A saint dressed in jeans

September 27, 2013 - 12:00am -- Living City

Chiara Luce Badano

Three years after Chiara Luce Badano was declared blessed by the Catholic Church, young (and not so young!) people all over the world have taken up her torch. They are spreading her story and following her courageous “yes” to trust in God’s love and his will in their lives.
She was chosen as an intercessor at the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this summer. “A saint dressed in jeans” was the title of a musical at the WYD dedicated to sharing her life with the young people there.
Chiara Luce grew up an only child in Sassello, Italy. At 17, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive and painful form of bone cancer. Yet she trusted God’s plan, saying “If you want it, Jesus, I want it too.” 
October 29 is her feast day. Here is what some young people from around the world wrote us about her impact on their lives.

Today I get to love
If I could, I would tell every stranger I see about Chiara Luce. The truth is that her life is so beautiful that if more young people knew about her, there would be a revolution.
I’ve always been healthy and strong. I even played basketball in college. When I developed the initial painful symptoms to an illness related to multiple sclerosis, it was the first time in my life that something was stronger than I was.  The tests at the hospital were also very painful, and I was scared because they would have to be repeated.
That’s when I first read Chiara Luce’s story. I found a best friend in her, someone whom pain couldn’t conquer. And I started to invite her into my day. For example, if there was some act of love I didn’t want to do for someone, I would think that Chiara Luce would have done it, and then everything became easier.
Then, after several months, I realized that Chiara Luce was leading me toward the spirituality of the Focolare that she had lived. I finally understood her secret in loving: Jesus on the cross. He had felt abandoned by the Father, and yet continued to love and give his life for humanity. She knew she could love as he did, and I wanted to do that, too.
Discovering her secret even redeemed everything I had suffered, because it showed me that my suffering was a meeting with Jesus. And life became so precious, more beautiful — I would wake up in the morning so excited to start the day, because all I could think was, “Today I get to love!”
She made me understand sanctity in a new way. I thought it meant going to church to pray, pray, pray. But she also loved God in the normal everyday things. So I’ve realized that spending part of a Friday night at a pub with my coworkers listening to them is another way to reach sanctity. Missing my last youth group event at church in order to surprise my grandma with dinner — that’s also a way to reach sanctity in that present moment.
Now I want to spend my life so that other people can know about her, too, and have her example to help them. I share her story whenever I can. Sometimes the people I least expect are the ones deeply touched by her life and ask her for help.  
— Jessica Berends, Michigan

Don’t take yourself too seriously
It is Chiara Luce’s simplicity that fascinates me. Her love was always concrete; she didn’t distinguish between important and less important moments in her life. She made each person feel his or her very special value in every present moment. I am quite the opposite. I dwell on everything, on each person, and I worry about a lot of things. I can’t forget wrong decisions and the mistakes I’ve made.

In the summer of 2012, together with some friends, I spent two weeks in Sassello, the hometown of Chiara Luce. It was a very beautiful and important time for me, but then I made a mistake that was very painful. I was not able to accept and to go beyond it.

The next day I went to Mass, feeling discouraged. It was a 20-minute walk, so I started to pray the rosary. Around 200 yards before arriving at the church, where Chiara Luce was baptized, I felt that she was talking to me with her unique, luminous smile. She said to me, “Johann, don’t take yourself too seriously!” Practically, it meant: if you think about your mistakes, you are basically narcissistic. You are so busy thinking about yourself that you don’t have time to love the others!

This phrase changed me totally; it was her secret message for me. She never took herself seriously; she was always there for the others, like her friends said after her death.

Now, when I get lost in my mistakes and my imperfection, I say to myself with a smile, Johann, don’t take yourself too seriously!
— Johann Schmitz, Germany

A call to everyone
When I think of Chiara Luce Badano, the phrase, “A life lived to the full” always comes to my mind. Through her experience I have understood that the significance of our lives is not measured in how long we live or how many things we have accomplished or experienced, rather in how we lived it. She has given me the courage to embrace wholeheartedly the reality of each present moment, and to live it to the full.

Three years ago, the young people of the Focolare in the Midwest U.S. decided to have a program on the life of Chiara Luce Badano. Since many knew that I enjoy writing songs, my youth coordinator at the time, Margaret, asked me if I could write a song for it.

Song writing had always been very spontaneous for me, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to come up with the right words. But I also felt that this was my opportunity to contribute to this program, so I said yes.

In the weeks following, I couldn’t think of anything worth writing. One day Margaret called me to ask how the song was coming, and I told her quite honestly that I had not written anything yet. She said, “Think of the one person in the audience who is lost or alone and needs to hear the call from God to our life as young people in the Focolare — the life that Chiara Luce lived.”

That night, I was lying in my bed and thinking about our life being a call. Suddenly, the whole song came to me, and in the next 10 minutes I had written it down. Then I shared the song with the others, and we decided that it would be a perfect fit in the program.

So many people approached me after that program and said how much the song had touched them. I felt so blessed to be able to show people how much Chiara Luce had influenced my own life just through a song. In the following months, many people from all over the world heard the song, and I ended up being able to sing it for 12,000 young people in Hungary at the Focolare’s international youth festival, Genfest 2012.

If we could each live like Chiara Luce, inspiring those around us, I think the world would be filled with saints.     
—Ann Rusher, Ohio

Listen to Ann’s song on YouTube by searching for “Ann Marie Rusher Faith.”


The "Chiara Luce musical" at WYD in Brazil

I met Chiara Luce when I offered to present her life at a large summer gathering of the Focolare. Since then, each time I hear about her, her way of live touches me greatly. She is a modern model of sanctity. Seeing someone so “close” to us gives me the strength to keep trying to live like that.

When I went to World Youth Day in Rio last August, I could feel God’s love in everything. I already knew about the musical about Chiara Luce, and I was happy I could actually attend it with two of my sisters and others from Argentina once I got there. We met many people we did not know, but we all felt part of the same family.

When we arrived at the site for the musical, the hall was already full and we couldn’t get seats. It was great to see how many young people wanted to get to know about Chiara Luce! But we also wanted to see the show, so with the others, we asked Chiara Luce to make it possible for us to get in!

After waiting in line for a few hours, we did in and were able to see the show, which was incredible! It was like entering into her life, living together what she lived. One thing I remember about it is that it ended with her dressed as a clown, she was happy: that’s how it was and how I believe she wants us to remember her. In the end, they even added an extra show after the one we saw because so many people wanted to learn about her.

At the show, I had really hoped to hear her parents speak, but they were not able to be there. On the night of the vigil with Pope Francis, the Focolare’s musical group Gen Rosso came to perform, and at the end, Chiara Luce’s mom said a few words. I was so excited to see both her mom and dad on their feet, showing us that sanctity is possible today!

I’m finishing my degree in medicine, and am constantly with patients, many of them in serious conditions, and I see what it is to be sick. Chiara Luce conveyed and conveys today something else. She knew not only how to accept suffering but how to transform it and offer it, which isn’t easy, and then keep loving and believing that her suffering was love. That’s why I’m always captivated when I hear something about her.

  - María Emilia Aucar, Argentina