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Saturday, October 13, 2012
A broad overeview of the Focolare’s ecumenical journey beginning from the Second Vatican Council.

Chiara Lubich in St Peter’s Square with a group of Evangelical-Lutherans from Germany (1965)

On 11 October 1962 John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. Fifty years later the same date was chosen for a solemn commemeration of this event and for the opening of a Year of Faith that has been launched by Benedict XVI with Apostolic Letter Porta fidei “for a rediscovery of the faith” (4) and “to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ” (2).

In the Focolare the years of the Council coincided with a particular welcoming of its spirituality among Christians of different Churches. Already in 1961 Chiara Lubich had been invited to Germany five times to share the Focolare’s life of living the Gospel with brothers and sisters of the Evangelical Churches. It was the same year that she founded Centro Uno, the Focolare’s secretariat for ecumenism which, in 1962, promoted its first ecumenical meeting in Rome, Italy. Many other meetings followed and for the first time, on 9 June 1965, a group of Evangelical Lutherans were officially recognized at a public audience in St. Peter’s Square. Among other things, Paul IV said to them: “You visit honours us and brings us joy.” The Evangelicals spoke of a “deep encounter in Christ”.

1964: Canon Bernard Pawley with his wife, Margaret, and children, on a visit to the Focolare’ s Mariapoli Centre in Rome, are welcomed by Chiara Lubich and her first companions.

Chiara had always been encouraged in her ecumenical action by Cardinal Agostino Bea, then president of the Secretariat for the Union of Christians in the Vatican.

Some of the “observers” sent to the Second Vatican Council by the different Churches wanted to meet and deepen their knowledge of the spirituality of unity. Among them was Anglican Canon Bernard Pawley, who was struck by the renewing force of the spirituality of Chiara, which he described as a “spring of living water flowing from the Gospel”. He was convinced that the role of the Movement was that of being  a “Gospel bridge” upon which Anglicans and Catholics could meet, and he devoted himself to make it known. During the second session of the Council (1963), he organized a luncheon with the other “observers” during which Chiara met the Reformed theologian Lukas Vischer from the Ecumenical Council of the Churches, and with whom a long friendship began. She accepted from him one of the first invitations to  the Conference of European Churches (CEC) in Geneva, Switzerland (1967). Relationships were also begun with other representatives, among them Father Vitalj Borovojfrom the Russian Orthodox Church.

With Patriarch Athenagoras I in Istanbul

During those same years, Father Angelo Beghetto, Provincial Minister of the Conventual Friars of the Orient and the Holy Land, spoke to Patriarch Athenagoras I about the spirituality of unity that was spreading among the Churches. This led to 25 meetings between Chiara Lubich and this great ecumenical prophet, Athenagoras I, during the years 1967-1972.

In 2004, on the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of Second Vatican Council document Unitatis redintegratio, Chiara Lubich was invited to the Pontifical Council for the Unity of Christians to speak about the spirituality of unity where she underlined:  “Having always placed mutual and constant charity at the base of our life and of all our fraternal meetings, Jesus was so present among us that we felt urged, like Saint Paul, to say: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8:35). “No one can separate us”, because it is Christ who unites us”. She continued: “The ‘dialogue of the people’ is not a base or grassroots dialogue that sets itself against or alongside that of the Church leaders or directors, but a dialogue in which all Christians can participate. This people is like a leaven in the ecumenical movement which enlivens among all the understanding that because we are baptized Christians capable of loving one another, we can all contribute towards realizing the Testament of Jesus.”

Chiara Lubich with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, London 2004.

Many are the fruits that have been gathered fifty years after the beginning of the Council. At the Synod on the New Evangelization and at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council “fraternal delegates” representing fifteen Churches were among the guests. The festivities were honoured by the presence of His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. The latter was invited to address some words to the Synod Assembly. During his intervention on 10 October 2012, he affirmed speaking in the context of spiritual ecumenism:  “the basic imperative in the spirituality of Chiara Lubich was ‘to make yourself one’ – one with the crucified and abandoned Christ, one through him with the Father, one with all those called to this unity and so one with the deepest needs of the world”.

Chiara Lubich visits Patriarch Bartholomew I

At the end of the opening Mass of the Year of Faith, 11 October 2012 in St. Peter’s Square, Patriarch Bartholomew I strongly emphasised: “As we move forward together, we offer thanks and glory to the living God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that the same assembly of bishops has recognised the importance of reflection and sincere dialogue between our “sister churches”. We join in the “. . . hope that the barrier dividing the Eastern Church and the Western Church will be removed, and that – at last – there may be but the one dwelling, firmly established on Christ Jesus, the cornerstone, who will make both one” (Unitatis Redintegratio – 18)

They were testimonies that in order for a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be credible in today’s world, the world needs to see Christians united in the name of Jesus, “so that the world may believe” (Jn. 17).

Compiled by Centro Uno, the Focolare’s international secretariat for ecumenical dialogue

Photo gallery (Press Area)