“I found the answers for my life.” “It’s a privilege to see how the charism of unity transforms people.” “Everyone was so easy-going.” It was certainly an unforgettable day in the history of the Focolare Movement in Great Britain. 500 people from England, Scotland, Wales, as well as a delegation from Ireland, gathered around Focolare President, Maria Voce, and co-President, Giancarlo Faletti, in the Quaker’s Friends House in Euston. Some participants travelled for up to 10 hours so as not to miss out on the opportunity.
Lesley, an Anglican focolarina, in her introduction to a video documentary illustrating Chiara Lubich’s visit to the United Kingdom, described the shock that was experienced due to the recent riots in London neighbourhoods; she spoke of the disturbing events within the framework of a secularised culture, where the focus is only on self, leading to disastrous consequences. She then underlined how Great Britain contains the seeds of a different culture planted over 40 years ago, the roots of which penetrate profoundly through the message of Chiara Lubich who came to Liverpool in 1965. This was the first of eight visits and it left its mark in the history of the entire Focolare Movement. I twas Canon Bernard Pawley who had invited her to speak of the spirituality of unity in the Anglican Cathedral in order to move the mountains of incomprehension and to promote ecumenical dialogue.
The program continued with testimonies shared by Eddie from Scotland, Lucy and David from Wales, and Ann from England. While their stories varied because of the different situations they lived in – ecumenical dialogue, interreligious dialogue, pastoral work with the elderly – they were profound and down to earth. A couple from Congo, now living in England, spoke about their adventure in fleeing from a war zone, the difficulty of settling in a new country, and how their life as a couple was resolved through the discovery of mutual love proposed by the Gospel.
The climax of the afternoon’s program was the dialogue session with Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti who answered many questions put to them by the participants, touching on some sore points. Above all, they wanted to know to give a new push to ecumenism. “Perhaps, here we need to launch into action,” Maria Voce said, and she invited everyone to re-awaken in their own church, like a mouth-watering desire, “to experience the gift that God had given to us to reach universal brotherhood.”
Throughout their trips around the world, Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti have found that the ecumenical movement usually goes ahead despite the differences that might exist. They recounted positive experiences in the area of ecumenism in Budapest, Chicago, and even in Tanzania, where representatives of various churches have expressed gratitude towards the Focolare for its support and commitment.
The other hot topic were the riots and violence which shook London and which spread to other cities of England. After years of hard work in order to build unity in the community, to some it seemed as if all was lost, as if the violence had cancelled out all the positive that had been achieved. How is it possible to have hope in this situation?
“And yet I continue to have hope,” Maria Voce responds confidently, “In my view, violence signifies a great void, a great need for love; it’s the ultimate need to be taken into consideration while resorting to the wrong means.” These episodes are challenging, “but if we respond with love, we can create a greater good”. This has happened to “people who have reacted, and who got together to transmit positive signs”. Giancarlo Faletti comments, “Society has to ask itself which values and cultural models it is putting forward. We can bring our own values. It’s an invitation to stretch the limits in our giving.”
The questions seemed to go on forever. To the one relating to society’s negation of God, Maria Voce commented, “I have never found anybody who says they don’t want to be loved. God can only be given through love and we are called to live together this testimony which is for all people: for those belonging to the different religions and even for those who profess no belief in God. Those values that we deem valid can be offered to others to build the universal family.”
Another important and relevant question dealt with the theme of sacrifice, the spirituality of unity’s concept of “knowing how to lose” which can have negative connotations in the Anglo-Saxon mentality. Maria Voce explains that in the Focolare spirituality “we speak of knowing how to lose, but we also speak of fulfilment. When you give something away, you lose it, but because you’ve shown love to somebody else, you are enriched. We give, but we also gain. It’s God’s arithmetic and God never lets us win in generosity.”
The joy in the hall was tangible, so much so that Maria Voce wanted “the whole world to see this living cell of the Focolare in order to taste the fruits, the faithfulness and preciousness which has carried the whole Focolare Movement for over 40 years. The family of the Focolare family is alive through love, and through the presence of Jesus among us, we can take the love of God to the world.”
Many gathered around Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti to greet them, to give them a hug, to have a photo taken with them. Here are some of their impressions: “It’s a new phase; the future is possible.” “The explanation of the meaning of personal sacrifice shed light on an incident which happened to me when I was young and which I never understood.” “At times I feel so pessimistic, but the optimism of Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti is catching!”; “It will be a new springtime.”
from our correspondent Aurelio Molè
Press section: Focolare Information Service