(from Loppiano) A hillside that stretches for two hundred and sixty hectares in the municipality of Incisa Val d’Arno, 20 kilometers from Florence. Loppiano was the first international citadel of the Focolare Movement. Founded in 1964, today it counts approximately 800 inhabitants. More than half live there permanently. Others are in transit for a stay that can vary from 6 to 18 months. There are no entrances, gates or welcome signs. Loppiano is a city that everyone can enter, taking the road from any direction. It is not characterized by a particular architecture but by its thriving vitality, that emerges as we knock on the doors of one of the small homes located on its uphill paths. Once inside the citadel, you can tour the world while sipping coffee: from New Caledonia to China, to Syria, to Pakistan.
An extraordinary mosaic of peoples, cultures and languages. A portrayal of humanity: youths, families, doctors and students, priests, men and women religious. This population is only asked to follow one “rule” that governs this unique, unprecedented “city workshop.” It’s the new commandment given by Jesus, “Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” No signature needed. Here it’s simply called “pact.”
Pope Francis’ visit, on Thursday, May 10. The countdown has begun. He will be met by six thousand people. He will be welcomed also by 12 Thai Buddhist monks, a sign of a charism driven by the call to live out the unity of the human family which has reached all corners of the world, involving faithful from the many Christian Churches, believers of non-Christian faiths, even men and women without religious reference. Amidst badge-distribution, security measures to be put into place, the organization of live broadcasts and Internet connections, everything proceeds smoothly. The atmosphere of peace does not come from the surrounding green hills. It originates at a deeper level. “When we learned about the Pope’s upcoming visit to Loppiano – said Fausta Giardina, a member of the Focolare Movement for the past twenty years, in Colombia and Ecuador – the first thing we said is that he would be welcomed by a family that lives out mutual love. This has been our plan from the very start.”
The Pope will be arriving by helicopter after having visited the Nomadelfia community. He asked that the electric open car that will bring him to the “Maria Theotokos Shrine” pass as close as possible to the crowd to have the opportunity to greet the people. According to the program, after praying in private to the Holy Virgin inside the Church, the Pope will start a dialogue with the inhabitants on the citadel from the external platform. Among them will be also Violet, from Syria, who will sing for the Pope. Hers is an incredible story. Her husband Issa, gynecologist, and their four children, came here five years ago to attend the “Loreto School”, a 10-month experience for families. But by the end of the year the war in Syria had escalated violently. The city where they lived had been seized. They tried going back home, but a bomb exploded 200 meters away from them. They were in shock. They understood – they said with tears in their eyes – that the only solution was to remain in Loppiano. They thus lived as exiled migrants for five years. It was not easy.
The song that Violent will sing to the Pope is titled: “the Cry of my People”
Although torn apart by suffering, there is no resignation in their eyes. “We are immensely grateful to God for having led us here”, they said. “We found a family, our sorrow is everyone’s sorrow, and when difficulties are shared with those near you, they are transformed into love.”
Loppiano, the city with open doors, has also become the seat of Sophia University Centre. In the past 10 years of activity (it was the last initiative founded by Chiara, before her death) it was attended by 500 students. Sophia’s mission is “to help young people ask fundamental questions in order to continue seeking the answers throughout their lives”, said Bernhard Callebaut, Sociology Professor. “We adopt a multidisciplinary approach that requires the ability to connect Learning with the infinite wealth of knowledge, within the spirit of today’s Church, within the spirit of dialogue that entails openness to establishing relations with the members of other Churches, with the faithful of non-Christian religions, including people with no religious reference.” The “rule” of Loppiano is also applied in Sophia.
“Unity is what Jesus asked for to the Father. His request to us was to follow his example of mutual love. It’s a proposal open to everyone”, and which here, in these premises, becomes “the culture of reciprocity.”
Everything in Sophia is characterised by interaction: studies, the relations between students and professors, between the professors of the various subjects and between the students themselves. This approach forms open-minded men and women gifted with team-building skills, possessing conflict-resolution tools, problem-solving strategies, open to undertaking paths of dialogue.
“If God is everywhere, He is also music and art.” Since its foundation, Loppiano and its community promoted the development of art, music and singing. The Gen Rosso and Gen Verde music bands – historical realities in the Italian musical landscape – have their seats here. The song “Resta qui con noi” was the hymn of the first WYD established by Pope John Paul II in 1984. Also music, created and thriving through the citadel’s “inspiration”, is at the service of the charism of unity “since music – said Michele Sole, from Genrosso – has a universal languages that reaches out to the most remote places.” With their musical production these ensembles have torn down countless barriers.
Their musical production of the past years – encouraged by the words of Pope Francis – is a path of dialogue with young people, with workshops and shared musical performances. It opens up to peripheries and to vulnerable suburban areas. “For us music and dance – said Raiveth, of Gen Verde – are tools to express a message of fraternity that we live out among us. We want it to be a sign of hope to our modern world, which shows that unity is possible.”
From New Caledonia to China. In order to go to Loppiano and live out the experiences of one of its “schools” for one year, some of its residents have quit their jobs, others their lifetime friends, and their families. Some are motivated by the quest for “something great”, or by the need to “put themselves to the test.” A huge world map with the faces of its residents hangs at the entrance of the Gen school. From this perspective, the world seems a warmer place. After all, we should remember that these are the people formed by Chiara’s charism. But this spirit of universal brotherhood is made possible by the Words of Jesus, regulating the life of this city: “Love each other in the same way I have loved you.”