In Loppiano, May 1 is synonymous with a youth festival. Umberto Giannettoni, who passed away early this year and who had lived for 40 years in the international town of Loppiano, was a direct witness to an event which later became an appointment not to be missed for thousands of young people from all five continents. These young people believe and work to bring unity and peace to the world. Among his memoirs are some related to the forerunner event of the Genfest.

Umberto Giannettoni
Umberto Giannettoni

Umberto describes the first youth festival in Loppiano on May 1, 1971: “…In the natural amphitheater in Campogiallo, we saw the arrival of thousands and thousands of young people under a splendid sun. The event, to which many people in Italy and Europe had contributed, made a big impact on the youth who left that evening, happy and filled with the divine that they had experienced. Hailing from Trent was Paolo Bampi, a boy sick with leukemia, who rendered a captivating song: “…but what are you seeking, what do you want…” Then came Gen Rosso with the song, “God who is Love.”

Genfest 1973
“We ended the song with a loud cry: Believe in Love!”

Theater pieces and dances followed. Each single number was presented a “first prize,” which the jury awarded according to various criteria: beauty, unity, content, and level of commitment. It was a crescendo of sincere and explosive joy which contaminated everyone. As evening came, under the rays of a sun which turned everything into gold and in a solemnly calm moment after the intense day […] we felt strongly the presence of Mary.”

He added, “After a second festive meeting of the youth in 1972 with an even greater attendance, Chiara Lubich understood that it would be an important tool for the whole youth movement. She decided to involve the two World Gen Centers which would later participate in the organization of the “Genfest” of 1973, still in Loppiano.

In that year, Fr. Pasquale Foresi (co-founder of the Focolare Movement) was present and gave an important speech about the call to follow Jesus. In the open-air amphitheater, there were almost 10,000 young people gathered together. That was how the Genfest was born!”

Genfest 1973. The Revolution of the Gospel

From 1971, let’s jump to the first Genfest in the international town of Loppiano, on May 1, 1973. Ten thousand young people from 43 countries attended. There were many global citizens which expressed the reality of being beyond all borders. Gustavo Clariá, one of the first Gen from Argentina, gives us an eyewitness account of this historic start.

“An unending line of buses filled with young people clambered up the narrow roads leading from Incisa Valdarno to the hills of Loppiano. Such a long cascade hadn’t been expected and threatened to throw off the plans. Who would have expected 10,000 young people to come for what would then turn into a yearly event…? It was a real invasion that left all Loppiano’s citizens’ in awe.

Genfest 1973
It was the era of the youth protests and Fr. Foresi thus presented the Gospel as the greatest “social revolution.”

“I can still see Loppiano’s natural amphitheater in front of me, filled to the brim with young people from Italy and several other European countries, with many hours of travel behind them – as well as representatives from other countries around the world…

“This youth festival (Genfest), organized by the Focolare youths, the Gen, which had come together in response to the invitation of Chiara Lubich to live for a more united world, opened with a song from the Gen Rosso international band. Songs, dances, personal stories, and presentations enriched the celebration while, at the same time, instilling in our hearts the certainty that the world would one day be united, thanks also to our contribution.”

“Introducing the Genfest was Fr. Pasquale Foresi, who delivered a message from Pope Paul VI, where the Pope affirmed how pleased he was to hear about the the Genfest, and expressed his wish that the event might ‘contribute to form an ever clearer awareness of the responsibility that the Gospel entails.”

“It was the era of the youth protests and Fr. Foresi thus presented the Gospel as the greatest ‘social revolution…”

“At a certain moment, a woman who had a rather apologetic smile, came forward almost trembling, in front of the microphone. Her silence spread like oil across the field and the 10,000 young people seemed to become a single person. She began to talk with incredible force: ‘God is Love and he loves us immensely.’ She was Renata Borlone, who was among the first young people to follow the call to be a Focolarina. Today she’s a Servant of God on her way to canonization.

“We sang Humanidad (Humanity): ‘New lights are announced in the heavens… humanity awakens… greeting the new sun as it rises…’ We ended the song with a loud cry: Believe in Love! Our sunburnt faces, in spite of the hats that we were all wearing, shone with the strong visible mark that had been imprinted on our souls.

“We left with the certainty that we were “announcing a new dawn,” that a united world was possible because we had experienced it among us all on that historic day, May 1, 1973.”

Gustavo Clariá and Umberto Giannettoni

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