Pope Francis Thursday paid a visit to two small Catholic communes in central Italy dedicated to living solidarity and promoting ecumenical unity, telling members that their “prophetic” way of living the Gospel must continue with boldness and perseverance.
Speaking to members of the Nomadelfia community and commune, the pope said theirs is “a prophetic reality that proposes the creation of a new civilization, implementing the Gospel as a form of a good and beautiful life.”
Similarly, he told members of the Focolare Movement, which has a Marian spirituality and places an emphasis on ecumenism, that their community is “an illustration of the mission of the Church today, as traced by the Second Vatican Council.”
He told members they should not stay locked inside, but must “go out, to encounter, to take care of, to throw the leaven of the Gospel in the pasta of society, above all where there is most need, where the Gospel is awaited and invoked: in poverty, in suffering, in trials, in the search and in doubt.”
He said “frankness” and “perseverance” — in Greek “parresia” and “hypomone” — were two keywords members should to keep in mind going forward.
Parresia, or frankness, he said, speaks of the “courage and sincerity in bearing witness to the truth” that a disciple of Jesus needs to have, even in prayer.
“Prayer must have frankness, to say things face-to-face,” he said, and, pointing to how Abraham bartered with God to continue lowering the number of righteous people needed to save Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction, told members to “fight with God in prayer.”
Perseverance, he said, means learning to move beyond the difficult situations that life presents and not get bogged down by challenges.
“This term expresses the constancy and firmness in carrying forward the choice of God and of new life in Christ. It means keeping this choice firm, even at the cost of difficulty and opposition, knowing that this constancy, this firmness and this patience produce hope, and hope does not disappoint,” he said.
Referring to the image of the “Maria Theotokos” housed in a shrine in Loppiano, which is the epicenter of the Focolare Movement, the pope noted that “the first disciple of Jesus was his mother,” and told members, most of whom are laypeople, not to forget that “Mary was a laywoman.”
Pope Francis met briefly with members of the Nomadelfia and Focolare communities during a May 10 half-day trip to Grosetto and Loppiano, where each of the movements operate.
Nomadelfia — which in Greek means 'where brotherhood is law' — is a small community and commune within the Tuscan city of Grosseto consisting of practicing Catholics seeking to live a life inspired by the events in the biblical book of the Acts of the Apostles.
The community was founded by Fr. Zeno Saltini, who after his ordination to the priesthood in 1931, spiritually adopted as his “son” a 17-year-old boy who had recently left prison.
Saltini continued to welcome more and more troubled and abandoned youth. Eventually, as more young people knocked on his door, the community grew and laywomen came as “mothers” to care for the youth who arrived. Soon couples also began to arrive who welcomed the children and raised them as a family.
The first commune of Nomadelfia was located on the grounds of a former concentration camp in Fossoli following the German occupation of Italy during the Second World War, before later transferring to Grosseto.
There is no private property in the commune; everything is shared, and children who come are required to attend school until the age of 18. Today there are some 5,000 youth who have been welcomed into the Grosseto commune. Many of the couples in the community have welcomed children and youth as foster-parents.
The last pope to visit Nomadelfia was St. John Paul II in 1989, just eight years after Fr. Saltini's death in 1981.
After arriving around 8a.m. May 10, Pope Francis was welcomed by Saltini's successor, Don Ferdinando Neri, and the president of the community, Francesco Matterazzo.
He visited the commune's cemetery and led the community in a prayer at Saltini's tomb, leaving a stone with his name on it, as other inhabitants of Nomadelfia have done, before visiting the tombs of the first members of the community.
Francis then made his way to the chapel of the main house of the community, where he entrusted two children into the care of two separate families, after which he met with the wider community.
In his speech, Pope Francis pointed to the meaning of their name, Nomadelfia, saying the “law of brotherhood” they live was the life-goal of their founder.
Saltini, he said, understood when he saw abandoned and suffering youth that “the only language they understood was that of love.”
Because of this, the priest was able to identify a unique type of society “where there is no space for isolation or solitude, but the principle collaboration between different families is in force, where the members recognize their brothers in faith.”
Francis also pointed to the care shown toward the elderly in the commune, who even when in poor health are not abandoned, but are supported by the entire community.
“Continue on this path, incarnating the model of fraternal love through visible works and signs in the many contexts where evangelical charity calls you,” the pope said, telling members that when faced with a world that is often hostile to Christ and his Church, “do not hesitate in responding to the joyful and serene witness of your lives, inspired by the Gospel.”
After his brief visit to Nomadelfia, Pope Francis made another short stop in Loppiano, heart of the Focolare Movement launched by Chiara Lubich in 1943 as a means of spiritual and social renewal.
The movement, which places an emphasis on universal brotherhood and ecumenical unity, and promotes a Marian spirituality, is currently present in 182 countries around the world.
Although the movement was established by a Catholic, it embraces and welcomes members of other religions who do not necessarily share Catholic beliefs. Focolare has around two million Catholic members as well as thousands of members from other Christian churches and religious traditions, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.
After arriving to Loppiano, the pope immediately went to the shrine of “Maria Theotokos,” where he sat in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and prayed in front of the image of the Mary the “Theotokos” — the “God-bearer” or “Mother of God” in Greek.
In an audience with members of the movement in the sanctuary's churchyard, the pope responded to three questions on how to live a life of true charity amid modern challenges; how academic and formational entities can grow and build new forms of leadership in society, and what the mission of Focolare is in the New Evangelization.
Speaking of frankness and perseverance, Pope Francis said these qualities mean “to have 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.”
“One must ask the Holy Spirit for frankness — always united to respect and tenderness — in bearing witness to the great and beautiful works that God has done in us and in our midst,” he said, and encouraged members to be honest and sincere in their relationships, but to avoid sowing discord and murmuring through gossip.
As he often has in the past, Francis called a gossiper a “terrorist” who “destroys the community, destroys the Church, and also destroys oneself.”
He also 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 a sense of humor, “even in the most difficult moments.”
In order for the community to go forward, it also needs memory, he said, because it “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.”
Speaking of the numerous centers for education and formation run by the movement, the pope urged them to give the entities “a new momentum, opening them to even more vast horizons and projecting them to the frontiers.”
A special emphasis, he said, should be placed on the courses that connect children, older youth, families and people from different vocations.
In terms of the movement's role in the New Evangelization, Pope Francis said that at 50 years old, the life of the Loppiano community is just beginning in terms of their service in announcing the Gospel, which requires “humility, openness, synergy and the ability to risk.”
“We need men and women — young people, families, persons from all vocations and professions — to trace new paths to follow together,” he said.
Francis then said the big challenge in this regard is to have a “faithful creativity,” which means being faithful to their charism while also being open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, courageously interpreting new paths forward.
Discernment is necessary for this “faithful creativity” to be successful, he said, adding that :we are all called to be artisans of communitarian discernment. This is the path so that also Loppiano can discover and follow, step by step, but path of God in service to the Church and to society.”