Concluding the celebration of the Year of the Parish, which had as its theme – A Communion of Communities, and as the Focolare Movement prepares for its International Youth Festival or GenFest next July 2018 to be held in Manila, we wish to share with you the adventure of a 16-year-old girl who was faithful to the life of communion in her parish, and whose life has had repercussions beyond her own parish and her native country, Italy, because she tried to contribute to the realization of Christ’s prayer “that all may be One”.
Maria Orsola was born on October 2, 1954. From childhood, she frequented the San Secondo Martyr’s parish in Vallo Torinese, near Turin, taking an active part in the life of the parish community. Her meeting with the Focolare took place in this context. The program Focolare proposed, “That all may be one” fascinated her. When she made a personal choice of God, whom she discovered as Love, she also embarked on a communitarian journey with the other parishioners of Vallo.
Two particular events marked her early spiritual path. In 1966 she took part in a three-day retreat at the Institute of the Vincenzine Sisters of Mary Immaculate in Lanzo. The preacher was their assistant parish priest Fr. Vincenzo Chiarle, who spoke about “the Glory of God”.
Deeply impressed by this message, young Maria Orsola felt that her life had to be a constant “doing everything to give glory to God”.
Later in 1967, she attended the ﬁrst New Parish Movement’s Congress in Rocca di Papa (Rome) organized by the Focolare. The impact of the Focolare’s spirituality of unity helped the entire parish to take up a journey of personal and community renewal.
Their parish became more intensely committed in its pastoral work, contacting other parish communities and youth groups through meetings with priests and seminarians,
and with religious and diocesan communities.
Maria Orsola was ready to do her part in any activity. Together with her family, she started to live the spirituality of unity while sharing the journey of evangelical life initiated by the parish community. This young girl’s life and her commitment in the parish were imbued by the grace of this charism that revolutionized her whole being.
Journeying with the parish community
“Together with her family, she started to live the spirituality of unity while sharing the journey of evangelical life initiated by the parish community.”
She loved to do various types of sport. She enjoyed skiing, swimming, skating, and cycling, as well as singing and playing the guitar. In 1968 she started lessons at a school of music in Turin where she learnt to play the guitar and to sing. Together with friends, members of the youth parish band, she wanted to witness to, and share the joy of, living the Gospel, and the beauty of being a Christian community.
Her journey of faith is closely related to the spiritual itinerary of her parish community, and the two cannot be separated. Fr. Vincenzo Chiarle, the assistant parish priest of Fr. Giuseppe Michelotti in Vallo, was to succeed him on December 8, 1967.
Fr. Chiarle had felt a strong need to revitalize parish life in all its aspects. His personal experience with the Focolare Movement readily convinced him that this spirituality was vital to the parish’s renewal in line with Vatican Council II. Together with his whole family and 44 other people from Vallo and Varisella, he joined the ﬁrst Parish Movement’s Congress in Rome from June 3-5, 1967.
Maria Orsola was among the participants. Those days were to shed new light on every aspect of Christian life. Understanding that God is Love and that Jesus among them creates unity and renews all things was key to all this. Theirs was a moment of grace and a calling
to live the charism of unity.
On the return home from this experience, they visited the Focolare’s little town of Loppiano (Florence). This visit convinced them that the life of unity was indeed possible and that it draws people to experience the attractive life of the early Christian communities. Maria Orsola was fertile ground for the seed of this charism.
She started to live this spirituality, focusing on the total choice of God-Love – it was deﬁnitely a personal decision. However, at the same time, this spiritual journey was essentially a shared experience in the parish community of Vallo.
Maria Orsola was fully convinced of this. When interviewed about the parish community, she had explained:
“For us young people, this is very important because we feel the need of a family where members love one another and understand our problems. I want to make it clear that I’m not speaking about the natural family: I speak about a spiritual family where our difﬁculties are resolved because we are helped to live the Word of Life, and to love Jesus Forsaken”.
