Twenty years of EoC: a love story between heaven and Earth

Alberto Ferrucci gives a panorama of the EoC's first 20 years. We report the entire intervention.

Twenty years of EoC: a love story between heaven and Earth

By Alberto Ferrucci

110525_Ginetta_Ferrucci02I am happy to be here amongst so many who have lived for the EdC from the beginning and who could 
give this talk better than me: ¨20 Years of the EdC – A love story between heaven and earth´. I am also happy to be amongst many who have come along later and are taking on the responsibility to bring ahead the EdC for at least the next 20 years, according to our conference logo.

 

The fact that we have returned here to the place where it all started, in order to take forward a project announced by Chiara, points to the strong link of love that exists between between heaven and earth in the EdC. Chiara is now following us from heaven, together with Foco, Ginetta, Lia, Vittorio, Spartaco, Francois, Daniel, Roberto and many others who have reached heaven after dedicating their lives. 

 

When we present the EdC we tell how Chiara, arriving in San Paolo, saw the forest of skyskrapers next to the favelas: if that is how her inspiration came about, I would like to discover the roots of this story in Chiara and in the Work of Mary.

 

Chiara is from Trent, a city characterized by social cooperation. Her father was a socialist, her mother a Catholic, her brother a communist. From her earliest years, she breathed in an air of solidarity and attention for the least. When she made the discovery of the Love of God for her and for everyone it was natural for her to welcome the invitation of the Gospel to respond to the call of God by doing His will towards those neighbours in whom Jesus identified himself.The desire to live the New Commandment of reciprocal love, for which you need at least two people, meant that the companions who began to live with her were drawn not only to spiritual reflection, but straight away to action, since the bombs reminded them that they could die from one moment to the next. With her companions, she looked for the poor in the streets and in their houses, in order to share material things with them and above all the presence of Jesus amongst them. In this way they felt God was close by and they were no longer alone. The arrival of providence confirmed what they were doing.

In a short time, this ´being another Jesus´ thanks to the Word, meant that five hundred people had become one heart and one soul, like the first Christians. They experienced the joy of sharing what they had with others, giving rise to the desire to put in common whatever was surplus faced with the need of the others, giving rise to providence. It was a giving and receiving which, even in that difficult moment, meant everyone was in the fullness, made equal as brothers and sisters.When her communist brother´s friends asked them the secret of their clear social success, she responded that the solution was to open peoples´ hearts. In order to do this you had to possess the key to selfless love, that of Jesus crucified and forsaken. With Him you are able to reach the ends of the earth.

In 1949, Igino Giordani asked Chiara if he could make a vow of obedience to her. Chiara proposed that they should instead make a pact together to Jesus in the Eucharist, that on their nothingness, he would unite them in a pact of mutual love;  following this pact, God granted them a period of very special light on the future of the Work of Mary, what we now call Paradise 49.

Within this period of light, social realities were also present. In the Favola Fiorita sul Sentiero Foco (literally, The Fable that blossomed on Foco Lane), through the metaphor of the vases, Chiara describes that Unity comes about through the death of our ego. She ends this passage with a prophesy entitled On Earth, as in Heaven, the dream of Igino Giordani, Foco. It opened the way of sanctity, which had been reserved for a few mystics,to the laity, also for those who work in society.

Then in 1954, amidst the suffering of the repression of the revolution in Hungary, Chiara felt the time was right to launch the vocation of the Volunteers of God, lay people who would become saints through living their lives like others, in work and in social action, and who would change society through the witness of their lives.

Then in 1961, admiring the Benedictine Monastery of Einsiedeln, Chiara felt that her movement should also have places where the charism was lived out every day. They should be real little towns with a church, school, but also houses with families, factories with chimneys. They would be little towns with Mary as the Queen, imbued with the Holy Spirit. It is a vision which is illustrated in the mosaic at the centre of the Movement , where Chiara and Foco are now buried.

In the years of the youth contestation and social struggles, whilst handing on the flag of her charism to the second generation, Chiara felt that the witness of individuals in society was no longer enough. What was needed was the witness of a body of people, so in 1983 she launched the New Humanity Movement.
The following year, in a congress entitled A Christian Vision of Economy and Work in her memorable talk which went against the logic of the world, she affirmed that in order to resolve the problems associated with economics and work, we needed to live the Gospel: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be given to you” (Matt 6,33). She underlined the Gospel phrase “Give and there will be gifts for you”, and the validity of the “culture of giving” at a social level.

The “International Bureau of Economy and Work” came about at that congress – a meeting point for experts in economics, students and people working in the economy, where they could reflect together and have a dialogue with contemporary culture in search of a more human economy. 

