Newsletter of the District
- September 1998
FOCOLARI MOVEMENT AND ITS INTERNATIONAL RAMIFICATIONS: Part I
by: Dr. Regina
article was written from a conference given by the author to the
congress “Theologisches”, at Fulda, in October 1997.
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,
“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
VISIBLE ORGANIZATION OF THE “FOCOLARI”
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
FOCOLARI: A MOVEMENT FOR THE UNITY OF RELIGIONS
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?
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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.
THE ECUMENICAL EXPERIENCE OF LONDON, ACCOMPLISHMENT
OF THE PRAYER OF JESUS UT UNUM SINT.
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.)
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.”
Lubich herself interpreted this event as a realization of the prayer
of Jesus ut unum sint.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
two or three are gathered…” Jesus is in their midst.
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.
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.”
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