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MAFC ‘21 Brings Focolare Premise to Her Practicum to Help Teens

In Brazil, the parents of Ana Paula Panzarini, MAFC ’21, reacted quizzically when their then 14-year-old returned from a Focolare retreat behaving in a manner that was uncharacteristically thoughtful for a teenager. For example, she took to greeting her farming father at the door with his slippers and a smile. Her large family wondered if she had been brainwashed.

Twenty-one years later, still filled with the certainty of God’s love, Panzarini grins, “Now, they’re all brainwashed.”

The Focolare Movement

Approved by the Catholic Church, the Focolare Movement began in WWII Italy. Its premise is profoundly simple—to love everyone and put one’s faith into practice. The three elements upon which the movement is based are “the art of loving, community and dialogue.”

“Living the Gospel, I find myself so happy,” the professional teacher said.

Transforming Ethos of UST’s Faith and Culture Program

Panzarini entered the Master of Arts in Faith and Culture program at University of St. Thomas – Houston in fall 2019 to take her transformative way of thinking and being to the next level.

“UST’s Nesti Center for Faith and Culture is about transforming the culture through a life of faith,” she said. “The Center was what I was looking for. I felt like I belonged in that community from day one. I was touched and so excited by the people and what they were doing.”

Within that ethos, Panzarini asked herself how she could contribute to transforming society. Her practicum involved developing her nine-module curriculum to address contradictory messages that teens routinely receive.

Correcting Contradictory Messages to Teens Through a Practicum

She said, “In one ear, teens hear that they are beloved children of God and that they’re called by God to give love. But in the other ear, we tell them that life is about winning, and they need to beat someone else to win. This contradiction is confusing and leaves many teens feeling alone. They need to depart from this aloneness by fully realizing they are absolutely loved by God.”

Her practicum presentation is called “uNi (pronounced like You and I): A Holistic Faith Formation Program for Use with North American Youth, ages 13-17.”

The nine module topics include Knowing Ourselves as Persons Loved by God; Handling and Understanding Our Emotions; Values, Virtues and Hard Decisions; and Sexuality and the Beauty of Life. All sections are intended to be taught by duos of male and female tutors.

Professor Emeritus and Founding Director of the Nesti Center, Donald S. Nesti, CSSp, said, “It was truly a pleasure to mentor Ana as she led the development of this extraordinary process for evangelizing 13 to 17-year-old teenagers. The Focolare leadership has shown great wisdom in appointing her to their Youth Ministry Team in Rome where she will be able to evangelize youth in over 150 countries worldwide. Ana is an outstanding example of the formation our students receive in UST’s Master of Arts in Faith and Culture program and how they participate in carrying the Gospel message to the world today.”

MAFC Promotes A Lifetime of Entirely Accepting God’s Love

Previously, Panzarini, who earned her B.A. at California State University Dominguez Hills, completed social and religious studies at the Instituto Mystici Corporis of the Focolare Movement in Florence, Italy and earned her teaching credentials from Colegio Sagrada Familia in Ponta Grossa, PR, Brazil.

As she heads for her next assignment with the Youth Ministry Team of the Focolare Movement in Rome, Panzarini hopes her new curriculum winds up being widely used within various community settings and families. She believes the results could be as dramatic as a certain retreat was for that 14-year-old girl in Brazil.

“We have to entirely accept God’s love, then we simply reflect it back to others in every circumstance,” Panzarini said.

For more information on her curriculum for teens, reach out to the uNi Youth Program