According to Chiara, the Bureau was also tasked to find resources for the social works of the movement. In order to do this, the Association “Action for a United World” was started, in order to present the social projects of the movement to external financing bodies. This enabled those who were promoting the projects to find finance, but also helped them to become more professional and gain the necessary lay language to talk to institutions in a way that transmitted their motivation and values. 

Thanks to the social works of the movement, in 1987 the Bureau gained Consultative Status in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It gained a voice in that prestigious international arena which John Paul II was able to communicate in an audience during the Social Week of the Italian Church, underlining how important it was.

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the logic of the ´blocks´ of countries dissolved. The world was euphoric: without any limits to the movement of capital, the wellbeing of consumerism would spread everywhere. Some called it the end of history. When she visited New York in 1990, however, she saw how consumerism was overturning values such as freedom, equality and fraternity, rooted in the Gospel, which had become part of modernity through centuries of revolutions and conflicts. Together  with her friends, she offered their sufferings and their lives as a down payment to Jesus, so that he could break down the walls which still prevented the glory of God in the western world. 

In 1991, Chiara came to Brazil. She had read Centesimus Annus (a hundred years), in which the Pope hoped for a social economy  which was capable of orienting market society to the common good, underlining amongst the rights of the person, the right to property and private initiative. She had also read a book called The New Protagonists: Movements, associations and groups in the Church, in which the works of the movement were described as a ´third way´ between communism and capitalism.

Above all, however, Chiara arrived in Brazil with a deep relationship with God, with the certainty of powerful prayer. In this way, when faced with the intolerable social inequality represented by the skyscrapers and favelas, whilst realizing that she could be seen as naïve, even derided by the world which she knew well, trusting in this “powerful prayer” , she asked her Brazilian friends to take action. They were to gather the resources of “poor but many”, entrust these to the “most expert amongst us” and create new businesses next to the little town in order to generate work and resources for the poor.

She asked these expert entrepreneurs to give everything: and in this way she launched a new social vocation, a new way through which they would become saints. I saw how sure she was of this when years later I met her in Strasbourg, during an interview which I participated in as an entrepreneur. In order to support what she was saying, she unexpectedly turned to me and in front of the journalist asked me: “Its true, Alberto, that you will become a saint, isn´t it?”

Tommaso Sorgi, who was responsible for New Humanity, was present with us at the Bureau at Castel Gandolfo, told us about what Chiara had launched in Brazil, reminding us of what Igino Giordani had foreseen: not communism but communion¸ and defined the project as Economy of Communion in Freedom.The project which Chiara proposed was to her people; people who had already esperienced that fullness, human flourishing comes about through mutual love, rather than in possessing or consuming. In making that announcement she had captured something profound in that people, which themselves defined it as a bomb. 

This is why the invitation to come together and create new businesses with the person at the centre and  capital at the service, did not remain on paper. That people put themselves to work straight away, selling small properties, offering savings, detaching themselves from precious personal objects which reminded them of people. Whatever they gathered, they used to buy land for the industrial areas, whether in Brazil or Argentina. There were also those who left good jobs in their cities in order to throw themselves into setting up productive activities near the little towns. There were others who decided to expand their businesses, not because they needed to, but so that they could offer more profits for the goals of the EdC.

People also gave their expertise without hesitation. Here I would like to remember the person to whom the construction of the Spartaco Industiral Estate was entrusted, who despite being six hundred kilometres away, for years remained faithful to this precious behind the scenes task; other entrepreneurs, despite having their activities elsewhere, committed themselves to the industrial estates, and certainly not for economic reasons. I remember the Munoz brothers, who owned a street lighting factory in Buenos Aires, in the middle of the Pampas, smiling, up to their knees in mud on the land of the Solidaridad estate, which still had to be drained. They were looking for a way to bring ahead a part of their activity: that activity would not go ahead, but those smiles are written in heaven and are worth more than lots of shared profits, like the necklace which Saint Catherine gave to the poor person. She then saw it transformed by Jesus.

There have also been times when people have launched themselves without the expertise, into businesses which would have been hard even for experts. It was necessary for activities to pass through the narrow door of business administration, which became more complex as a result of communion, together with the “economic disarmament” with suppliers, clients and competitors, living within the law even when the laws were oppressive. It was a commitment to grow together, on earth as in heaven.

It would be impossible to face all of this unless you were motivated by a true vocation. It is difficult to live it alone. For the entrepreneurs, it is not always easy to share their worries, perhaps because they do not want to compromise the good name of their company. Some feel that they always need to appear as if they had now problems and trials, or perhaps to avoid the others feeling that are being a burden, which they feel they need to carry themselves thanks to their propensity to take risks. The husbands and wives who stand by them know about this.

