This is a new part of our
website, dedicated to all the friends who wrote their stories in our
guestbook. Not all stories are included, just those that contribute to a
better understanding of the problems we are dealing with. We like to thank
all those people that have the courage to come
forward and write from their hearts about a very painful episode of their
Names and places can be altered
to protect the privacy of the writers or their family
My name is René and I came
into contact with the Focolare in 1979 in Australia. I was then 17
years of age and living with my family. My father was searching at
that time for some form of meaningful Christian community to belong
to. I met a handful of focolarini and attended a few mini-Mariapoli
days. Some of the gen 2 boys were renting a house (the "Gen
House") and I used to travel up on some weekends to visit and
After completing secondary school in 1980 I visited my relatives in
Ireland, and also stayed for some weeks in Loppiano. When I returned
to Australia, I lived for 2 years in Brisbane and did not have any
contact with Focolare. I became involved with and lived in a
"Catholic Worker" community (inspired by the lives of
Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York).
In 1983 I lived in a "Gen House" until August 1986. During
those years I also attended some Mariapoli in Manila. I then stayed
for a few months in Rome at the international Gen House near
Grottaferrata within the domain of the focolarino "Opus".
I proceeded to live in the Gen School at Loppiano for a further 6
months and on my way home, I stopped off to experience life with the
Gen and focolarini of Manila and Tagaytay for 3 months in mid 1987.
Within a year of returning from these intense experiences, I
expressed a desire to become a focolarino. I lived together in a
rented house together with a few other "esterni" for a few
years. In late 1990 I moved into a focolarini household for a few
months before returning to Loppiano again in January 1991.
Together with other prospective focolarini who were not able to
speak Italian, I spent 12 months learning the language before
entering the first year of "The School" of focolarini in
1991/2. I completed the second year in Montet in 1992/3 but was
experiencing depressive symptoms and was asked to stay another year.
Over the course 1993/4 I was offered the opportunity of talking with
psychiatrist Dr Paul Schmidt, a focolarino in Zurich. I found the
life at Montet so stifling that in September 1994 I asked for a
ticket to return to Australia.
I stayed in focolare for a month until I found myself an apartment
and employment. I lived alone. I was estranged from both my family
and the focolare community. After about a year I suffered a major
depressive episode and stopped working for a year.
Ten years ago, in August 1996, at the age of 35, I began to go out
with a woman, who I married in December 2000. I now have 4
step-children. Last year, the two boys (25 and 21 years old) and the
eldest girl (23 y.o.) moved out of home. Our youngest girl is 16
I am finding life "on the outside" to be challenging and
rewarding as I struggle with mental illness. After a few years of
marriage and some limited capacity in a role as step-parent, stress
at work contributed to further episodes of major depressive disorder
and over another year out of work.
I have just started to return to work a few months ago in the field
of "Personal Support" (a program of assistance to people
experiencing long-term unemployment). For 10 years, up until a few
months ago, I had avoided any kind of work directly associated with
caring for others.
Having read Gordon's book, I am also eager to find and talk with
others who have undergone such intense experiences and to put
together some of the pieces of the puzzle which remains in my mind,
heart, spirit and body.
May these lines bring a blessing to your reading of them in some way
(I'm afraid to write my name) from Brazil. I belonged to the Focolari
movement for 6 years. It became my life when I was 12. It was a real
brainwash. I changed the way I dressed, the way I thought, moreover, I
should not think, I should follow Chiara's thoughts....
When I was 18,
I went to Loppiano. I stayed there for 6 months. Even though I can say
that I learned good things, I returned to Brazil with the intention to
leave the movement. It was a very hard experience for me. I was so sad
when I heard the responsible of the "Casetta Gen", Gabriela Zoncapè,
telling a gen from Macau that she was the cancer of that "Scuola gen"
because something wrong she has said.
When I decided to leave the
Focolari, people were very rude to me. They told me I was going to hell.
What a terrible experience! I felt awful. After reading philosophy
books, I felt better.
Now I am very happy with my life without this
I am so happy to find a place to talk about my past
experiences with focolari.
It’s strange the way
people treat you when you leave. It seems we don’t exist. Maybe they
behave like this because they know we know the truth. The truth I see is
that there is no charity at all. The pope and popi are unhappy people.
They pretend they are happy. I have talked privately with some and they
confessed me they envy me because I had the courage to leave. One of them
was really depressed and sad. What did they do with her? They sent her to
Rocca di Papa. She stayed there for some months (the brainwash again, you
know) she came back another person. Poor thing!
Another popa from
Thailand would like to leave, but as she had been out of her country for
so many years, she forget her native language and she doesn’t know if she
still has relatives there. I felt so sorry for her…
I am a
professor now. I had and have some students that are gen. They are so
artificial! I can see myself years ago….the same thoughts, the same
mistakes…I tried to talk to some of them about my experiences, but it
didn’t work…the brainwash is too powerful.
Can you imagine that my
responsible in Loppiano told me to end my relationship with my boyfriend?
I didn’t want to do that, but she insisted on that. I cried a lot, I
couldn’t write a letter, she decided to sit by me and dictated the letter
in Italian and I had to write in Portuguese, my native language. It was
the worst experience in my life.
I was glad my boyfriend pretended
he hadn’t understood. When I came back to my town, we continued our
relationship. Now he is my husband. We have been married for 10 years.
