There are all kinds of “movements” in the Church that people join: the Catholic Charismatic Movement, the Legion of Mary, Catholic Action, Cursillo, Catholic Athletes for Christ and so on. Some large and international, others smaller and regional, people of all ages are drawn to the special things that these movements represent.
The Focolare Movement was founded in 1943 in Trent, Italy, by a Catholic lay woman named Chiara Lubich. The world was at war when Chiara and a few of her friends, after attending Mass one day, began talking about bringing people together in peace and unity through a shared faith in Jesus Christ.
Video: Bishop's essay on Blessed Chiara Badano
Chiara was inspired by the prayer of Jesus recounted in John’s Gospel, “That all may be one (John 17:21).” She wanted people of faith – even those with no faith – to reach out to one another and end the divisions that separated them. She saw a shared, common humanity, not necessarily any one specific religion, as the basis of the effort to seek unity.
Her idea and inspiration caught fire – the Italian word “focalare” means “hearth” – and spread among Chiara’s friends and neighbors to others in the neighboring towns and villages. Today, the Focolare Movement claims over 140,000 members – called “focalarini” – in more than 182 countries. Considered a Catholic movement, Focolare is ecumenical in its truest sense. It is amazing how beautiful ideas capture people’s imaginations and hearts!
On a personal note, I had the incredible privilege of meeting Chiara Lubich on Nov. 10, 2000, when, as President of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., I presented her with an honorary doctorate. In my remarks that day, I told the thousands of people gathered in the National Shrine, “Chiara Lubich’s spirituality and life’s work, the Focolare Movement, have, indeed, helped to foster the unity for which Jesus prayed in his final hours on earth. ... Chiara Lubich has been faithful to the divine inspiration that first moved her heart.”
Chiara Lubich, however, is not the person I want to highlight here – although she is, indeed, part of the story.
On Oct. 29, 1971, a daughter was born to Ruggero and Maria Theresa Badano in the northern Italian town of Sassello. Coincidentally, she was also named “Chiara.” At the age of nine, she attended her first Focolare meeting. That first encounter changed her young life. She fell in love with the Lord Jesus.
Described by her biographers as a “normal girl” who loved to sing and dance, to play tennis and listen to pop music, she was an attentive student in school but failed math (another reason I am drawn to her story!). Her friends remember her as a popular teenager who enjoyed the company of her friends, but also as a girl with deep faith. She was nicknamed “Sister” by her schoolmates because of her unapologetic devotion to the Catholic religion, Mass and prayer.
At the age of 16, in 1988, Chiara traveled to Rome, where she met Chiara Lubich. She began a lively, regular correspondence with Lubich, who gave her the nickname “Luce,” which means “light,” writing that “your luminous face shows your love for Jesus.”
That same summer, Chiara “Luce” Badano began to experience some pain in her shoulder while playing tennis. Tests revealed that she had developed a rare form of aggressive bone cancer, osteogenic sarcoma. This diagnosis did not dampen her spirits, but instead became her way of uniting her suffering with “the forsaken Jesus on the Cross.” “It’s for you, Jesus,” she would pray. “If you want it, I want it, too.”
Her attitude never wavered, despite excruciating pain. Refusing morphine, young Chiara reflected, “I want to share as much as possible in his (Christ’s) suffering on the Cross.” Her teenage faith sustained her and inspired all around her. Her thoughts and actions during her suffering were always directed toward others, giving away her possessions and making plans that her parents would have only happy memories after her impending death, hiding a Christmas card so that her mother and father would find it the following Christmas.
Chiara shared with those who came to see her that, during a complicated surgery, she was “visited by a lady” who grasped her hand with love, filled her heart with joy and then disappeared. Her “vision” was later considered an apparition of the Blessed Mother.
Despite the realization that her condition would not improve, Chiara asked her mother to help plan her wedding, choosing hymns and Scripture readings and describing her wedding gown. She wanted to be a “Bride of Christ.” Her “wedding” would be her funeral, and she was buried in that gown.
Just shy of 19 years of age, Chiara “Luce” Badano received absolution and Holy Communion and died on Oct. 7, 1990, with her parents at her side. “Bye, Mom,” she whispered, “Be happy because I am.” Over 2,000 people attended her funeral.
Within 10 years of her death, efforts began to pursue her canonization under the patronage of Bishop Livio Maritano of Acqui. Given her reputation for holiness from a very young age, Chiara “Luce” Badano was declared “Venerable” July 3, 2008, and following the verification of a miracle attributed to her intercession, “Blessed” on Sept. 25, 2010. Her feast day is celebrated on the day of her birth, Oct. 29.
At a time when the many distractions of contemporary life keep youth from building a relationship with the Lord, this teenager, Blessed Chiara Badano, stands out as a young woman who enjoyed her family, her friends and her short life, without ever losing sight of Jesus at its center.
Blessed Chiara “Luce” Badano is proof that sanctity does not require a long life or an early death – only a life, whatever its length, lived with and for the Lord. For young people in today’s world, Blessed Chiara “Luce” Badano shows them that saints can and do look like them. Pray for her canonization. Blessed Chiara “Luce” Badano, pray for the youth of our Diocese and inspire them, like you, to love the Lord.
Sources: Colleen Swain, “Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints,” Liguria Publications, 2011; Ann Ball, “Young Faces of Holiness: Modern Saints in Photos and Words,” Our Sunday Visitor, 2004; Wikipedia, “Chiara Badano.”
Editor’s Note: Chiara’s father, Ruggero Badano, died Oct. 13, 2018. May eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. Through the Mercy of God, rest in peace.