But in the new economy, it is necessary to share, not for the sake of sharing, but in order to find the light to go ahead in relationship with the other, as has been demonstrated in the difficult situations we have faced down the years which have been resolved thanks to the solidarity amongst the entrepreneurs and businesses.

The fact that the industrial estates next to the little towns have developed owes much to the first companions of Chiara, who also suffered “blood of the soul” as Ginetta put it, offering the secure door of unity, reminding those who are in the first line of the EdC that it is a project which unites heaven and earth.
How can we forget the inauguration of the second building in the Spartaco estate after the business it was built for folded. Ginetta got up on her feet from the wheel chair she arrived in in order to declare that that building, which had been built out of love, would continue to exist in the new heaven and new earth.
Her words made Francois, who had come from France to share his technology, open a business there, and in order to make it happen he made thirty trips across the Atlantic and many resources.Just like Francois, now in heaven, many others have become saints according to Chiara: amongst these, along side Francois, I would like to remember Roberto Tassano, whom the consortium is named after. This work continues to offer a witness and help to the marginalised with 1300 workers.

Many people have taken heroic steps so as not to betray their commitment to the EdC, like one Argentinian entrepreneur. He closed his business, selling off his own car in order to meet his debts, after renouncing the only contract he could have honoured without paying bribes, since he knew that if he signed that contract he would have closed down another business which was working well like his. 
Amongst the heroes of the EdC we cannot forget the many gen students who put at risk the success of their studies just at their time of their graduation theses, the culmination of their human experience, in order to take on a difficult topic in the world of academia which often only considers neo-positivism as science. 

Yet it is thanks to the risk they took, and to the commitment of our experts, that the EdC is now considered an economic option and is taught in many universities in Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. The EdC now has that theoretical dignity  for those who work in it, which Chiara asked for in 1998 when she launched the Economic Movement after the suffering of renouncing a meeting of 11,000 Brazilians gathered in Ibirapuera.

And in these twenty years, what has been achieved, above all from the perspective of dialogue with the Church and contemporary culture?

The cultural weight of the charism of Chiara in the economy has been an important feature of the relationship with the Catholic Church. This is demonstrated in fact that many bishops have asked for formation schools, which have been concluded in the industrial estates of the little towns. The Magesterium of the Church has also recognized the importance of the culture of communion and cites this in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate  of Benedict XVI.

As well as this, the EdC has been welcomed by ancient and modern religious charism as a providential way to give order to their economic activities in a secularized society. At the same time, the living of the culture of giving has enabled some EdC business people to make themselves available to these Orders in order to secure the survival of their social works which are threatened, safeguarding the spirit of their founders.

You could say that some of these developments have not come directly from Chiara. This is true, but today in the world  - if we have mutual love ready to give our lives, dying to ourselves in order to live the Gospel – we are Chiara.

The Lessons of Twenty Years

So what have we learnt in these twenty years of history between heaven and earth? 

We have learnt the importance of elaborating the theoretical paradigms of this new economy, creating areas of study like relational goods, the relationship between the economy and happiness, economy and trust, economy and reciprocity, and to give weight to these principals in order to demonstrate productive areas and businesses which put them into practice, as well as schools and universities which give formation.

We have also learnt that in order to transmit the message which these witnesses offer, we need to know how to speak the language of the modern world using all the available technology, in the greatest number of languages possible. Over the years, another way of connecting everyone has been through the Economy of Communion – a New Culture newsletter, which is translated in five languages and came about as a sign of reciprocity amongst those who contribute to the project.

In the last few years, we have also developed the international internet site, which thanks to the commitment of a dozen translators, transmits the life of the EdC in real time to the whole world, including this assembly, through writings, reviews, books, audio and video and blogs. It has become a source of news on the EdC for everyone.

In recent years, we have also understood that the dialogue with contemporary culture had to start with those who are working in the same direction as us and that the best place to have this dialogue are the little towns and the industrial estates attached to them. We have realized that for the dialogue with academics and with those who  work in social solidarity, it is necessary to have full transparency regarding the use of the profits even if this involves substantial use of human and professional resources.
For the purposes of studying the economic profile of the project, it is also important to account for all the effective profits shared by the EdC businesses. These profits are much more than those which are physically sent to the EdC. We also need to take into consideration the money spent to help those in need in various ways by the business, in order to retain places of work which are temporarily not needed or in order to give work to those who are disadvantaged. We also need to take into account those expenses brought about through communion for local social action, or for internships within the company, in order to offer young people opportunities to be formed in this new economy.

In relation to the use of the profits, we have realized that it is important to pay attention to the inspiration of those who are sharing, who may also be able to share their professional talents to make the use of profits more efficient. The part of the profits which is used to build up and grow the business  is also important and can be used to continue to give employment and to give witness to the EdC.

