By Philippa Hitchen
Pope Francis on Thursday visited the Focolari centre of Loppiano in Tuscany, describing it as an “open city” which welcomes people of all backgrounds and nationalities.
The international centre was set up by the founder of the Focolari movement, Chiara Lubich, as a ‘model town’ based on the shared values of dialogue, love, acceptance and integration.
As councilor for outreach and growth of the Focolari movement, Tim King was among the seven thousand people enthusiastically welcoming Pope Francis to Loppiano and listening as he answered questions from members of the community.
King describes Loppiano as a village or small town, which is home to 850 people living out all different vocations, some permanently some more temporary. There are 10 different schools, for young people, for priests, for religious and others so “there’s a whole variety of experiences going on here all the time”, he says.
King notes that the international centre recently celebrated its 50 anniversary, adding that the Pope referred to this, insisting on the importance of “conserving the memory of what it means”. The centre, King continues, is based on the commandment to “love one another as I’ve loved you”.
Before pope arrived, he says, all the citizens of Loppiano gathered together and signed “a pact of love and giving their lives to one another, according to the way Jesus did in the Gospels”. At the end of his visit, he adds, the Pope signed it “so he’s part of this pact of Loppiano, a citizen of Loppiano now!”
King also points out that lots of people of different faith backgrounds pass through Loppiano or take part in the schools, adding that among those welcoming the Pope was a group of Buddhist monks from Thailand. You can come to Loppiano without any faith background, King says, noting that the Pope described it as “a home for everybody”.
Asked to sum up the Pope’s lengthy address, King speaks of the importance of “staying close to memory of Loppiano” and pursuing its goals of becoming more outgoing and welcoming. He highlights the importance of inclusivity and notes that there is a group of migrants currently being given hospitality at the centre. Thirdly, King recalls the words used by the Pope when the current Focolari president, Maria Voce, was elected and he spoke of the vital work of formation.