Austria, just a small country (84,000 km²) in the heart of Europe, has a long great history. Most of its more than 8 million inhabitants speak German, but there are also other officially recognized linguistic groups. Austria has always played an important role as a bridge between East and West, especially during difficult historic periods, such as at the time of the Iron Curtain.
The territory of Austria presents great topographical variety: flat plains to the east, high Alpine regions to the west, woods, hills, lakes and rivers. It is known for its great cultural richness, especially its music, theatre and much more.
It is a land with a rich history. The first document to mention Ostarichi goes back to the year 996. Austria has had its ups and downs, from the splendour of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the 19th century (which included not only Austria, but also the current Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and part of Italy, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Poland and Ukraine) to the collapse of monarchy, and its inclusion, during the period of the Nazis, in the German area of Ostmark. It became one of the poorest countries of Europe after the Second World War, but saw much development in successive years, which led it to becoming one of the richest countries in the world. It has belonged to the European Union since 1995.
The beginnings of the Focolare Movement in Austria date back to 1952 with the temporary stay of a few focolarini at Innsbruck, and the first focolare was opened in Vienna in 1962. The 50th anniversary of the Focolare in this Central European country is being celebrated during these days and Maria Voce, president of the Focolare is on a week-long visit to the country.
The spirituality quickly spread among priests, families and youths and, in 1963, a first Mariapolis was held in Wattens (Tirolo) for the German speaking regions. This typical Focolare event has become a mainstay in the life of many (1000 people each year). The Mariapolis is a highlight event for the Movement in Austria, with programmes for people of all ages. The spirituality of unity has led to the development of many local communities where teenagers, children and adults, people from every professional background and religious affiliation feel at home. They make a small contribution to universal brotherhood on a local level. Currently there are sixty local communities in Austria. The focolares in Austria have been involved in the ecumenical dialogue for decades, maintaining intense contacts with members of several churches, such as with the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Michael Staikos. There are also Evangelical Christians belonging to the Movement. Through the project “Together for Europe” Catholic, Evangelical Christian and members of the free churches have had the opportunity to join together. A vibrant relationship has begun with some Muslims, which first began with members of the Mosque of Linz. One exemplary pilot project has been the so-called “Women’s Breakfast” in Hall. In 2010 a Christian-Muslim study meeting was held in cooperation with the University of Innsbruck, and another one is planned. A dialogue has also begun with people of non-religious convictions. Among these, there are the leaders of the Austrian Communist Party, since the 1990’s. Cooperation was begun with the European and World Social Forum.
The newlborn permanent Mariapolis in Austria, “Mariapolis Giosi” is located to the south of Vienna. Its inhabitants include families, a community of priests, focolares and youths. The Am Spiegeln Mariapolis Centre is a place of encounter for the members of the Movement, as well as for local groups who hold seminars on local economy. ARGE-Education was begun to give special attention to the new generations, with European Education conferences that have already been held. In the field of sport, a Sports4peace has been created with rules of fair play, which is being used in schools and several associations in different countries (teamtime.net). Several activities and gatherings have been held for teens and young adults: Social Day, Run4Unity, peace work, summer camps, musicals and end-of-the-year celebrations.
Chiara Lubich visited Austria twice. In 1997 she was one of the keynote speakers at the European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz where she spoke about the spirituality of reconciliation. In 2001, she was invited by the Mayor of Innsbruck van Staa, where she spoke about Fraternity in Politics, at the 1000 Cities for Europe Conference. Shortly before, Chiara had met with 6000 youths at the main Cathedral of Vienna, together with Cardinal Schönborn, during the “Rufzeichen” event.