Occasionally, in the industrial estates we have also had to welcome activities which do not have close ties with the project but make the spirit of the EdC their own, in particular, formation schools which are dedicated to marginalized people. These activities have been particularly welcomed and helped by the entrepreneurs who, without being part of the Focolare Movement, recognize the validity of the EdC and put it into practice in their businesses.

Down the years, it has also become evident that the inspiration of Chiara was much more than about helping the poor, but about removing the conditions of dependency, since they are our brothers and sisters. In order to achieve this, in collaboration with Action for a United World, a project has been financed to enable small productive activities which give work and educational and professional formation. 

Fraternity requires equal dignity, and for this reason the best form of help has been shown to be credit, which is managed in the most discrete confidence through professional structures whether NGOs, well-known associations, banks. The experience in the Philippines has proven to be a great help in this area. This has been replicated elsewhere, for example in Africa, where many new opportunities are emerging. Where it is necessary to make a donation, without a return, in order to safeguard fraternity, it is good to offer the person in need the chance to give something in return.Over the last few years, those responsible for the EdC commissions in the zones have verified with every business whether they are still in a position to participate in the EdC, and despite the generational change, the great majority of these businesses have confirmed their participation. We cannot, however, ignore the fact that there have been difficulties in businesses very close to us because they were amongst the first. These difficulties were often linked to the isolation of the entrepreneurs and in order to tackle this, National EDC Associations have been formed in order to offer professional and managerial competency which equips people to face problems together.

These are civil associations with voluntary participation of the business. The hope is that all of the EdC businesses would participate in them, seeing them as their kind of business association. The businesses would commit themselves to sharing their balance sheet each year, and, as Chiara suggested in her last message, commit themselves to regular conversations, rather than only when the business is in problems. 

Another recent possibility which has emerged is that of becoming part of a network through the site B2B, which has been created by our businesses in the United States. On this site, every business can promote its products and services in a space which is reserved for the EdC businesses in the world. As part of this, there is also an EdC-Forum where businesses can share their professional and spiritual experiences. For now, this site is available in English but we hope that there will be many more translators for it.

The commitment of the present

When Chiara outlined the profile of the EdC businesses twenty years ago, it was considered utopian, at most valid for small activities which were managed by particular people. Twenty years on, humanity has to choose new and complex choices.

Information technology, the availability of low cost capital and work and the labour of two thirds of the inhabitants of the planet, have brought about rapid development which has created work and lifted many out of poverty.

This development, however, is the result of finance without rules, which has led to such critical insolvency that it puts at risk the functioning of the entire system. In order to unblock the system, the most involved western states have had to take on debts which put entire countries at risk of bankruptcy. In the meantime, the youthful peoples excluded from development are knocking at the borders of the rich, with an ever more urgent request for a more dignified life. 

There is a sense now that without a decisive change of gear, in the future the rights to personal property, to work and a peaceful future for all could be put at risk. It is therefore opportune for everyone, at a national and international level, to urgently overcome the egoism of the short term, and to enable everyone to apply themselves to strengthen the system according to their means and to bring about a jump in quality towards a more human economy.

Despite the measures taken by states and by the international monetary authorities, the economic and financial system in the west remains fragile and requires new rules, which are capable of redirecting it towards its precious function of serving the common good, of supporting savings and sustaining productive activities. This in turn means empowering the emerging nations, in which the capitalization of businesses is a limit to the creation of new employment.

In this respect, it seems that one of the fruits of being here could be that of offering our view, as participants and academics involved in a fraternal economy from all over the world, to those who are elaborating juridical, fiscal and financial proposals for states and international institutions. We will bring these to the United Nations thanks to our Consultative Status through New Humanity in the Economic and Social Council of the UN, and also share them with civil society organisations, above all the youth organisations which are most attentive to the future of the world. 

The proposals are for a financial order which is oriented towards greater communion of global goods and greater value being placed on work, which is an instrument for the fulfillment of the person. They are proposals which would help to orient nations towards a fraternal economy which expresses a consumption style which is sobre and critical, which respects the resources of the planet and the aspirations of human beings to substantial equality, and which also tends towards bringing about economic activity which not only produces material wealth but also human flourishing and personal fulfillment; with the responsible use of wealth, oriented towards a long term vision, of the “good father of the family.”

Faced with these choices, many already see that the inspiration of Chiara is also for them and are looking to those who already live it for dialogue and friendship, in order to go ahead together. Twelve years ago, after Chiara´s presentation of the EdC in Strasbourg, a well-known lay academic admitted that the proposal was difficult to achieve, but was the only possible solution for a sustainable future.

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