In the 1980s, when the Internet did not yet exist and even less so the social media, which appeared twenty years later, an idea was successfully put to the test in Switzerland to simultaneously link up, through a collective conference telephone, various points of the Focolare communities across five continents. This event was straightaway referred to as Collegamento CH (the country code for Switzerland). Chiara Lubich nurtured in her heart a desire for unity, for communion; she strived towards the goal of being one family in the world. Once she discovered the possibility of having a global linkup which would facilitate communion throughout the world, eliminating distances and giving rise to an interactive dialogue, she felt pushed to keep this regular appointment with her family spread across the world, firstly by telephone and, in more recent times, via a video-conference.
This experience, and the fruits it brought about in the various Focolare communities, is narrated in the volume edited by Michel Vandeleene entitled "Conversazioni. In collegamento telefonico". (Conversations via telephone linkup), which was presented on 1st October 2019 during an academic seminar promoted jointly by the Pontifical Salesian University of Rome, its Faculty of Social Communication Sciences, the Chiara Lubich Centre of the Focolare Movement, and Città Nuova Publishing Group.
Speakers included Mauro Mantovani, Magnificent Rector of the Salesian Pontifical University; Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Department for Communication of the Holy See; Fabio Pasqualetti, Dean of the Faculty of Social Communication Sciences; Michel Vandeleene, editor of the book; Giulia Paola Di Nicola, Sociologist at the Leonardo da Vinci University in Chieti; Cesare Borin, IT Manager of the Focolare Movement; Cristiana Freni, Professor of Philosophy of Language at the Salesian University; Marco Aleotti, RAI TV Director; Alessandro De Carolis of Vatican Radio, Moderator of the event.
The speakers were precise and forthright in their analysis, highlighting the uniqueness of this original experience which “almost like a chronicle, gives witness to the use of the means of communication by those who had never used it; it tells of an experience lived within the universal dimension of Christianity without ever resorting to substituting the spirit with technology; it speaks of a mother who takes her children by the hand and leads them on the Holy Journey,” commented Dr Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Department for Communication of the Holy See. Naturally, the analysis had to take into account what communication is today in relation to evangelization. “True communication is not an administrative job but a communion; it needs to be a personal witness,” continued Ruffini, “Connecting memory with life is what happened in the case of Chiara Lubich.”
“Those who used to take part in the Collegamento (the telephone linkup) felt “called”; every person likes to be called up by someone who cares, who wants them to feel close, to have a heart to heart chat,” said Professor Giulia Paola Di Nicola, sociologist at the Leonardo da Vinci University in Chieti. “In contrast, loneliness and a sense of abandonment is the result of this absence of love, of someone calling you by name, making you feel you are at the receiving end of their trust. Chiara did this for many, many years with thousands of people.”
Professor Cristiana Freni, Professor of Philosophy of Language at the Salesian University, could not hide her emotion in sharing her perceptions upon reading the book. “What does ‘being connected’ really mean? In the person of Chiara this has an ontological value, linked to reality, to authentic relationships between people. Opening up to the other is not easy; it means being ready to run the risk of emerging from the confines of our own self, accepting the burden of communication, taking care of each other.” The seminar left in those present the awareness of having accomplished, as the Rector of the Salesian Pontifical University, Professor Mauro Mantovani, said at the beginning of the meeting, “a cultural, literary and spiritual experience”.