Divo Barsotti (Palaia 1914 – Florence 2006) was a priest (of the diocese of San Miniato), writer, poet, founder (he founded a community of monastic character), spiritual father, but above all a mystic, a seeker of God, a man of faith and of prayer. Ordained a priest in 1937, he lived the wartime years at home by order of the Bishop, who could not find the right collocation for him in the diocese. During those years, Fr Barsotti had thought of going off as a missionary to India or Japan, with the desire to bring the Gospel to those peoples, but in a peculiar way: by living as a hermit, as poor among the poor, as a witness of the divine life in Christ, on the strength of the Sacraments and prayer alone. This plan was never fulfilled. In 1945 he moved to Florence and for several years served the diocese in a religious institute of nuns in the city. This gave him the opportunity to enter into contact with the vibrant Catholic life of Florence of those years, which witnessed such important persons as David Turoldo, Ernesto Balducci, Giovanni Papini, Nicola Lisi, Lorenzo Milani and Giorgio La Pira. Fr Barsotti’s first successful books in those years were Cristianesimo Russo (Russian Christianity) and Il Mistero cristiano nell’anno liturgico (The Christian Mystery in the Liturgical Year), books which earned him renown in Italy and abroad. In fact, he was one of the first in Italy to have studied and introduced saints of Russian and Eastern monasticism such as St Sergius of Radonez, St Seraphim of Sarov and the spirituality of the Way of the Pilgrim. With his studies on liturgical spirituality, he became acquainted with the current of spiritual writers beyond the Alps who in those years reflected on such themes, bringing about a renewal in theology and liturgical spirituality. He thus begun a correspondence with such persons as Von Balthasar (who was also his spiritual director for several years), Evdokimov, Bouyer, Merton, Danielou and others. In the 1950s, he retired to a small hermitage in the hills of Florence, which he wanted to dedicate to St Sergius of Radonez, and he gathered around himself several young men who wished to share with him a monastic experience under his guidance. In this way, a religious family was established which he called Community of the sons and daughters of God, a monastic community made up of lay persons who wish to live in the world and in society a kind of “monasticism of the heart,” with ways of life based on the gift of self to God in continual prayer; in self-offering with a special consecration to God; in reading Scripture;
in constant prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours; and also as persons who live together, both priests and lay persons, in small houses of common life, persons who are committed to living a traditional monastic life based on prayer, but without enclosure, following the style of traditional Russian monasticism. Fr Divo Barsotti devoted himself full-time to the development of his Community, whilst offering his services as a preacher in the post-conciliar years to convents, seminars and other Catholic institutions. The spiritual exercises he preached to the Roman Curia and to Pope Paul VI in 1971 were renowned. Fr Barsotti had a very reserved, but passionate, contemplative and likable character. He was completely devoted to spiritual life, one that expanded to welcome anyone who knocked on his door in search of God. He would wake up very early in the morning and devoted many hours of the day to prayer; he celebrated Mass with great devotion and intense emotion. He would spend a lot of time in silence and he read a lot. His direct relationship with God and his passionate, eloquent and rich preaching attracted many. However, he always kept a distance from the fashions and trends of his day. He spoke on the radio and on television, he preached in five continents, but he always remained true to his nature, with his radical need for God and for contemplative life, and this made him an authentic and unique witness to God. He died on February 15th, 2006 in his hermitage in Settignano, near Florence, at the age of 91, surrounded by his young monks, leaving to humanity an immense spiritual heritage: 170 books published in different languages, hundreds of articles and studies, a religious Community present in Italy and in the world with over 2000 members, a great number of spiritual children who were nourished by his writings and spirituality. His message can be summed up by his proposal to all of a mystical life based on the contemplation of the Mystery of God in the life of man, one that assumes all creation and the social situation in which man lives, bringing it all to Jesus the Saviour by means of continual prayer and of sacramental life. The Christian spirituality of Divo Barsotti is contemplative, liturgical and eschatological, but it is one that is to be lived in ordinary, common life, bringing the light of God to the world, in the transformation of one’s being, in continual conversion, in a program of holiness that is accessible to all, because it is based on Baptism.