On 28 June 2012 – 1 July 2012 a Mariapolis was held in the hills that overlook Kicevo, halfway between the capital city of Skopje and the historic city of Ohrid in the south. The guests were welcomed at a unique hotel, a centre for meetings of artists, which was decorated with different types of artwork both inside and in the beautiful outdoor park.
There were some eighty people, especially from the Republic of Macedonia, but also from Kosovo and Serbia. The majority were Catholic and Orthodox family groups, and many Muslims.
Their four days together were devoted to the Word of God and the dialogue among religions. Dialogue was the keyword at this Mariapolis, as was underscored by Bishop Anton Cirimotic from Skopje, and by Cristina Lee and Roberto Catalano from the Focolare Movement’s Centre for Interreligious Dialogue. The dialogue that the Focolare promotes is founded on its spirituality and the centrality of love. And this finds an immediate echo in other religions and cultures, thanks to the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would like done to you.” This often requires one to take the first step towards others, without expecting any return, an up to the point of giving one’s life.
One day was dedicated especially to the family, with a series of experiences that highlighted the challenges of a globalized world as well as local ones. The family here still holds on to significant values. Together with his wife, Professor Aziz Shehu shared what the spirit of communion signified for him as an academic. Aziz is the father of Le Perle Kindergarten, and he told of how this pilot experiment had made a great contribution to Macedonian society at a time when it was so necessary to work together for true integration.
Another day was devoted to the youth: a presentation by the young people, followed by spontaneous impressions that were shared on the spot and sometimes quite personal. The young people were accompanied by a choir that formed the background to the whole presentation. There was a dance expressing authentic relationships despite diversity, which had been the experience of the Mariapolis.
One young Catholic woman confessed that she had undergone deep change during the days of the Mariapolis. Her Christianity was they type that allowed her to exclude Muslims, atheists and even Orthodox. But at the Mariapolis she had discovered that persons of different faiths and cultures could live together and that each person with his faith helps to bring some light. “I understood that God sends the sunlight for everyone. Not only for us Christians, and so I should act accordingly.”
Many of the other impressions made the same point: a small girl from Kosovo who came with her mother and brother, only spoke Albanian. She told the audience that she didn’t think she was going to have an experience like this and to be accepted as she had been accepted. A Muslim ministry official said that he was deeply struck by how dialogue was actually lived and now was leaving the Mariapolis convinced that this is the only solution to the problems in Macedonia.
An Orthodox woman artist said she felt perfectly at home in this environment. So too for a young teenager girl who shared how she had discovered that openness to tohers helps us not only to be better Muslims or Christians, but also true men and women.
The departure of the eighty people who attended this summer gathering in Kicevo leaves one with the certainty: This experience has given them the sense that unity between diverse types of people is possible. The left with an increased awareness of being actors in building dialogue in their land.