In 1987, Chiara Amirante, at the age of 21, was struck by a serious chronic illness, which, according to the diagnoses of numerous professors, should have gradually caused her a loss of vision and an increase in acute pain. During this suffering and sickness, Chiara experiences what she considers to be an incredible miracle: the actuality that it is possible to cherish the peace and joy of the Risen Christ even amidst the most terrible sufferings and conditions, such as the one she was living through, situations that, humanly speaking, should lead to utter despair. During this difficult time, a phrase from the Gospel was a fundamental light and support for her: “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full…” (Jn 15:11). She thus feels an increasing desire to go out at night, to the ‘hot spots’ on the streets, to search for those who are most desperate, and to bring them some hope, to share this ‘full joy’ that Jesus has promised and that resists life’s most terrible trials. So Chiara turns to God with a simple prayer: “If it is you who has placed in my heart this foolish desire to go to the streets at night, then give me a little better health; put me in the minimum conditions to be able to achieve it! Nothing is impossible for you!”
The following day, Chiara wakes up completely cured. The doctors can find no scientific explanation for this sudden healing. But for her, there is no doubt about it: it is Heaven’s answer to her prayer the night before. Chiara thus begins what she calls “her journey through the hell of the streets”, to listen to the cry of the people of the night.
THE EMERGENCE OF NEW HORIZONS
In May of 1993, Chiara opens a Listening Centre on Termini Station premises and establishes the Voluntary Association of New Horizons. At the same time, she begins to host the young men and women encountered on the streets at The Island, a structure on the via Ardeatina, in the Roman suburbs, made available to her by the directors of St. Vincent.
Chiara proposes a week of spiritual exercises (from 2 to 10 January ’94) to the first young people taken in, which culminates in such an extraordinary experience of grace that it leaves a deep mark on all the participants. It is the feast of the Baptism of Jesus (January 10, 1994), and Chiara considers this to be the founding date of New Horizons.
THE EARLY DAYS
In March 1994, the nascent Community moves to a house on the outskirts of Rome, in Trigoria, in a family cottage that immediately welcomes 27 people. It is here that the monthly training days for all the friends and sympathisers of the Association begin, forming teams for street evangelisation, and the testimonies given in schools are multiplied, as are the meetings, sessions, and roundtables held in the most varied of places where young people gather. Participation begins on different television programmes, and several prevention initiatives are organised. The young people sheltered also become engaged in the first shows performed, including a first musical, entitled “Termini Station”.
In just a few years time, the pedagogical rehabilitation programme “New Horizons” proves to be quite effective; the Course of self-knowledge and healing of the heart – “The Art of Loving” – elaborated by Chiara, is proposed not only to the young people taken in, but also to the many Community friends.
Some of the young people welcomed and external friends feel moved to consecrate their life to God in the New Horizons Community with vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and joy. During the Eucharistic celebration of Easter in ‘95, in the presence of Mons. Salvatore Boccaccio (then auxiliary bishop of Rome, who had followed the creation of the New Horizons community from its very first steps), the first group of Little Ones of Joy is formed, consecrated to God in the specific Community charism: to give witness to joy, paying special attention to the mystery of Jesus’ descent to the underworld and to His resurrection.
In November ‘ 95, Cardinal Tonini, after visiting the first group of the nascent Community, presents the New Horizons experience at the Synod of Bishops on the consecrated life. It will be Cardinal Tonini who makes New Horizons known even to the general public, asking Chiara to recount her experience on the programme “Il Fatto Quotidiano” with host Enzo Biagi, following the Tg 1 evening news. Cardinal Tonini will also edit the preface of Chiara’s first published book: “Termini Station. Stories of drugs, Aids, and prostitution”, which, a month after publication, is already a bestseller.
THE DREAM OF THE SKY CITADEL and THE FIRST DIOCESAN RECOGNITION
As early as ’96, Chiara Amirante shares a dream with some friends living this adventure with her: “Sky Citadel” – which she describes and proposes in her second publication: “New Horizons. Our Adventure in the Street World” – a village of receiving and formation where all can commit to living the law of Heaven: the love that Jesus came to teach us. The new Project, one that is particularly demanding, immediately appears, even to the eyes of Chiara herself, as an ‘impossible mission’, but once more, faith that Love makes the impossible possible will lead her to undertake the project of creating five Sky Citadels in different Countries. And yet again, the dream becomes a reality.
In the summer of that same year, at the request of Cardinal Ruini, Chiara writes the Association’s Statutes. On 10 March ’97, the New Horizons Association is recognised as a Private Association of the Faithful in the diocese of Rome.
THE FIRST HISTORICAL CENTRES AND THE STREET MISSIONS
In May 1997, the Community, having grown in number by now, situates its headquarters at the Franciscan convent in Piglio, in the province of Frosinone.
