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The Pope in Loppiano. Donatella Donato Di Paola: “a city where openness to others is a source of richness”

“Hope”. It’s the “word” that Loppiano, the citadel of the Focolari Movement, would say to Italy today. “Life-grounded hope”, said Donatella Donato Di Paola, co-responsible of the citadel. “A life in which relationships, which our contemporaries are afraid of forming, here are a possibility, and where openness to our neighbour is always beneficial and a major source of richness”

(from Loppiano) Pope Francis? “He is a sign of hope for the Church and for humanity. He is giving meaning and value to the points of reference that society is trying to erase. Those points of reference are tenderness, Mercy. Strong words, that resist prevailing opinion, but that are experienced and lived out, conveying a form of happiness that is rarely to be found.” Thus on May 10 the community wishes to express to Pope Francis, upon his visit to the citadel of the Focolari Movement, its “feelings of utmost gratitude”, said Donatella Donato Di Paola, co-responsible of the Loppiano community, speaking on behalf of its 850 residents. We met her in the light of the Papal visit.

What was the dream that led to the creation of Loppiano in the 1960s?

It’s a dream indeed. The dream of Chiara Lubich. It was first conceived at the time when we were having the first experiences of coexistence in the mountains with a group of people, to relax and to rest. We witnessed the creation of a small society where people from different cultures, social backgrounds and age groups, tried living together, governed by one same law, the law of mutual love. This prompted the yearning to give a permanent trait to that experience. When faced with the opportunity to create a small citadel here in Loppiano, we saw that dream come true.

It was the dream of a city that constantly seeks the involvement of young people, adults, families, based on mutual love.

Who are the inhabitants of Loppiano?

Their numbers vary. At present the community is formed by 850 people from different corners of the world.

As many as 65 nations are represented to date.

Half of them live here on a permanent basis. Families who decided to move here, men and women members of the Focolari Movement who give life to this reality with continuity. They stay here for a period that ranges from six months to one year, they live out this experience and then they return to the world cities they came from, replicating “Loppiano” in their local environments.

Is there a risk that people may come here somewhat to escape from reality?

There always is that risk. But an escape from reality can occur anywhere, even in a large city. Loppiano is a concrete reality made of people, houses, schools, small businesses. Thus to answer your question, I’d rather say that Loppiano is a reality that grows richer with the contribution of people who live out this experience and then return to their home towns. It’s an extremely dynamic reality, open and welcoming. Even the residents don’t only live “on the mount”; perhaps they do from an evangelical perspective. But they also constantly interact with the surrounding social environment, with the Valdarno, with Italy, with the rest of the world, within this constant exchange of people that enter and exit the citadel.

There are many young people. What brings them here?

I have asked myself the same question several times. They have different answers. Some of them say “I came here to find myself”, for interior reflection, to take a break from their daily routine. Others say they were attracted by a demanding, powerful proposal, and wished to experience it in first person. They are also fascinated by the relationships created in Loppiano. They give a valuable contribution to the citadel. In my opinion young people yearn for this kind of relationship and for the values that we take for granted but which they discover in our community. Loppiano reposes on a culture of dialogue, a culture of openness that welcomes everyone. Our dream is that “everyone be one.”

Everyone is welcome: the members of world religious traditions and faiths as well as people with no religious reference.

Why has Pope Francis decided to visit Loppiano?

It’s a question that should be asked to him. I can only imagine that on the basis of his latest visits and meetings the Pope wishes to highlight charismatic proposals that are present inside the Church. He is enhancing them and is encouraging them to come to the fore, so that the Church may be increasingly enriched by the presence of many lay Catholics, of the many charisms and gifts that meet the challenges of today.

Where does Loppiano stand in the largest context of Italy?

Loppiano is an international citadel, open to the whole world. But it’s a citadel in Italy. In the last period we saw that many experiences lived out by organizations and by the movement in various parts of Italy, have found their home in Loppiano, which is where they form networks.

Loppiano thus intends to serve as a welcoming place for new, momentous proposals.

Which word does Loppiano wish to convey to the rest of Italy?

I think that word is hope. A form of hope that is based on life; a life where relationships, which our contemporaries are afraid of forming, here are a possibility, and where openness to our neighbour is always beneficial and a major source of richness.

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