Celebrating 1977 Templeton Prize Laureate Chiara Lubich
By Gerald Nelson
In 1973, the first Templeton Prize was given to Mother Teresa. In 2023, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this award. Over the next 52 weeks, we will highlight each of our laureates and reflect on their impact on the world. From humanitarians and saints to philosophers, theoretical physicists, and one king, the Templeton Prize has honored extraordinary people. Together, they have pushed the boundaries of our understanding of the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it, making this (we humbly think) the world’s most interesting prize.
Chiara Lubich was born Silvia Lubich on January 22nd, 1920, in Trent, Italy.
In 1939, at the age of 19, she took a trip to the shrine of Loreto in Italy. There, she had a religious awakening and felt God calling to her to lend her services and devotion to the church.
Chiara began her career as an elementary school teacher in Trent, Italy. During this time, her town and country were devastated by the impact of World War II. Amidst the turmoil, Lubich felt God’s calling and immediately sought permission from her priest to be consecrated to God. This marked the beginning of the Focolare Movement, which promoted spiritual and social renewal. Through her movement, Chiara was able to build relationships with leaders all over the world, from Popes to Buddhists, to the heads of civil and political parties.
The Focolare Movement’s initial focus was to rebuild damaged communities in Trent, but then expanded to grow nations and focused on interactions between different religions. By the time of her death, Chiara’s contributions were known across the world. Brother Roger, a Templeton Prize laureate and religious leader said about her:
“My meeting with Chiara Lubich left a mark on my soul. Since then I have often seen Chiara again and the transparentness of this woman is like an open page of the gospel.”Brother Roger
When Lubich passed, Pope Benedict XVI sent the Focolare Movement a letter of condolence, which lauded her commitment to the church.
In 1977, Lubich was awarded the Templeton Prize for her work within the Focolare Movement. The ceremony was held in London’s Guildhall with HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, presiding over it. Lubich was accompanied by Dr. Dimitri Bregant, the leader of the Focolare Movement in England. Mrs. John M. Templeton and John Cardinal Willebrands delivered speeches at the ceremony.
David, the Psalmist said ‘This is the day the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.’ We can truly rejoice this day as we honour Miss Lubich, a dedicated twentieth-century disciple of Christ, a follower of the way. In the New Testament in Luke we read that Christ said — ‘Whosoever cometh to me and heareth my sayings and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like.’ Chiara Lubich heard His message, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ She was obedient to this instruction and has been influential in bringing joy, peace and love to God’s children. She found the Master, heard Him and doeth it.
If each and every Child of God lives his or her under-standing to its highest degree it is seen in their daily human experience and is visible proof to the unbeliever. As in the lives of Mother Teresa, Brother Roger, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Cardinal Suenens and the winner this year of the Templeton Programme of Prizes for Progress in Religion, Chiara Lubich — who can doubt the consummate example?Mrs. John M. Templeton, 1977. Read the full speech.
My starting point must be the very name of the movement which she founded — the Focolare, the Fireside movement. Here we might see another apparent paradox: the fireside is not the first place we associate with movement. It is that immemorial point of light and warmth round which the family gathers in unity, understanding and love. It is an admirable symbol of the deep biological and spiritual instinct that makes men see all human unity, so that we use words like ‘family of nations’, ‘world confessional family’ and finally the ‘human family’ to express ideals which broaden out from the fireside, from the home. Indeed the very notion of the human family would be an unmanageable abstraction, a rhetorical tool for globe-trotting publicists, if it were not rooted in the experience of people living together, sharing in love.– John Cardinal Willebrands, 1977. Read the full speech.
Learn more about 1977 Templeton Prize laureate Chiara Lubich