one living there by name, he knew their problems, and anxieties, their joys, and successes. To each one he offered hope in times of despair, and meaningful advice in times of doubt.
If one had to mention some of Carlo’s salient characteristics, which were the source of inspiration for countless persons whom he met and lived with: they are his unwavering faith in the Ideal of unity, his deep love for the poor, and his profound relationship with Our Lady.
He had a truly special love for Our Lady; in fact he radiated this love. He wished to imitate her especially through a litany that Chiara had given him: “cause of our joy”. Now, Carlo has now arrived home and we would like to think of him full of joy in the arms of Our Lady, “cause of our joy”.