On the fortieth anniversary of his passing, the Movement held ceremonies in Istanbul to remember him – during which His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I welcomed a numerous delegation of Focolare members – and in Padua, Italy where the Metropolitan of Italy and Malta, Gennadios, welcomed the participants with a written message.
On 13 January 1972 Chiara Lubich had written in the Italian newpaper, Avvenire: “Athenagoras could be called the prototype of the Eastern Church and looking at him as one of the highest current examples of Christian leadership, he could also be seen as a symbol for all Christianity suffering for the centuries of divisions by which it has been transfixed: and he was anxious for its complete unification.
He is one of the leading figures of the time, already part of the story of the Church (. . .). It was this common interest that spurred him to call me one day to Istanbul, having come to know that I worked together with the Focolare Movement for ecumenism. It was 13 June 1967. He welcomed me like someone he had always known. ‘’I’ve been waiting for you!’ he exclaimed, and he wanted me to tell him about the Movement’s contacts with Lutherans and Anglicans. ‘It’s such a great thing to know one another,’ he remarked, ‘we’ve lived isolated, without having any brothers, without having any sisters, and for so many centuries, like orphans! The first ten centuries of Christianity were for the dogmas and for the ordering of the Church. In the following centuries we had schisms: the divisions. The third era, the present one, is the era of love.’
He asked me to keep in touch with him. I recall that I wasn’t so struck by his words at that first meeting as I was by his figure and the supernatural atmosphere that surrounded him, which many have noticed. And above all, his heart: such a great heart, so deeply human that it made me ask myself how many other such people I had ever met in my life who were like that (. . .)”