July 12 marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Vincenzo Folonari, and the Focolarini observed the date with a meeting and Mass in Trevignano, located on the shore of Lake Bracciano, northwest of Rome.
Vincenzo was entrusted by Focolare founder Chiara Lubich with the care of the movement's children and young people.
He was the fourth of eight children of the Folonari family, wine producers. He was a very lively child, but on the day of his first Communion, he changed radically, and lived as though possessed by God.
One day at dinner, Vincenzo asked his siblings: "How old do you want to be when you die?" One answered, "While I'm still young ..."; another, "When I'm 100." But Vincenzo said, "I want to die when I'm 33, like Jesus."
In the summer of 1951, at the end of the school year, Vincenzo and two of his sisters went on holiday to the Dolomite Mountains. At that time, Chiara Lubich was in Tonadico, in the Dolomites. By then it was a custom of the members of the nascent Focolare Movement to meet in those mountains, in a place that became known as "Mariapolis."
In 1943 Lubich launched a current of spirituality centered on charity, as expressed in the Gospel, which inspired a movement of spiritual and social renewal.
The Folonari children, who learned about the movement in their native city of Brescia, were given permission by their parents to spend their holidays nearby, in San Martino of Castrozza.
They were frequent participants in the meetings at Tonadico. Returning to San Martino by bus, in the evening of the first day, Vincenzo was very moved. "Beautiful, very beautiful," he said, as though he had found something profoundly satisfying -- "an ideal to live for," says a note circulated by the movement.
Some months later, Vincenzo moved to Rome to attend university. He immediately got in touch with the Focolares. On the eve of Pentecost, he made a pilgrimage on foot to the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love to ask her for a sign that would help him discern his vocation.
The next day, he met Chiara Lubich, who reminded him of a phrase of Jesus: "You have not chosen me; I have chosen you." From then on, Vincenzo was known as "Eletto," the "Chosen One."
In a letter to the Focolare founder, Vincenzo wrote: "I have chosen God, nothing else but him alone." He also wrote her that he wanted to give his inheritance to the movement, including 80 hectares where, years later, the little town of Loppiano came into being, a bastion of the Focolarini, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Florence.
One of Vincenzo's characteristics was his special relationship with the children of the movement. The founder had entrusted the boys to him.
Conversing with his sister Virgo, who had been put in charge of the girls, Vincenzo once said: "Can you imagine what would happen if the ideal would conquer all boys and girls, all young people?"
On July 12, 1964, one of the boys, Gabriele, was with him. It was a hot day and they decided to go on a boat ride at Bracciano Lake. About 200 meters from the shore, Vincenzo, who loved sports, especially swimming, jumped into the water and held on to the boat with both hands.
"The water is very cold," he told Gabriele. Vincenzo turned very pale.
The waves started getting bigger and, suddenly, one of them pulled the boat away from Vincenzo's grasp. The boat slid several meters away. "Come here, come closer," Vincenzo cried out to Gabriele, but Gabriele could neither swim nor row a boat.
The powerful waves kept pushing the boat farther away. "Soon I could hardly see his face amid the waves. I called out to him, I cried for help, I told him I could not move the boat any closer," Gabriele recalled.
"'I'm going to shore, I'm going to shore,' Vincenzo shouted. Then he turned. I saw him for a few seconds more. His face was lit up by a bright smile," Gabriele continued.
Then Vincenzo disappeared, swallowed up by the lake. His body was never found. He was 33.
Four days later, Chiara Lubich wrote: "Eletto was so good, so unique, so humble that he belonged much more to God than to us. Maybe it was for this that God called him to himself. Now he is with Jesus whom he loved, and with Mary and all our friends who are in paradise. He considered himself the least, but he has become the first."
Vincenzo's death adults and children alike. "They, too, have gone through a trial, tremendous and irremediable," Lubich wrote. "Let us hope that from this trial something will come to life in the movement for them, too, for God's glory and for the Church's greater beauty. Eletto would have desired nothing more."