"Love conquers all": these are the words that the founder of the Focolarini, Chiara Lubich (whose hundredth birthday was celebrated in 2020) heard within herself in a moment of prayer, in the midst of the bombings that were destroying her hometown of Trent (Italy) during World War II.
Chiara Lubich. L’amore vince tutto (“Chiara Lubich. Love conquers all”) is now also the title of a film dedicated to this incredible woman, directed by Giacomo Campiotti, director also of Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue (“White as silent, red as song” and of the series Braccialetti Rossi (“Red Bracelets”). The film, broadcast in prime time on Rai 1, on January 3, 2021 was the most watched program that evening with over 5 million viewers––not counting those who can keep watching it on RAI's multimedia platform.
The movie’s plot
The film catapults us right away into a tried and tired Italy in 1943–– in the middle of World War II. Chiara is a schoolteacher, who loves children, and is happy to be able to support her family with her salary in a time of serious economic difficulty. But the situation becomes much more serious when the Anglo-Americans begin bombing civilians in Chiara’s hometown, causing deaths and injuries, leaving many children orphaned, and destroying homes.
Chiara's family decided to flee through the mountains, but she felt she had to stay in the city to help those in need: the ill or injured, the orphans, and all those who were in difficulty and unable to escape.
She chose to stay in an area at risk of being bombed, instead of saving herself, driven by this conviction: that “love is the true engine of man” and nothing can extinguish it. In her case, this certainty overpowers even the fear of dying.
Chiara: one of the first consecrated women without a habit
Chiara consecrated her heart to God, and while remaining a laywoman, she made a vow to belong only to Christ and to love her neighbour as her brother in Christ, deciding to not marry or have children. One of the vows she made was to remain in Trent, no matter what. A very touching scene in the film is when she asks her father for his blessing to stay, instead of leaving with them. He, though stunned, gives her his blessing, adding: “God is lucky, if he can count on you.” Then they said goodbye, without knowing if they’d ever see each other again.
Some of her friends, who had already been intrigued by her spirit of service, followed her: they too decided to perform works of charity with Chiara for the benefit of those who bore the brunt of the bombings’ aftermath.
A hearth that now warms the whole world
The “hearth” of these intrepid girls, which was born underground in a bunker, with the Gospel in their hands and a lit candle, grew and became a stronghold in the city, while outside everything was burning after the bombings. It continued to grow over the years, from something that these few girls didn’t intend to found - they just wanted only to love one another and spread goodness- into one of the most widespread ecclesial movements in the world. The strength and novelty of the charism is its unity. Chiara’s dream is, in fact, that of Jesus: “That all may be one.”
Chiara really took a chance on love. She put her life on the line. She had the courage to risk everything for what she believed in, and with her own hands, she touched the concreteness of the Gospel, teaching even her friends to take it “literally.” When they have little, when food is scarce, they would give what little they have. “Let’s try to simply do what Jesus says: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,” she suggests. And every time they are amazed to see how generous God is with them.
Chiara Lubich: the hostilities and the approval of the charism
Chiara’s movement will be later on examined by the Church since it is a major phenomenon. As always, prudence is needed before granting the imprimatur on the new Lubich's charism. Chiara’s life will be investigated, and certainly she bore some unjustified “hostility” by the ecclesiastical judges, hostility which surely existed but which is pictured in a way a bit “too extreme” in the film. This is fiction’s limit. It eliminates the grey area, and basically shows reality in black and white.
Chiara’s charism came at a time in history that was very different from ours: As far as the Church is concerned, it is taking place prior to the Second Vatican Council, an historical event that marked a greater and significant openness not only to women, but to the laity in general, who were previously seen as the people of God “to be led,” not leading. Back then, the role of laity was different to that of today, as it is now recognized and valued as much as the role of the clergy.
On these aspects, perhaps, the film is a bit too heavy-handed, but we have to consider that it is describing a time with a quite different cultural mindset. It is evident that, for narrative purposes, the hero “hindered by all” is very charming and this helps to show the many prejudices against Chiara as a woman, rendering her character even more attractive to the general public. Today, this is a very sensitive issue in regard to women’s rights.
Regarding women’s emancipation, we believe that Chiara is truly a wonderful example today.
Chiara: the case of a woman who dedicated her life to serving others
Chiara did not take part in rallies or protests, she did not sign laws, create slogans or propaganda, yet with her own life she demonstrated the inestimable value of women, the strength that dwells in their souls, the beauty of using one’s talents to serve the community, thus changing its destiny.
In her life, Chiara consoled widows, fed the poor, clothed and comforted the needy, gave hope to those drowning their sorrows in wine, and cared for orphaned children. And she did it in a unique, special way, with such kindness––with the tenderness of a woman.
In a word, Chiara loved. Now, isn’t this what gives purpose to our days?
And how can we not think, looking at her, of another homonymous figure of our days, of whom we have spoken in our portal, Chiara Corbella ?
Although in different ways, both have changed hearts and “given” life.
Both have shown just how much women enrich this world of ours.