St. John in his Gospel teaches that love must be active: “If anyone is well off in worldly possessions and sees his brother in need but closes his heart to him, how can the love of God be remaining in him? Children, our love must not be just words, or mere talk, but something active and genuine” (1 John 3:17-18). It is this genuine love and active concern for those in need that moved Carlo Degasperi, a focolarino, to take concrete action and help two young boys he met in the late 1960s.
Everything that is done out of love, however small it may seem, can bring about a lasting effect in the life of those who receive it. This concrete act of love 50 years ago did not remain just a single act, but has multiplied into countless acts that have influenced the lives of countless people in an institution popularly known as the Focolare Carpentry, or the Focolare Carpentry Training Center (FCTC).
This year, the Focolare Carpentry turns 50 years old. One might ask, “What has been accomplished so far?”
It all began through a meeting of Carlo with two out-of-school boys, new graduates of Industrial Design, and a makeshift shop. Who would ever have thought of a grand project in 1968, moreover, coming from somebody who had just set foot in a country where poverty is almost the identity of the majority of the population? The social situation at that time did not hinder Carlo from sharing what he had managed to perfect in his training as a carpenter early on.
This is where it all started, a drive to do something concrete for those in need. Initially, it was his need to find a job, but this took on a different direction, when he thought of setting up a social project for the poor. It was Gospel-love in action!
Carlo started to scout around for a place where he could start a shop. First, it was a makeshift shop, and there were no clients, no experience, and no workers. However, Carlo had great faith! One day, a German lady came to the shop, who needed a small job done, and Carlo delivered with much love. She felt that there was something different about this shop, so she told her friends about it… and the carpentry business took off.
By word of mouth, the reputation of quality design and craftsmanship spread to an elite group of rich and prominent personalities, diplomats and expats, as well as to top government officials. The spouses of these renowned officials were also quite charitable and often donated furniture, custom-made by the Focolare Carpentry, to
convents, schools and churches.
There was no need to do marketing or advertise the shop because of this steady stream of clients. One day, a wealthy philanthropist once ordered church pews and benches for a church she was helping. Impressed by what she witnessed in the shop, she donated a parcel of land to Carlo. This land is now the site of a residential village for around 70 underprivileged families.
Looking at Carlo’s five decades as a master carpenter, training hundreds of master craftsmen who can deliver excellent results, one may wonder, “How did this all come about?” Some years back, Carlo gave us a clue while narrating the beginnings of the Focolare Carpentry. He said: “After many years, the Focolare Carpentry now employs more than 80 people. We never lacked work, even during hard times. The secret? I go to Church every day and tell Our Lady: ‘This is your work, so if you want us to go ahead, send me some clients.’
Another very important aspect, both in the relationship with the workers and the clients, has always been to love the person we were dealing with. This was the greatest gift we could offer them. Once you know that God is love, everything follows. That is why many of the workers are still with us, and the clients have multiplied. Later on, we were even able to build houses for our workers…always with the help of God’s providence.”
Truly, the carpentry shop has turned into a place where the spiritual dimension of the Gospel and its social application meet. It has assumed a standard of work ethics and Christian principles, and does not compromise. With the proliferation of cheaper materials, mass-production items and cheaper imported furniture, the Focolare Carpentry has not succumbed to the pressures of the market; it has learned to go against the current. And this characteristic of “high quality custom-made” furniture has sustained them.
Through its effort to uphold the dignity of work, the FCTC has trained and produced many skilled workers who then obtain government certificates, who are in demand in the industry.
“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you…” This is the luminous guide that every man and woman of the Focolare Carpentry and FCTC have tried to follow all these years, and they stand by it even today, together with the institution that they have helped build. They have sought God first. These 50 years of applying the Gospel principle actively shines brightly before a world that seeks only material gains.
Focolare Carpentry and FCTC are living witnesses of the existence of God and His Love for mankind. This will surely continue to bring forth countless fruits for many more years to come.