In the midst of World War II, while the world was being torn apart by fighting, a young Italian woman named Chiara Lubich felt an intense call to bring peace to the world.
Chiara saw division splitting the world apart and longed for an experience of unity. She understood that God loved each person uniquely and individually — despite what country they came from or who they were fighting for — and she knew that the world was in desperate need of peace. So she started with a simple response: she began gathering people who had the same vision of coming together during an uncertain and tumultuous time. Together, they formed small communities with a conviction to foster dialogue — no matter what background you might come from.
At the very heart of this small movement was a deep knowledge and commitment to serving the greater good through love. The group was named Focolare — an Italian word for hearth — because these communities acted as places of warmth where all could gather as members of one family.
Chiara and the other original members of the movement felt a fire and passion for the work they did in serving the family of God. The mission of the movement stems from a prayer that “all may be one.” Now, eight decades later, people and communities all over the world are involved in Focolare, sharing a mission to live out that prayer.
The Focolare movement realizes that we all are united through our shared humanity. God’s love does not exclude anyone, so we are called to love all as well, with no exclusions. At a convention in 1994, Chiara said, “Our goal is to contribute towards the unity of all, starting from love for every single person.”
Some Focolare members are priests or brothers or sisters, but many are lay people committed to the common good of all. Though it is an official Catholic movement, members come from various religious backgrounds — some are Catholic, some come from other Christian denominations, some have no denomination at all, and some are non-believers.
Focolare members live out their devotion to unity in a multitude of ways. The simplest way is by gathering together with other members and simply sharing life. Members also serve people on the margins in their own communities — those experiencing homelessness, children who live in poverty, people with disabilities — to show them the love and dignity they deserve.
Members also gather with others at conventions and conferences to participate in dialogue with each other about how we all can create a more unified world. When they can’t be together physically, each day at noon, many observe a moment of prayer or silence for peace in the world — an idea that originated with a group of teens and children wanting to do something for world peace.
Another notable Italian girl named Chiara was touched by Focolare: Chiara Badano was just a child herself when she became involved in the movement. She met often with Chiara Lubich, the founder, who observed that the young Chiara radiated joy and had a passion for serving others generously. That girl is now on her way to sainthood after losing her battle with bone cancer in 1990.
The movement finds it important to respect and regard the contributions of all equally. Children and young people are valued just as much as adults, women are equally as valued as men, and the voice and actions of lay people are just as valued as those who are serving as religious. In fact, Focolare is committed to always having a lay woman serve as president with a priest who always serves as co-president.
What started as a response to the second World War has turned into a worldwide movement committed to building bridges of unity and peace in the world through love that has lasted for nearly a century.