Yes, I got married when I was 19 I was pregnant. After those months in
Loppiano, I decided to change my behaviour, as we loved each other so
much, we decided to make love. I got pregnant and we got married. Many
people from the movement were shocked. I belonged to the “unità
arcobaleno”, they told my mother not to tell anyone I was pregnant…. I
told everybody I could I was pregnant and very happy.
daughter is almost 10 years old, she a happy girl. My husband and I have a
great life together. I can say that there is LOTS OF LIFE out of focolari.
I keep the good things I learned, to love everybody. But I
realized they don’t do this, they just love the ones that give their lives
to focolari, even these ones suffer with the extreme authority of the pope
My first doubts...
I was invited to
accompany the Gen to an encounter in Rome. I was told by the focolarine it
would be a chance for me to "see Chiara";this didn't mean too much for
me, I was still thinking I was following Jesus. Anyway, Chiara arrived & I have
to confess, I had tears in my eyes seeing her.
Anyway, the whole group was prepared to the audience of the pope
the next day;a focolarina told us how to behave:
trying to get a white handkerchief and chanting
"viva il papa,gen gen gen ";honestly, we were given a rehearsal how
to do this. I found this so repulsive but could not put a name on this. In
fact the next day I was ill & could not go to the meeting; now I
realise this illness was a way of my body to protest to such
brainstorming. So I can easily understand the sympathy of the pope for the
focolare (it was not the present pope): everywhere he
goes he is met with this white handkerchief waving silent
focolarecrowd.The same for Chiara: everywhere she
goes the community is told she will be in this or that place & people
feel they have to be there, waving beatically, smiling, as this is the sign of
Gen schools, congresses were
fantastic at that time. The people you get to know, the people with whom
you declare unity, and feel as ONE.
But that's where the illusion
becomes a disillusion. When I decided to make a break from Focolare, I
experienced lack of friends. I realised that I did not have friends.
Friends with whom I could go out, enjoy myself like all others. I realised
in what a closed circle I was living. My life was the Focolare and
Focolare was my life. I became aware of how unhealthy that is.
None of my ex Volontarie
collagues have ever called to express for example Happy Christmas, or
Happy Birthday. When I had to go to hospital, no one came to see how I
was, but did not hesitate to spread stories that I was suffering from a
brain tumour. I had to start looking and making new friends.
for the character that I have, that now I have a wide circle of friends,
friends with whom I feel at ease and at liberty to say yes if I want to go
out, and to say No if I do not want to. Friends with whom I can have a
laugh about anything under the sun.
In 1949 there was this special
experience of "paradise", a mystical experience. At the beginning and for
a long time, Chiara did not want to speak about that because even for her
it's something strange. But She has recently spoken about that to the
movement (for example in December 1999 to the Gen at their congress in
Castel Gandolfo). She is ready
to destroy all her notes about that if Church says that it is not a valid
experience. You can understand that it is not easy to communicate such a
thing. Imagine that you have Joan of the Cross in front of you, and that
he spokes to you about his mystical night, about his visions, you will
take him as a fool man. But he is a saint. I understand the "reserves" of
Chiara about this experience.
It is my impression, both from being an
active member of the Movement (no longer) and having family involved, that
there is a massive lack of honesty involved. In order not to spoil the
atmosphere or be difficult and also, lets face it, sometimes out of pride,
it is often easier to say what you think the other person wants to hear
rather than the truth. As an example, if we had listened to a talk by
Chiara and were then asked our opinion of it, I never heard anyone say
anything negative. That includes me, although sometimes I found such talks
dull or didn't agree with some point or other. I can't believe nobody else
ever had such thoughts.
I'm not particularly blaming the Focolare
for this lack of honesty, as I suspect that the focolarina often don't
actually know about it. However it does have the unfortunate effect of
further distancing focolarina from the reality most of us live in and is
therefore rather unfair to them. Remember that they live only in the
Focolare and that is their main focus in life, so they are somewhat
removed from the sort of life most of us live anyway.
got involved in the
focolare when I was 17 years old and just like you I had a wonderful time
with the gen. Together we went to Italy for congresses and meetings. I was
at Sassone, Frascati and at the Center in Rocca di Papa. As a gen I was
active for many years. But unlike you I did put my family before the
movement. Whatever the pope asked me, I was more than happy to do it, even
at the expense of my old friends and family. At one point I was asked to
cook in the Mariapoli meeting. But I much rather would have liked to stay
with my aunt who had a terminal illness. I was afraid she would die during
the Mariapolis, but as an act of faith I went to cook there anyway. Now I
very much regret what I've done; I should have stayed with my aunt because
she had died before I came back from the Mariapolis.
After that I
started to ask more questions to the focolarine, but I felt that this was
regarded as a violation of the unity. I felt less close to the others if I
asked questions, so I hesitated to do this. But inside of me the questions
remained. I had given a lot of money to the movement and I wanted to know
where it all had gone to. I asked for annual financial reports, but they
were never available. This made me doubt even more. So after 15 years I
decided to leave the movement. I had lost almost all of my old friendships
and I had become a stranger to my family.
Perhaps you have a
stronger personality than I had if you can still put your family before
the focolare. I know that this is not a choice that makes the focolarine
happy because they see Chiara who put the bag on her mothers shoulder in
the war as their great example.