A beautiful, extroverted, lively girl, in love with God. But the beauty of God’s plan for her life becomes shiningly apparent in the last two years of her illness. 18 years of life: a model for people of all ages.
Chiara Luce Badano was born is Sassello, near Savona (Northwest Italy), on October 29, 1971, to parents who had been trying to have a child for 11 years. Her childhood and adolescence were serene: she lived in a loving, united family from which she received a solid Christian education.
Chiara Luce had a generous, extroverted and lively personality. At four she chose carefully which toys to give to poor children (“I certainly can’t give broken toys to children who don’t have any!”). In first grade she was attentive in all sorts of little ways toward her desk-mate, a girl who had lost her mom; at Christmas she agreed enthusiastically to her mother’s proposal that they invite her to celebrate with them. She asked that they use the most beautiful table cloth, “because today Jesus will be with us!” She listened with great attention to the parables of the Gospel and prepared carefully to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. She touched people with her demeanor and great concentration when listening to the Word of God and when attending Mass. She visited the “grandmas” of a retirement home and, later, when they needed assistance, she would offer to spend the night by the bed of her maternal grandparents.
Her life was full of little acts of love. One evening she wrote: “One of my classmates has chicken pox and everyone is afraid to go visit her. My parents have agreed that it’s okay if I bring her her homework, so she won’t feel alone. I think that love is more important than fear.”
At 9 she encountered the Focolare Movement and embraced the ideal of unity by becoming a Gen (the second generation of the Focolare). From then on she would rise and rise as if part of a rock climbing group in which everyone is tied together: her parents, Focolare founder Chiara Lubich, the young people with whom she shared her choice of life. She was active in her parish and diocese. In 1981 she participated with her family to the Family Fest in Rome, and international gathering of the Focolare aimed at families and addressing family life. This large encounter marked a new beginning for all three of them. Chiara Luce deepened her commitment to the Gen movement. In her little town, she renewed her dedication to loving her classmates and everyone she encountered, because she wanted to live the Gospel that had fascinated her in a radical way.
She began a correspondence with Chiara Lubich that got more and more intense. She confided all of her trials to Chiara until the very end. On June 12, 1983, she participated in her first international Gen convention in Rocca di Papa, near Rome. She wrote to Chiara: “I rediscovered Jesus Forsaken in a special way.” She was referring to one of the key point of the spirituality of unity, when Jesus on the cross cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). In November of that year she wrote again: “I discovered that Jesus Forsaken is the key to unity and I want to choose him as my spouse and be ready for when he comes. I want to prefer him! I realized that I can find him in those who are far from him, in all atheists, and that I must love them in a very special way, without expecting anything at all for myself.” She will never question this choice.
From her letters and testimonies a special joy and wonderment at life emerged. Her vision of life was positive and sunny. Chiara was a girl like all others: joyful and lively, she loved music (she had a beautiful voice), swimming, tennis and hiking. She had a lot of friends. To those who asked her if she talked about Jesus to her friends, she replied: “I must not tell about Jesus, but give Jesus with my behavior.”
She was not doing this all on her own. The other Gen and she didn’t miss a chance to “cement their unity,” as they say, in meetings where they shared experiences of having put the Gospel into practice, on the phone, through impromptu visits, little notes, parties, trips, presents. They made a true communion of goods: until her death, Chiara Luce will keep in her room a list of the things she owned, so that she could make them available to those who needed them.
At 17 she felt a sharp pain in her shoulder while playing tennis. The doctors didn’t like it and sent her for tests. Soon she received the news that she had bone cancer. In February 1989 she had her first surgery. There was little hope to eradicate the cancer. The other Gen and friends of the Focolare took turns at the hospital to support Chiara and her family. A series of stays at Turin’s hospital began, with more and more frequent hospitalizations. The treatment was very painful but Chiara underwent it with great courage. Each time there was a new, painful “surprise,” Chiara offered it without hesitation: “It’s for you, Jesus; if you want it, I want it, too.”