These are the years in which the New Horizons Centres multiply. The Centre for initial shelter and street evangelization Rainbow of Love is inaugurated in Rome on the premises of the SS. Fabiano and Venanzio parish, thanks to the support of the parish priest, Don Andrea Santoro (who will die a martyr in Turkey on 5 February 2006). For the occasion, the first ‘street mission’ is organised in Rome: with 200 young people participating for fifteen days.
This experience will become the first of a series of pilot projects for countless street missions for the Diocese of Rome, like “Jesus in the Centre”. Many dioceses in Italy and abroad invite New Horizons to create similar experiences, involving diverse ecclesial entities, launching schools and centres for evangelisation.
BEGINNING THE MISSIONS ABROAD
After embarking on some international cooperation experiences in partnership with other associations, in 2000, the realisation of the Sky Citadel in Brazil Project is launched in Quixadà and then, in communion with other ecclesial entities, in Fortaleza. In 2001, in Bosnia Herzegovina, construction begins on the Morning Star Residential Centre.
STRUCTURING THE PASTORAL INITIATIVES
The activities that New Horizons has in the pipeline are manifold and the need to coordinate them arises: so a Centre for the annual planning of prevention and awareness activities across the whole Italian territory comes to life, in the main house in Piglio. An important initiative managed by the Centre is the first ‘summer mission’, on the beach and the street, in Riccione in 2003, done jointly with other ecclesial groups, in particular, Young Point.
Over time, many initiatives that were already in the seed of in the first experiences of street evangelization then take shape: missions and micro-missions; street-action (street entertainment with music, songs, flash mobs, artistic representations, games, testimonials); angels in the night (teams of young people who go to the ‘hot spots’ and places where the people of the night gather); free hugs (a social initiative born in Sydney and ‘adopted’ by New Horizons as a friendly way to open a dialogue with people met at the station, in public squares, and on the street); light in the night (a specific type of evangelisation of initial proclamation, in which people from the streets and nightclubs are invited to enter a church and live a brief itinerary of prayer); happy music (alternative parties); workshops on music, singing, acting, modern dance, international cooperation, media and new media, volunteer training; prevention groups in schools, and many more initiatives.
A CENTRE FOR PRESBYTERATE FORMATION: EMMANUEL HOUSE
On 24 November 2002, on the solemnity of Christ the King, the “House for Presbyterate Formation” is inaugurated, welcoming those young men who wish to live their ministry in service of the specific New Horizons charism on the path of vocational discernment and formation for the priesthood. They follow an intense programme marked by moments of prayer and special training, along with pastoral commitment that involves them full court, paying particular attention to evangelisation and to integrated and street life ministry.
THE KNIGHTS OF THE LIGHT
On Good Friday of 2006, Chiara, after a particularly intense spiritual experience at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in the Holy Land, understands that she must launch a new proposal to many: the Knights of the Light. The first to join is Cardinal Martini, who accompanies Chiara in those days of prayer and discernment in the Holy Land. Those wanting to join are asked to commit to living the Gospel radically, to bear witness to the joy of the Risen Christ, and to bring the revolution of His love to the world. Just back from the Holy Land, Chiara proposes these new commitments to the young people received and the friends of the community, and all respond enthusiastically. The number of Knights of the Light increases exponentially, and in a few years time, they become over 500,000.
THE SERVICE TEAMS
The numerous initiatives to support those who live in situations of serious hardship continue to multiply and Service Teams are formed to undertake the various Service Areas that get defined as: Reception Support and Guidance, Prevention and Awareness-raising, International Cooperation and Social Services, Communication and Mass Media, Formation in Publishing Culture, Economics and Labour, Spirituality and Prayer, Entertainment and Animation; Harmony and Artistic Expression.
DEVELOPMENT OF SOCIAL WORKS
The responses to the ever-increasing requests for help multiply and take shape in the establishment of a constantly increasing number of centres, works, and initiatives of all sorts: Residential Reception Community, Family Homes, fixed and mobile Listening Centres, Housing Communities for children, Projects in developing countries, Social cooperatives, Street evangelisation Centres, Telephone Hotlines, Volunteer Training Centres, Reintegration Centres, Community for Street Children, Centres for Teen Mothers, Centres for Street Operators, Centres of Spirituality, Support Groups, Sky Citadels, and… much more.
On 8 December 2010, the Pontifical Council for the Laity recognises New Horizons as a Private International Association of the Faithful. There is great celebration throughout the Association. Three years earlier, Cardinal Rylko had urged Chiara Amirante to apply for the pontifical approval, saying, “… it is a charism for the entire Church”.