Newsletter of the District of Asia

 August - September 1998


by: Dr. Regina Hinrichs

This article was written from a conference given by the author to the congress “Theologisches”, at Fulda, in October 1997.

For many years, Dr. Hinrichs has undertaken researches regarding contemporary subversive religious movements.  During  her works, she was naturally led to put her attention to the powerful organization of the “Focolari” (in italian,hearths, homes) and to its “Charismatic” founder, Chiara Lubich.

The “Focolari” (whose original name is “Opus Mariae”- The Work of Mary) defines itself as a militant movement for unity, open to persons of all  convictions.  Today, its influence spreads to the whole world.  They are very active propagators of ecumenism and inter-religious diaogues.

- Le Sel de la Terre, No.25


To make a sound judgement concerning the Focolari Movement, to understand the personality of its founder Chiara Lubich and untangle the interdependence which unite the multiple international ramifications of this movement, it is necessary to take a look at its organization and the extent of its network.

Let us start by some figures.  During the ecumenical meeting of Graz,(Austria), in the summer of 1997, Chiara Lubich boasted that there are followers of more than three hundred churches were adhering to her work founded in 1943.  According to her own informations, the movement counts more than 90,000 internal members, to which is necessary to add two million symphatizers from more than one-hundred eighty countries.  The “Words of Life”, commentaries of the passages of the Holy Scripture composed by Chiara Lubich, have been translated in ninety languages.  Twenty-seven publishing houses belong to the “Focolari”.

There are multiple ways to adhere to the movement: in the center members are found who are tied by a formal engagement and live in little communities according to the practice of three vows (poverty, chastity, obedience); then, come the married adherents who equally make vows; finally, the voluntary collaborators who belong to one of the satellite organizations surrounding it.

Thus the movement of volunteers is born, that is the group of laymen without formal engagement, which has given birth to the “Movement for a New Society”.  This one, in its turn, has promoted the “International Bureau of Economy and Work (labor) which enjoys a consultative voice at the UN.

We must also mention diverse associations Gen (from the Italian, generations): that of young adults, that of the youth and of the children, who all add to their name this formula: “For a United World”. Let us also notice the male musicians (Gen Rosso) and also the female musicians (Gen Verde), and also the Gen S (seminarians), for the Focolari disposes of their own seminaries for the formation of priests.  It is then just that the foundress speaks of “our” theologians and of “our” theology.  Later on, we shall come back on this point.

At regular intervals, the various Gen organize feasts.  There are also summer meetings called Mariapolis and “general telephonic conferences” of each month.  These reunions have for purpose to assure the cohesion at the bosom of this very widespread organism, to stimulate the spiritual life of members and to exchange news from the movement.

We must also mention the “colonies”.  Nineteen exist to this day.  The first ones are founded in Italy, such as that of Lo Piano installed near Florence since 1964.  Others have been added with the passing of years, in Switzerland, in Germany, in Africa, in the United States, in Argentina, and in the Philippines.

Thus, let us recognize it, in almost fifty years, a considerable work has developed and widely spread in the entire world, a work which does not cease to grow and which is supported by numerous diocesan priests, religious, bishops, cardinals, and by the pope himself.  As a amtter of fact, to give an idea of the approbation which Pope John Paul II grants to the Focolari: he reserved to them the exclusive use of the audience’s room of Casteldolfo.


After having briefly described the external structure of the Work of Mary (Opus Mariae, such is the official name of the Focolari), we must examine the foundations of this truly impressing construction.  What are the spiritual and religious convictions which form the basis of this organism?

Three evangelical texts - strangely interpreted- are at the origin of the intuition of Chiara Lubich : 1) the prayer of Jesus ut unum sint; 2) the promise of the Lord, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I in the midst of them”. 3) the abandonment of Jesus on the cross expressed when He cried : “My God, My God , why hast Thou forsaken me.”

These three formulas are closely tied between them by the idea of unity.  For it is this experience of unity which is at the base of the work of Chiara Lubich.  Here are her confidences on this regard: “In a shelter illuminated by a candle, we were reading the Gospel.  We felt particularly attracted by the prayer of Jesus Ut unum sint ( St. John 17).  We were surprised ourselves, for these words no longer seemed to us difficult to understand; on the contrary, we were having the impression to understand them a little.  We were sure: it was the rule, the Magna Carta of our new life.”