Soon she lost the use of her legs. She underwent a new painful surgery but it proved unsuccessful. Her union with Jesus Forsaken, who on the cross did not feel the comforting presence of the Father, supported her in her toughest moments. She said, “If they now asked me if I want to walk I’d say no, because this way I’m closer to Jesus.”
Her doctor, a man who didn’t believe in God and was critical of the Church, will say: “Since I met Chiara something has changed inside me. Here I find consistency. Everything about Christianity I see here makes sense to me.”
In spite of the fact that she was basically paralyzed, Chiara was incredibly active. She followed by phone a group of Youth for a United World based in Savona, was present at congresses and other activities with messages, postcards, posters, and, eager to have her friends and classmates meet the Gen Movement, she invited many of them to the Genfest of 1990 (a large international gathering of youth that took place in Rome). She herself followed the event live, thanks to a parabolic antenna mounted on the roof of her house.
Chiara persevered in offering all her pain: “I care only about the will of God, about doing it well, in the present moment: I want to play ball with God.” Or: “At this point I have nothing else (health-wise), but I still have my heart and with that I can always love.” She was sustained by the certainty that she was “immensely loved by God.” Her trust in this love was unshakable. When her mom told her that she didn’t know what she’ll do without her, Chiara told her, “Trust in God and you’ll have done all you need to do!”
Her relationship with Chiara Lubich became closer and closer. She kept her up-to-date on everything. On July 19, 1990, she wrote: “The science of medicine has laid down its arms. Since we stopped the treatment, the pain in my back has increased and I can barely turn on my side. I feel little and the path ahead of me is so hard… often I feel overcome by pain. But it’s my Spouse who’s coming to see me, right? I, too, repeat with you, ‘If you want it, I want it too’ … I am with you in the certainty that with him we’ll win over the world!”
Chiara Lubich replied immediately: “Don’t be afraid, Chiara, to tell Him your ‘yes’ moment by moment. He will give you the strength, be certain of this! I pray for this and I’m always there with you. God loves you immensely and wants to penetrate to the most intimate parts of your soul and allow you to experience drops of heaven. I thought of this name for you: ‘Chiara Luce.’ Do you like it? It’s the light of the Ideal that wins over the world. I send it to you with all my love…”
With the worsening of the illness the doctors recommended increasing the morphine, but Chiara refused: “It makes me less lucid and the pain is all I can offer Jesus.”
In a moment of particularly harrowing physical pain she confided to her mother that she was singing, “Here I am Jesus, today in front of you…” She knew that soon she would be able to meet him and was getting ready. One morning, after a difficult night, it came to her to say at short intervals, “Come, Lord Jesus.” At 11, unexpectedly, a priest of the Movement came to visit her. Chiara Luce was extraordinarily happy: since she woke up she had felt a great desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
Chiara Luce went to Heaven on October 7, 1990. She had thought of everything: the songs for her funeral, the flowers, her hair style, her dress (white, like a bride’s)… with a special request: “Mom, while you are preparing me, you will have to repeat all the time: now Chiara Luce is seeing Jesus.” When her father asked her if she was still willing to donate her corneas, she replied with a luminous smile. Then she said goodbye to her mother for the last time: “Be happy, because I am.” She smiled at her dad. The funeral was celebrated by the bishop of her dioceses and attended by hundreds and hundreds of young people and many priests. Members of the Gen Rosso and Gen Verde (Focolare performing arts groups) performed the songs she asked. Her parents received a large bunch of flowers from Chiara Lubich with this note: “Let’s thank God for this luminous masterpiece of his.”
The fame of Chiara’s sanctity spread. The bishop of the Acqui diocese, where she received her confirmation and who met her several times during her illness, initiated the diocesan phase of the beatification process on June 11, 1999. To Michele Zanzucchi, who wrote a biography of Chiara Luce, the bishop said, “It seemed to me that her testimony was meaningful, especially for young people. We need holiness today, too. We need to help our young people find a direction, a goal, a way of overcoming their insecurity and loneliness, their queries in the face of failures, pain, death, all of their restlessness.”
On July 3, 2008 Chiara Luce was proclaimed Venerable, and on December 10, 2009, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI recognized a miracle obtained through her intercession. It is the step that opened the way to her beatification.
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