Last May 10, Pope Francis arrived in the Focolare town of Loppiano, and was welcomed by both Maria Voce, President of the Movement and Jesús Morán, Focolare Co-President, as well as by Bishop Mario Meini of Fiesole. After a brief prayer in the church, he met the 850 inhabitants of Loppiano coming from 65 countries, as well as several other thousand people from all of Italy, most of whom are members of the Focolare Movement. Maria Voce started her presentation of Loppiano before Pope Francis saying: “… this little town would like to be a laboratory of human coexistence, a model of a united world and a witness of how the society could be if it were based on the mutual love of the Gospel.”

Maria Voce, Focolare President, addressing Pope Francis
Maria Voce, Focolare President, addressing Pope Francis

A homely, open and frank dialogue followed, prompted by some questions to Pope Francis from a group of Loppiano citizens. Their questions touched on the theme of the Christian challenge to modernity from various angles of life. The Pope jokingly began by saying that he had prepared 14 pages for his answers and he hoped not to annoy anybody with it.

Pope Francis addressing the inhabitants of Loppiano
“We have to commit ourselves not only to the encounter between persons, cultures and peoples, but also to triumph together over historic challenges in building a shared culture of encounter and a global civilization of alliance.” (Pope Francis)

Then while he spoke mostly from his prepared text, he also talked directly from the heart. First, he thanked all the participants for having welcomed him with great love and enthusiasm, and for having made the choice of following God in their lives.

He urged everyone not to “hide themselves in a quiet life, in respectability, or even in a subtle hypocrisy, …but to live as honest and brave disciples in charity and truth” and to face the difficulties in life “with tenacity, serenity, positivity, fantasy … and why not, also with a bit of humor!” Then while referring to the mission of an original project like the little town of Loppiano in today’s social context, the Pope invited everyone to look up with him and “to look with trustful loyalty and generous creativity to the future that already begins today.”

The people present at this historical visit experienced an explosion of Happiness…and with great love towards one another.

The Pope’s visit was like the realization of that phrase in Christ’s prayer, the Our Father – “on earth as it is in heaven”! The people present at this historical visit experienced an explosion of happiness, an awesome feeling of belonging to one family as brothers and sisters, and with great love towards one another. It was like sharing the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, an anticipation of the coming feast of Pentecost; or like being on Mount Tabor where everything becomes transfigured, in a sort of heart-to-heart colloquy with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis with Maria Voce
Pope Francis with Maria Voce

Through his entire speech, Pope Francis seemed at ease in giving directives to all those present. He imparted instructions that are prospective following basic guidelines, but also offered very concrete advice, which is to live fully the life of the Gospel.

At a certain point, a group of Thai Buddhist monks in their saffron robes came forward to greet the Pope and presented him with a gift. Their leader Phramaha Thongrattana Thavorn, to whom Chiara Lubich had given the name “Luce Ardente = Burning Light,” was a long-time collaborator of the Focolare. He told Pope Francis: “We are also children of Chiara who, with great affection and conviction, would like to follow the light of the life she lived…”

After the Pope had imparted his blessing to all present, 37 Loppiano citizens of diverse origins, religions, ages and walks of life came up to greet him personally. In response to the Pope’s words, the Focolare Co-President Jesús Morán offered him a symbolic gift: a “pact” signed by all the inhabitants, with the commitment to live in such a way as to make Loppiano become more and more, a place of brotherhood and reciprocity.

Pope Francis reaching out to blessing a baby in the crowd
Pope Francis reaching out to blessing a baby in the crowd

When invited to sign the “Loppiano Pact,” the Pope did so with joy, amid the applause of all present. We would like to share several points which Pope Francis talked about during his visit to Loppiano.

Frankness and perseverance

Pope Francis explained that these qualities mean “having a heart turned toward God, believing in his love so that his love casts out every false fear, every temptation of hiding oneself in a quiet life, in respectability or even in a subtle hypocrisy.”

Avoid sowing discord and gossip

Francis called the gossiper a “terrorist” who “destroys the community, destroys the Church, and also destroys oneself.”

The gift of memory

In order for a community to go forward, it also needs memory, he said, because this “allows you to go forward and bear fruit. If you don’t have memory, the tree won’t bear fruit because it doesn’t have roots.”

Humor

He stressed the need to persevere amid modern challenges, saying perseverance is a sign of God’s love, “which precedes us and renders us capable of living with tenacity, serenity and positivity,” as well as the need to have a sense of humor, “even in the most difficult moments.”

Two memorable Greek words

Pope Francis brought up two Greek words: “parrhesia” – having the courage to fight with God in prayer like Abraham who pleaded with God to not destroy Sodom, and also like Moses, who asked God not to punish the Israelites. The second word is “hypomone” – to be strong in bearing witness to the love of God and to have patience because it produces hope.

I and We

Then he launched an appeal to face the pressing needs of our time together. Pope Francis said: “Everybody feels at home in Loppiano. I wanted to come and visit because it (Loppiano) aims to be an illustration of the Church’s mission today.” He elaborated, “The charism of unity is an aid in living the evangelical mysticism of the ‘we,’ that is, of walking together in the history of mankind. The opposite of individualism is ‘we.’ In Loppiano – the Pope continued – you live the experience of walking together.”

However, he emphasized that unity is not uniformity… Moreover, he reminded everyone, “the story of Loppiano is just beginning, a small seed sown in the furrows of history. Pressing needs require the utmost of us. We have to commit ourselves not only to the encounter between persons, cultures and peoples, but also to triumph together over historic challenges in building a shared culture of encounter and a global civilization of alliance.” In Loppiano, he also said, there are no more peripheries…

Robert Samson and Joseph Siason

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