Newsletter of the District of Asia

 December 1998

The Focolari Movement and its International Ramifications: Part 2

By:  Dr. Regina Hinrichs

Three erroneous convictions are at the basis of the Focolari movement:

1.       Man must, above all, establish peace on earth (in contrast, the First Commandment of the Christian aims at the love of God).

2.       Religions are responsible for wars and conflicts (the Church teaches that wars and conflicts come from sin).

3.       The unity of religions can bring peace on earth (Our Lord said, on the contrary:  “My peace I give you, not as the world gives it”).

From Le Sel de la Terre, No.25

The Cry of Jesus on the cross: an appeal to overcome divisions and to re-unite by dialogue.

            These reflections (see part I, July-August, 1998) lead us to the third pillar of the foundation upon which rests the spirituality of the Focolari: the cross, more exactly, the cry of dereliction of Jesus on the cross.

            The cry which Our Lord did utter in His agony is interpreted by Chiara Lubich as a cry of anguish because of existing divisions and therefore, as an urgent appeal for reconciliation:

            “By Him, by His cry, we are capable to engage ourselves beyond all wounds, of all separations and divisions, to reconstitute the unity of the Church.  Thanks to Him, we have acquainted ourselves with numerous churches and confessions, we have grasped their particularities and we have learned to esteem them; we feel like brothers and sisters, united by baptism and reciprocal love.”

            In other words, the schisms and separations are due to prejudices, to diversity of mentalities and of cultures.  The means which must logically permit to surmount these differences and these separations so sorrowfully felt, is dialogue.

            For Chiara Lubich, the remedy to divisions is not therefore in the apostolic mission which obeys to the order of Christ; “Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them (...) teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you”  (Mt xxviii, 19-20), that is: announce to them the revealed truth, free them from errors that enchain them.  For her, unity does not come from truth: the doctrinal intolerance constitutes on the contrary a seed of insupportable ruptures.

            To make unity, the only way then is a dialogue.  The inter-confessional dialogue among Christians, but also – since the movement is much wider than the borders of Christianity – the interreligious dialogue.

Chiara Lubich, worthy winner of the Templeton prize

For organizations and societies of thought that encourage this religious dialogue, Chiara Lubich has been occupying for a long time, an imminent place.  To be convinced of this, it suffices to consider the abundant international rewards she has received in her life.

These prizes that she has received are numerous and reveal the esteem which is given

 to her in world religious circles:

-          1977: Templeton Prize

-          1988: the Prize “Feast of Peace” of Augsbourg

-          1996: doctor honoris causa of the Catholic University of Dublin

-          1997: prize of Education for Peace of UNESCO; doctor honoris causa of the

       Catholic Universities of Manila, Taipei and of Bangkok.

The Focolari movement has evidently benefitted of the reputation of its founder: its growth, its international recognition and its introduction in organizations which pursue the same ends have been greatly facilitated by it.

The Templeton Prize

            Firstly, we must present the Templeton prize instituted in 1972 by Sir John Templeton and awarded each year since 1973.  It is the largest prize of the world (more than a million dollars).  Among the beneficiaries, we find Mother Teresa, Roger Schutz, Cardinal Suenens, C-F.V. Weizsacker, a Buddhist, a rabbi, a Hindu, and ... Chiara Lubich.

            Sir John Templeton instituted his prize to be the religious counterpart of the Nobel prize.  The latter has for aim to honor the progress in the natural sciences. Similarly, the Templeton prize encourages the “progress in religion”.

            The presentation brochure of the Templeton foundation define clearly the meaning of “progress in religion”: since we note that there exists a progress in all that which pertains to human experience and effort, the same thing must happen in religious matter.  Moreover, since in other domains, we witness an always more accelerated progress, it is necessary to expect the same phenomenon in the field of religion:  a universe which does not cease to broaden requires a broadening religious conscience, new cultural horizons and new spiritual liberties.

            Therefore, the intention for which this prize is given, is clear: it is to reward the work accomplished for the conquest of the liberty of conscience in religious matters and to stimulate the initiatives of the pioneers in this domain.  Thus, are judged worthy of interest, no matter from what religion they proceed, all efforts made in order to arrive at a deeper spiritual conscience or at a better understanding of what is the meaning of life, as well as all enterprises inspiring dedication and love or orienting man’s life towards God so that he finds there new creative energies.