Touched by the spirituality of unity
In April 1968, she participated in the ﬁrst European Gen Movement’s Congress at Rocca di Papa, Rome. She was deeply touched by Chiara Lubich’s message, and felt the need to thank her and share her own life program: “I have understood that the key to our joy is the cross, it is Jesus Forsaken. Chiara, I want to love, to love always, to be the ﬁrst one to love, without expecting anything in return. I want to be an instrument in God’s hands following His will, and I want to do all I can, because this is the only thing worth living for. I want all young people to discover what true happiness is, and to love God.”
The choice of Jesus Forsaken marked the second stage of her ascetic life. Her letters show this:
“Do you know what you have to do, what we have to do together? We have to choose God, not in His glory, but in His Cruciﬁxion”
“Jesus, I am ready to suffer and offer (myself) for the Church, the Pope, the Bishop, and for the parish, for M, for G.”
Jesus Forsaken (Jesus on the cross who had experienced the extreme suffering of being forsaken by the Father, and thus the profound solitude of his redemptive gesture) had given her a vision of Universality, which boomeranged and opened her heart up to the constant desire of being His witness and of helping others, especially for young people to get to know him.
She summed up the mission of a Christian tersely: “giving God to others”. Giving God to others could be done personally, through example, by word and exchange of letters; and giving God to others as a community was carried out through various parish activities, particularly through the music group that sang at Masses, and through youth meetings and days of spirituality.
Meanwhile, inspirational mottos drawn from the spirituality and charism of the Focolare Movement were like springboards in her spiritual journey; she gave them a personal touch and made them her own.
Life beyond the absurdity of death
Her death, in the world’s eyes, seemed so untimely and absurd. On that day, together with her brother Giorgio and a group of forty children from the parishes of Vallo and Varisella, she had joined Fr. Vincenzo Chiarle to help out at the school camp held at Fr. Marino Gambetta’s house in Ca’ Savio, Venice.
Then on Friday evening July 10, 1970, she returned from the beach after a meeting about the Word of Life held in the afternoon. She had participated and played the guitar and sang with them. Returning to her room, after having a shower, while using her hair-dryer to prepare herself for Mass, she received a massive electric shock. It was about eight in the evening when her cousin Marisa entered the room and found her lying on the ground. CPR or artiﬁcial resuscitation were of no avail. Thus Maria Orsola left for heaven at the age of 15 years and 9 months.
On Monday July 13, 1970, more than 2,000 people from 50 parishes came together for a concelebrated funeral mass, where 30 priests participated: it was more of a feast than a funeral! The small village of Vallo seemed transformed into a sanctuary. Such a prayerful atmosphere prevailed. People were suffering, but also at peace and serene. Many felt that God was calling them to follow only what was essential in life.
Her young life had come to an abrupt end, but she was leaving a stream of light behind her. Once she had revealed her willingness to give up her life, if it would help young people discover God’s beauty. “And God took her at her word”, underlined Pope St. John Paul II, speaking to thousands of her fellow citizens in Turin in 1988: “She had accepted the challenge to transform her life into a gift, and not a selﬁsh possession”. “Hooray for life” was in fact her motto.
In 2007 Gianni Bianco wrote her biography, edited in Italian by San Paolo publishing house. “Hooray for Life. A Young Girl’s Race Towards Heaven In ‘68”. (“Evviva la vita. La corsa verso il Cielo di una ragazza del ’68”).
“She immediately appeared to me as an exceedingly modern teenager,” admits the author, “who would have much to say to the teenagers of today. In a certain sense she was ahead of her time with her love for ecology and social volunteerism. Moreover, I enjoyed learning about this simple girl who had observed from Turin, where the 1968 protests began in Italy, a world that was rapidly changing, and was especially motivated by the idea of being able to tell her story with a fresh and engaging language, to her own countrymen and women, and to today’s teenagers who are too often accused of having lost their values. Now they can look to her as a model.”
On March 18, 2015, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints published a decree on the canonical process of Maria Orsola Bussone. With this decree the Catholic Church now recognizes the heroic virtues of this young Italian girl from Vallo Torinese.