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OBIT-LUBICH (UPDATED) Mar-14-2008 (840 words) With photos. xxxi

Chiara Lubich, founder of Focolare movement, dies at 88

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Chiara Lubich, the 88-year-old founder and perpetually smiling symbol of the Focolare movement, died early March 14 after what Pope Benedict XVI said was "a long and fruitful life" marked by her love for Jesus.

Lubich died in her room near the Focolare headquarters in Rocca di Papa, south of Rome.

In a telegram, Pope Benedict offered his condolences to her family, members of the Focolare movement and all those "who appreciated her constant commitment for communion in the church, for ecumenical dialogue and for brotherhood among all peoples."

The pope also expressed his thanks to God "for the witness of her life spent in listening to the needs of contemporary people in full fidelity to the church and to the pope."

Pope Benedict asked that all those who admired "the marvels that God worked through her" would follow in her footsteps, keeping her vision alive.

Lubich's funeral was scheduled for March 18 at Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, presiding.

Lubich had been extremely frail since November 2006 when she was treated at Rome's Gemelli hospital for a lung infection. She was readmitted to the hospital in February after experiencing difficulty breathing, but decided to go home March 13 even though her condition had not improved.

Her physician, Dr. Salvatore Valente, head of pulmonary medicine at Gemelli, said at the time that she had shown no signs of responding to treatment, which included medication and the use of a ventilator to help her breathe.

While she was still in the hospital, Pope Benedict had sent her a personal letter, promising to remember her in his prayers and asking the Lord to grant her "physical relief, spiritual comfort" and to help her "experience the redeeming value of suffering lived in profound communion with him."

In early March, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople went to visit her in the hospital while he was in Rome to meet the pope and speak at the Pontifical Oriental Institute.

In a statement, the patriarch said, "with her life she has and continues to give much to the whole church."

While the Focolare movement, formally known as the Work of Mary, began in the 1940s with Lubich and a small group of female friends, it opened an ecumenical chapter in 1961 and began forging ties with Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and others in the 1970s.

The movement now counts more than 2 million adherents in 182 countries.

Lubich was born in Trent, Italy, Jan. 22, 1920, and was christened Silvia. Her admiration of St. Clare of Assisi led her to adopt the name Chiara, the Italian form of Clare.

She had said that her first awareness that God was calling her to something unusual came during a 1939 gathering of Catholic young people in Loreto, Italy, site of the house that a pious tradition holds is the house in which Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth.

The Focolare biography of Lubich said, "While visiting the shrine, Chiara experienced an intuition of what her vocation would be: a reproduction of the family of Nazareth, a new vocation in the church, and she sensed that many others would follow her way."

In 1943, after consulting a priest, she privately took vows consecrating herself to God and gradually began forming a circle of friends who read the Gospels together.

A year later, as World War II raged around them, they began asking themselves, "Is there an ideal that does not die, that no bomb can destroy, an ideal we can give our whole selves to? Yes, there is. It is God," she wrote.

"We tried to put into practice the sentences of the Gospel, one at a time," Lubich said.

Gradually, the women decided to form a community and share everything they had with each other and with the poor. They sought a sense of family gathered around a hearth -- "focolare" in Italian.

Many of the early Gospel readings and discussions were held in bomb shelters. More and more, the group began to focus on Christ's commandment to love one's neighbor and his prayer that all would be one. The community grew, men became involved, other houses were formed and families started joining, too.

The bishop of Trent granted diocesan approval to the group in 1947; it became recognized internationally by the Vatican in 1962.

Just two years later, in 1964, Lubich had her first papal audience, meeting Pope Paul VI. In addition to regular meetings and occasional public appearances with Pope John Paul II, she also was his frequent lunch guest.

Lubich was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1977 and the UNESCO Peace Education Prize in 1996.

Pope John Paul appointed her to serve as an observer at four synods of bishops in the 1980s and 1990s, and she served as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Laity.


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