Fiftieth anniversary of the Focolare in the New World

 
1,300 people from Canada, the United States and the Caribbean came together to celebrate the 50 years since the arrival of the Focolare Movement in North America. Members of the Jewish community and African American Muslims were among those present.

It could have been the finale of a Broadway musical. Men and women wearing black shirts, girls with yellow and blue scarves, dance routines, and a medley of well known songs about the joys and worries, the hard times and the dreams of Americans.  The lengthy applause expressed joy and gratitude for “an unforgettable day for the whole of north America”, that, as one of the presenters put it, “took fifty years to prepare.”

The occasion, in upstate New York, marked 50 years since the Focolare Movement arrived in North America. There were 1,300 people, representing the many communities in Canada, the United Sates and the Caribbean, and those present included Jews and African American Muslims. “This country is particularly suited to the spirituality of the movement”, Chiara Lubich had said during her first visit to the USA in 1964, “there is a true sense of internationality.”

After that first visit she returned six times, confirming her feelings about the strategic importance of this part of the continent. With each visit the founder introduced something new, like the dialogue she opened with African American Muslims (she was the first white woman to speak in New York’s Malcolm X mosque), and the collaboration with actors, directors and producers in Hollywood.

The arrival of the Movement in the New World was somewhat unexpected. It happened that Julia Conley from Detroit who had attended the Mariapolis in Fribourg in 1960, wrote afterwards to Chiara Lubich and Pasquale Foresi asking them to send someone to the USA as her guests. There was no immediate response, but she was not giving up, and with true American determination she wrote again, this time including the money for two airline tickets.  At the time Chiara wrote in her diary, “This is a sign from God.” She therefore sent Silvana Veronesi one of her first companions and Giovanna Veronucci. A year later in 1961 Giovanna (Giò) returned with Serenella Silvi (who was present at the celebration), and Antonio Petrilli, and two focolares began.

With a sketch involving mobile phone “apps”, a couple of young people led the audience through a tour of North America using photos, and both live and recorded personal stories, presenting the activities and life of the movement in the various States. Of course, it was loaded with special effects, and the West Coast community, on the Pacific, which includes Hollywood, began their presentation in Twentieth Century Fox style with spotlights lighting up the sky, the familiar music, and the name West Coast Focolare in huge letters.

The high point of the day was when Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti went up on the stage and responded to a number of questions. It was a conversation that lasted seventy minutes. The eleven questions covered many key issues:  the fear of pain and death, the relation between wellbeing and the gospel, the sexual abuse scandals in the USA Church, relationships with the mass media.

“Allow me to reflect once more on those two girls who had this huge nation before them,” the president confided, “and now consider how much the family that you represent has grown.” After a short pause, she addressed each person there: “this is Chiara’s mandate, to be a Silvana, a Giovanna, and return to your own town with their same burning desire to witness to the charism of unity.”

Maria Voce, struck by the simplicity, authenticity and generosity of this people, also highlighted their optimism, which has helped them to get through many situations. So quite spontaneously she said something that sounded like a slogan: “After 50 years, there are still things to do, and we will do them!”

In his message for the occasion, Pope Benedict XVI, “aware of the very multicultural dimension of the Focolare in North America” promised his prayers, “so that the bonds built with members of other religious communities may bring abundant fruits for the progress of mutual understanding and spiritual solidarity with the whole human family.”

From our correspondent Paolo Lòriga

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