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Home / I have called you by name

I have called you by name

Uli Yeomans reviews the recently published autobiography of Serenella (Sharry) Silvi, who was one of the first focolarine to go to the USA.

[New City Magazine – April 2024, page 18]

It’s one of life’s little luxuries for me to receive and read a book of my choice over the festive Christmas period. Serenella Silvi’s memoir did not disappoint. In fact, I so enjoyed it that now, in the early days of the New Year, I feel compelled to recommend it to New City readers. As I was expecting to read about how the Focolare Movement became established in North America, I was surprised to find at the start a fascinating account of Serenella’s youth. Further on I realised how her calling, which was to unfold in time, was rooted in these early years, giving me a gentle nudge to look back and trace the golden thread connecting events in my own life.

A captivating story

So what else did I find in the book? The captivating story of a young woman who is not satisfied until she discovers ‘a greater love’ in God and commits her life to following Him, thereby achieving her own fulfilment and contributing to that of countless others in a wonderful shared divine adventure. For me this memoir also represents an actual embodiment of the spirituality of unity which is so familiar to many of us from the writings of Chiara Lubich.
Throughout the narrative Serenella focuses on people: from the shoemaker’s family near their first simple flat in New York to the ambassador encountered at work at the United Nations, from fellow employees in the filing room at a new job in Chicago, to influential faith leaders in ecumenical and interreligious contexts. It is fascinating to follow the slow growth of a network of people emerging from the initially ‘faceless crowd’ of eight million inhabitants of New York who within that ‘multicultural and fractured society’ would eventually make the ideal of unity their own. ‘Change was happening’ frequently within this story. Of particular interest are ‘short profiles of people whose lives taught me invaluable lessons’ which are interspersed throughout. Equally fascinating is to read of the personal relationship between Chiara and those young people who had felt called to follow in her footsteps, and who she now watched over with maternal zeal and ‘love both human and divine’ as in a small group they worked to bring the charism of unity to this vast continent.

For God all things are possible

Almost half of the book is taken up with the expansion of the movement covering different states of the US and Canada. I found myself consulting Google several times for geographical orientation. Based on the conviction that ‘for God all things are possible’, they gained and they lost and they started again, with mutual love as their highest good and the words of the gospel as a sure footing in most diverse situations. The adventures and achievements of those pioneering years made for irresistible reading. To mention but a few: the first Mariapolis in New Jersey in 1963, a new Mariapolis Centre in Chicago, Illinois, the establishment of a permanent Mariapolis*, the little town of Luminosa about two hours’ drive from New York. There, the friendship and collaboration with Imam W. D. Mohammed, leader of the Muslim American Society, led to Chiara addressing a thousand African American Muslims at the historic Malcolm X Shabazz Mosque. A national newspaper commented ‘When Chiara Lubich took the podium at a Harlem mosque, she etched herself a place in American religious history.’ From Serenella’s first-hand reporting of such momentous events it’s clear that Chiara conquered the hearts of ‘these beautiful people’ also. Elsewhere Serenella comments how much she treasured the view of her favourite skyscraper, the Empire State Building, symbolising for her ‘the daring spirit of those who had now become my people’.

Gentle humour

In 1967 Living City magazine was born and Serenella remained its editor for 34 years. In 1972 she became director of the movement in North America together with Sebastiano Maria Grimaldi. Her memoir however does not end on that continent. In 2002 new responsibilities awaited her, working in close collaboration with Chiara at the Movement’s headquarters in Rome, where Serenella still resides.
I loved the gentle humour which punctuates the book: a German shepherd acquired as a guard dog had become so accustomed to friendly welcomings in the Focolare household that one night he was stolen without so much as a growl! And there were squirrels who replanted the multi-coloured tulips from around Chiara’s house in Luminosa to all over the little town and surrounding hills. I also loved the occasional poetic flourishes: ‘…and in that moment it felt as though I once again tasted a fragment of peace – a fleeting encounter with God’s love – like a gentle rainfall nourishing a parched land.’

The secret of their rejoicing

This was a very satisfying read, recalling to mind the Magnificat prayer. Doubtlessly the Lord has done great things for this woman who unreservedly followed his call and proclaimed her truth with the audacity of someone who knows no fear. The glory is God’s as Serenella/Sharry speaks for all in a collective spirituality which has set out to conquer ‘new worlds and old worlds’ for the realisation of Jesus’ dream that All May Be One. To conclude with here is the secret of their rejoicing.
‘We, too, had experienced the challenges, solitude, suffering, and stress that the city presented. Yet, for us, these were all reflections of Jesus forsaken, to whom we would say, ‘I do not fear you because I love you.’ As a result, the city became beautiful in our eyes, for it reflected the countenance of our spouse. Jesus forsaken had risen… Everything had already been redeemed.’

*   A summer gathering of the Focolare Movement.

  • I have called you by name

    Serenella Sharry Silvi
    Serenella Sharry Silvi grew up in Rome, graduated with a degree in Political Science, worked at the United Nations and was one of the small group of people who gave life to the first centers of the Focolare Movement in North America during the sixties.
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By |2024-04-02T09:52:08+00:00April 2nd, 2024|NC Articles, NC Book Review|0 Comments

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