            The brochure emphasizes that syncretism – the attempt of fusion and reconciliation of diverse religious convictions – must be avoided.  The Templeton prize is on the contrary destined to highlight the diversity of religious beliefs and of their expressions.  Consequently, tolerance occupies there a very important place.  There is no question of truth or error.  On the contrary, it is simply a matter to help man to recognize “the infinity of the universal spirit”, the multiplicity of roads by which the Creator reveals Himself to man.

            In vain do we look for the mention of a personal God, as the Christian faith requires.  On the other hand, a few lines below, the text of the brochure speaks of “the Divine”.  This equivocal reference truly appears to be an allusion to the Great Architect of the universe.

A prize well awarded?

            Why was Chiara Lubich judged worthy to receive this Templeton prize?  What motivated the jury to make this choice?

            The brochure of the Templeton Foundation consecrated to Chiara Lubich gives several reasons.

            Firstly, the Focolari movement has shown the world that it no longer suffices today to adhere to an instituted church.  The theologians of the 1950’s – states this document – were considering the church as the Mystical Body of Christ.  At present, theology has made a double progress: we now speak of the “people of God” and we insist on the experience of a personal conversion to Christ.  Now, these are the characteristic traits of the Focolari movement.

            Another sign of progress (equally present in the Focolari) – continues the brochure – is the new tone given to spirituality: traditionally, it was impersonal and abstract; from now on it nourishes itself from the lived experience of the individual.  Our reader, quite surprised, will ask how could a multitude of saints nevertheless grow on such dry ground of the Church of old up to 1950!

Moreover – pursues the publication – the new commandment “love one another” extends indistinctly to all men, and it is what the Focolari practices in opening itself to persons of all convictions.  (The word of Pius XII proclaiming the XXth Century, “the Century of the Mystical Body of Christ”, is even quoted at this place as if it designated mutual love between all men of all religions.)  If then we practice this commandment in this spirit, our comportment  will give birth to a mutual respect among states and peoples, will provoke a diminution of fear among men and the abolition of all their frontiers.

Finally, the text notes that Chiara Lubich and all her works are efficiently militant in the church at the service of ecumenism.

The ‘qualities’ underlined in these lines are for the least ambiguous.  In fact, they are those claimed by the tendencies and the changes which brought the revolution in the Church.  Consequently, we must ask ourselves: does Chiara Lubich truly possess these ‘qualities’; did she merit this strange prize or have we misunderstood and misinterpreted her person and her intentions?  To answer, let us bring ourselves back directly to the statements pronounced by the person concerned on ecumenism and on the new ecclesiology.

Chiara Lubich and Ecumenism

In her speech after the presentation of the Templeton prize, Chiara Lubich treated at length of the expansion of her work beyond the limits of Christianity.

There she mentions the Jews to whom in a certain sense, are united to us Revelation.  On the subject of the Muslims, she emphasizes full admiration, to what point they are faithful to their religion.  She is in ecstacy before the Hindus who give, she says, the first place to love:

“We love them just as they are and it is together that we look for these truths which unite us most narrowly to live them together, to share our experiences in our commitment for God and our brothers.”

Referring to the Gen movement which we have described above (see part I), she explains that the followers of other religions can be received in the Focolari, and then, call themselves according to their religion of origin: Gen-Muslim, Gen-Buddhists, etc.  As to the fact that these members of other religions have a conception of God totally different from that of Christianity, it matters a little, it seems.  Only love counts and the effort which we do to construct a world of love.

What Chiara Lubich wants is “to live the Gospel”.  But having seen what precedes, we have the right to ask: of what Gospel is it about?  What becomes of certain words of Christ like these ones: “I did not come to bring peace but the sword...”  “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth”?  What does she do about the warning against false prophets, of the condemnation of idolatry, of the affirmation that Christ is the key which must bring the fall and rise of a great number, and of many similar other works?

As we have seen, the end sought by the Focolari movement is unity, Chiara Lubich believes she is accomplishing the will of God, since she says:

            “Jesus took the human nature in order that all may be one.  On the Cross, in his dereliction, it is for that that He gave His life.  Now, it is up to us to fulfil this end: above all, the Opus Mariae has made as its own the task to unite the entire humanity.”

