loren Eric Swanson: Trent to Rome--Day 3

Friday, July 07, 2006

Trent to Rome--Day 3

Day 3—Friday, June 23, 2006—Focolore Retreat Center, Trento

This morning after breakfast Moses, from Ghana and Eric from Nigeria lead us in a short time of worship. This is one of the great things about taking a class like this. There are leaders from several different countries, each bringing his or her faith, culture and worship styles along. We are then introduced to Seleshi Kebede Nadew from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He had some plane connection problems and so arrived to Trent last night. He tells a bit of his story followed by what is happening spiritually in Ethiopia. After the Communists closed the churches the different denominations had to work together. He says, “It took the shedding of blood for us to work together,” to which Ray adds, “Too bad Jesus didn’t do that!”

After a few opening remarks we number off and break into small groups. The Bakke program is based on reflective learning so times like this are essential. Processing by oneself has limited value and I always find the insights of other trigger dormant or undeveloped thoughts in my own self. The group follows the same reflective patterns as our journaling and book reviews—“What are you seeing / hearing?” “What does it mean?” “If you believed this, how would your life change?” But this small group session is a little different. We’re still all a bit confused about what we are seeing and hearing. My impression is that the Focolare is similar to the Catholic lay organization Opus Dei. Whereas the Opus Dei was started for men but now welcomes women, Focolare was started for women but soon admitted men. It is probably one of several Catholic lay organizations. We don’t have enough pieces of the puzzle before us to figure out what this Focolare thing is about. But we are hopeful.

After a coffee break—and the coffee is very good in Italy, we hear a presentation about a cooperative enterprise in Trent called “Trento Adente.” The translation of the presentation seems muffled and unclear. A meeting with the Mayor of Trent has been cancelled but Ray fills in with some interesting comments on “cathedral theology.” Most cathedrals are oriented on an East-West axis in the shape of a cross. Because roughly 5% of the medieval population was literate, stained glass was used to tell the biblical stories—the New Testament stories and saints adorning the Southern wall with the Old Testament Stories and heroes adorning the Northern walls. The New Testament, therefore was more illuminated (literally) than the Old. Rose windows are a must for Gothic Cathedrals. The cathedral in Trent has one particularly interesting rose window called “The Wheel of Fortune.” It is a large round window with twelve panes of glass representing the hours of a working day. In the very center of the window is a character representing “Fortune.” On the outside of the window there are twelve figures, symmetrically placed to correspond to the twelve glass panes. The figures are moving counter-clockwise towards the top of the circle where there is a seated figure on a thrown—representing the apex of achievement. After reaching this apex, however, the figures begin to descend again. The wheel of fortune—a visual picture of the book of Ecclesiastes.

After lunch we bus into Trent and visit the cathedral once again. Ray does a short press conference. In a sleepy town of 100K out of town guests who are curious about the city are a novelty. We are graciously received by the Bishop of Trent who gives us a short address in English. The name “Trent” (Trento in Italian) comes from the name of the Roman town Tridentum that preceded Trent. The Bishop gives us a bit of history of Trent and the cathedral. Trent is a “bridge” city, bridging Germany, Switzerland and France with the rest of Italy. The eagle is the symbol of the city. The cathedral is built over an earlier graveyard…meaning it was built outside the original city walls. Acoustics and accent aside, I think he was glad to have us in town.

We then drive to Loppiano. Loppiano is one of thirty “cities” around the world built on an entire community living out the gospel. (From the Website: http://www2.focolare.org/En/loppiano_e.html) Located on the Tuscan Hills near Florence, Italy, with schools, factories, workshops, a farm, Loppiano today numbers 800 inhabitants coming from 70 nations: from West and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North and South America, Asia and Australia. Students and teachers, professionals and workers, artisans and farmers, young people and entire families, priests and men and women religious, members of various Christian denominations and other religions: a prototype of a new kind of society based on the evangelical law of love.