Likewise, these explanations taken from the mouth of the foundress: “The Focolari is a little community in the world, Its members do not differ in nothing of this world, they dress and work like others.  At the same,  this community is something special, for it comprises of people who left the world, their country, their family, their work, in order to put their life at the service of the unity of the world.”

Of which unity does it treat?  Upon which does it rest?  In a “telephonic conference”, Chiara Lubich defined unity in these words.  “ The unity is that which results from the common research of the same luminous truth”

The principle of the religious unity of a group of persons is not therefore the unity of faith which they profess; it is not the revealed truth to which they adhere and all believe in the same manner, but the partaking of a same quest  for research.


Chiara Lubichs own testimony describing what she felt when she received the ‘Templeton Price’, in London, can help us to grasp what she means by unity .  (Let’s point out the passage that these words explain why her movement could so easily spread in the whole world.)

After my speech in London, those who were present and who were followers of different religions seemed to me united.  I asked myself, how did it happen?  Perhaps the reason was that almost all were believers in God and in that moment He embraced us all? When I left, the first one to approach were the members of other religions.   A Tibetan monk told me that he was going to write immediately to the Dalai-lama so that the later put himself in contact with me.  Four Jews expressed their joy telling me that at the  bottom , the Old testament is the trunk of the tree on which Christianity is grafted.  Evidently, they meant to say that the development of our movement came from this same tree.  After, came the Hindus, Sikhs and others.”

Chiara Lubich herself interpreted this event as a realization of the prayer of Jesus ut unum sint.

Even if we adhere to different religions, we become one.  Perhaps it was so because all believe in God and that, in this sense, He embraces us all in a moment?”

An amazed catholic will ask: how is it possible that Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and Sikhs united in this room, all believe in God?  In which God? It’s not thinkable that this is the triune God professed by the Christians.

Leaving from this experience of London, the movement of Focolari extended more and more in reversing the “narrow barriers” of diverse confessions, included there those of Christianity as it is visible in the citations which we have just read.  Thus, because she had been particularly impressed by the fact that after her speech in London, Buddhists, Jews and Sikhs had approached her, the idea of unity among religions imposed itself to the mind of Chiara Lubich and became the first pillar of her work.

Then the question how to attain this unity conceived as a global unity?  This unity, answers Chiara Lubich, takes body and fulfills itself in the measure when we become one with our brothers.  “To be one”, “to make ourselves one” is a key expression of the Focolari movement.  It signifies to listen, to be interested  with the problems of the other person, to agree with, to confirm him in his preferences, to tie up a close relationship with him.

This program: “ To make ourselves one” implies more: from the persons, it extends to religions and to diverse traditions; its field of action is universal.  “We must make ours also the different civilizations also so rich, the sometimes traditions, and to make the germ of the Gospel grow” explains Chiara Lubich in a discourse entitled, “The Priest Today,” in which she highlights the idea that the priest today must be, before all, a man of dialogue.

“When two or three are gathered…” Jesus is in their midst.

Unity being the will of God (since Jesus said it in his prayer ut unum sint) from then on the Focolari movement works to accomplish the unity, it does the will of God and works in the name of Jesus.

Consequently, Chiara Lubich believes that she can refer to the word of the Lord: “When two or three are gather in My name, I am present in their midst.” and apply it to her work.  She draws from it the following commentary: “This word of Jesus is for the movement ( Focolari) the norm of norms, it is that which has the incontestable priority: the presence of Christ among us.  Thus the divine fraternity that Jesus has brought on earth for all humanity is invested of meaning and of life.”

Jesus is in the midst of us, she explains, when we practice reciprocal love which He asks us to practice; it is this love which accomplishes unity.  Jesus is then “an enormous help (!) for a very lively ecumenism.  With this help, we rediscover the fraternity which facilitates mutual comprehension and which destroys the many centuries of prejudices.

(To be continued)

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