Consequently, the ecumenical effort accomplished by the Focolari, if it concentrates firstly on “the instruction and sensibilization of Catholics in view of the unity of Christians and in view to obtain a fraternal community with the members of other Christian churches” cannot logically stay there; it aspires to embrace members of other religions.

Chiara Lubich and the New Ecclesiology

Concerning the Church, the statements of Chiara Lubich also go in the same sense as that of the Templeton Foundation.  She is convinced that, thanks to Vatican II, the Church has done a great leap forward in the right direction.  She gives as signs: collegiality and the priority given to love.

If, during the ecumenical assembly of Graz, she seemed to profess without ambiguity the faith in the one Church founded by Jesus Christ, she nevertheless adds: “in this context arises the fundamental importance of ecclesiology”.  Of which ecclesiology is it about?  Making allusion to Cardinal Willebrands who had spoken to her when the Templeton prize was awarded to her, she explains that it is necessary to deepen the ecclesiology of the “communio” that in this resides the great chance of future ecumenism and that the efforts to reach the unity of the Church must take that ecclesiology as a starting point.

Moreover, it is in this sense that the Ecumenical Council of Churches and other similar institutions do operate, she says, when they seek to put to work an “ecumenical spirituality”.  For the divisions which have shaken the foundations of the Church in the course of the past two thousand years, have been caused by the diversities of opinions due to a defect of love among Christians.

She deplores these divisions of Christians which are contrary to the Divine Will expressed in the words of Christ “ut unum sint”.  And since the lack of love is responsible for these divisions, an increase of love will be able to bring us to the lost unity.

“In the course of centuries, because of a growing indifference, a lack of comprehension, or even a certain hatred for the other churches, each church hardened itself, in a way.  In each of them, then, a great love is necessary; a common love must seize all Christianity, a love which pushes us to have all in common, to be each a gift for the others.”

We note it again: the question of truth or error is not even mentioned. The church which she wants to build is not then the Una, Sancta, Catholica et Apostolica Ecclesia, which, one in Herself, in her doctrine and in her rites, is living until our days.  What is this new church, then?

“We could thus figure out the future Church: that there is a unique truth, but that it expresses itself in different ways, that it is composed of different points of view and that it offers us its richness in a multiplicity of interpretations”.

This goes without comments.

Last point: how to achieve this new conception of the Church?  We said it already: in instituting a universal dialogue which will include all the people of God.

“Thanks to this dialogue, we are more apt to discover, appreciate and live consciously this great heritage which is the common bond of all Christians.  We desire to see this unique people who is already visible everywhere where there is a church”.

The Focolari Movement prototype of the future Church

The Focolari find themselves at the heart of this building of the Church of the future.  Already, Chiara Lubich tells us, hundreds of thousands of persons, members of about three hundred churches, live the charism of unity which is at the bosom of the Focolari.  These persons are the models of that which, at the universal scale of the world, still remains to be accomplished.  During the speech she delivered in Manila for the presentation of her title of Doctor honoris causa, the foundress of the Focolari spoke of our theologians and of our doctrine, in referring to the Opus Mariae.  What did she mean?  She saw herself in a situation similar to that of St. Francis of Assisi, who by his own experience of poverty, was at the origin of a new universal doctrine; or even of St. Thomas Aquinas, who before being recognized as Doctor Communis, was the theologian of his particular Order.  Similarly, Chiara Lubich esteems that her theology and her particular experience at the bosom of the Focolari must prepare the integration of the charism on unity in the entire Church.

“The charism of unity furnishes us with the conditions required to create a great theology of Jesus [which, evidently, did not exist up to this day!  Ed], not a theology of Jesus of a thousand years ago but of this Jesus living today in His Church.

The presence of the little word “today” is always very revealing and disturbing, in this kind of discourse.  For, Christus heri, hodie et in saecula, Christ is always the same.  To put a contrast between the historical Jesus and the one who lives today in the Church is illegitimate.  The famous words of G. K. Chesterton come to mind:  “The Church alone preserves us from the humiliating slavery to be a child of our time.”

Thus, in an exemplary and living manner, the Focolari movement pretends to demonstrate to us that unity has been made possible, and that it incarnates the first step – but it may already be the second! – on the way which leads to the Church of the future.

(to be continued)

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