Building a little town, a "mini city", which may reflect an ideology, a way of life, has often been the dream of men and women who gave rise to new philosophies, ideologies or spiritualities. Chiara Lubich had the same great desire.
In the fifties, when the Focolare Movement had just started spreading, people of different ages and social conditions gathered during the Summer in the valley of Primiero, in the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy, to deepen together the style of life they discovered through the Movement.
Thus they gave birth to a temporary "little town" called Mariapolis (City of Mary). Chiara Lubich had an intuition: that original summer experience would become permanent.

Every year over 40,000 visitors come to Loppiano. They come from everywhere to become temporary citizens of the "Permanent Mariapolis" and experience the atmosphere of unity which is its main characteristic. The commitment of all those living there to practice day in and day out the new commandment of reciprocal love, make of Loppiano a meeting point of different peoples and cultures, like an open "lab" offering the possibility to anyone to experience unity among people and to find out that it is possible.

Schools of formation for members of the different vocations belonging to the Movement are also located in Loppiano. At present such schools of formation are 9: for the "focolarini" (men and women) who consecrate their lives to God within the Movement, for the families, for diocesan priests, for religious priests and brothers, for sisters, for the young people of the Movement (called Gen or New Generation), for men and women "volunteers" (lay people committed to living the Gospel in the various fields of society).

At Loppiano we settle into a lecture hall where we are introduced to a couple of Focolarini. One man, Nicola, working as a geologist tells us about city projects they are engaged in--city project that can involve everyone; churches, government, business, etc. “The task he says, is to spread the word everywhere—to the university, to the church, into arts, economy.” We watched a short DVD on one of the city projects—a lot of work projects, clothes distribution along with a bit of futbol and volleyball.

The next presenter, Mari shares her testimony of involvement in Focolare and the real difference they are making in the lives of people. “The starting point is to love everyone.”

We break for dinner at 9:30…another long day…and head back to the Lamb’s room where we debrief and pray together.

We are seeing something very radical here! This is not just theory on what a community transformed might look like, this is probably a working illustration of how people who live selflessly for one another and for Jesus really looks like. But I don’t know enough about the movement yet to make any type of intelligent analysis. What I am seeing however is a group of selfless people who are trying to live the gospel 24/7 and there is a different quality of life and experience that is very attractive and simple. This is not a welfare state. Everyone works. It is radical sharing but it is not atheistic Communism. It’s a picture of Acts 2 living out the gospel today. No one is claiming anything for themselves but willingly sharing it with the community. They are not just a bunch of organic farmers eking a living from the soil. These are professionals who have raised the value of living in community. One thing that impresses me about the model is they are seeking to influence every sector of society including the sectors that shape society—arts and media.


If I were to take this seriously, how would my life be different? Well, that’s what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. A month or so ago when Liz and I were talking about the goals of this trip, we both agreed we wanted this not just to be a class but to be a time of renewal for each of us and to be open to what the Spirit of God was showing us. I may have mentioned this yesterday but there is a simplicity of faith that we are seeing. Several years ago I remember thinking about what a community would look like where everyone was a believer and walking with the Lord. I thought of life at Arrowhead Springs—the then headquarters of Campus Crusade, where believers lived and worked side-by-side. Was that the picture of heaven? Was that a picture of the kingdom? People who lived and worked in that environment laughed at the suggestion. What I’m seeing here is a new way of living the gospel. Maybe this is normative Christianity; not average Christianity but normative Christianity.


At Friday, July 07, 2006 7:35:00 AM, Blogger Maggie said...

ok, hi, i understand that self promotion is bad, and that i may anger you, but nevertheless, i cannot resist the temptation of inviting you over to my blog to check out one thingie.:-)

At Friday, July 07, 2006 1:21:00 PM, Blogger Paul M. Kingery said...

Dear Eric,

I would like to invite you to write a short review of a new Christian ebook called Land of Canaan: Ancient Hope for Future Peace. See it free online at www.landofcanaan.info and let me know what you think.

Your brother,



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