Four national languages, three major Christian confessions and various other smaller Christian communities, small populations in its towns and villages: this is Switzerland, currently being visited by the Focolare’s President, Maria Voce, and Co-President, Giancarlo Faletti. They have come for a meeting of the local Focolare community and members of the Reformed Church in touch with the spirituality of unity. To welcome them in Zurich airport were representatives of the pluriform society that is the hallmark of this small nation, forged out of the clear desire to stay together, and currently reflected in the make-up of the Focolare Movement in this land.
The President’s time in Switzerland, which will last until 11 November, is based at the meeting and educational Centre called ‘Cornerstone’ in Baar, near Zurich. It was set up in 1976 as a place where the Focolare Movement and its friends from different regions, cultures and languages, could get together. Since then it has seen the growth of small businesses. Training courses are held here in the fields of religion, politics and ecumenism.
The agenda for the next few days is to have meetings with various members of the Movement: focolarini and young people, leaders and children and, indeed, the entire community of the Movement in Switzerland. On 8 November there will be an ecumenical day in Bern and it is already drawing the attention of Catholics and Reformed Christians who sincerely long to build relationships of unity.
The Focolare Movement in Switzerland
The first contacts with the Movement were in 1955, through an architect, who was a member of the Evangelical Reformed Church, working at the time in Milan with one of the first focolarini. That meeting was, it could be said, the foundation stone for the spreading of the spirituality of unity in Switzerland, as well as further confirmation that the spirituality could be lived both by Catholics and Reformed Christians.
In 1961 the first focolare house was opened in Zurich, and after that in Geneva, Lugano and Bern. To facilitate contacts and unity among its members and their friends in the various regions of the country in 1976 a Centre of Formation was set up in Baar, near Zurich. It is open, however, also to groups other than the Movement itself. In Zurich and in Adliswil are the Movement’s two national centres as well as the Swiss publishing house Neue Stadt. 1981, in Montet in the canton of Fribourg, saw the setting up of an international Formation Centre for young people with a vocation to live in focolare houses.
The spirituality of unity lived in everyday life by about 20,000 friends and members of the Movement builds bridges between the various Christian Churches and with followers of different religions. This is given witness to by focolare houses where people of different Churches live, ecumenical and inter-relgious meetings. There are also strong, long-term links with the World Council of Churches in Geneva.
In 1960 the town of Fribourg hosted the first international summer meeting of the Movement outside Italy. From that time on Chiara Lubichoften returned to Switzerland. Her visits in the summers of 1961 and 1962 to Oberiberg and Einsiedeln were linked to important spiritual insights that Chiara had about the future development of the spirituality of unity. From 1971 Chiara spent the summer months in Valais/Wallis Canton. From here in 1980 she held the first international conference call uniting the communities of the Focolare Movement worldwide. This has developed into an important means of communion among everyone. Chiara was very much aware of the cultural and political customs of Switzerland, and she appreciated its direct democracy and federal structure. In various meetings with politicians (Bern 1998, 2004 and Matigny 2003) she expressed her admiration for the country’s many cultural richnesses and encouraged everyone to discover them mutually by means of respectful dialogue. These meetings have developed into groups of politicians committed to promoting fraternity in politics.
From our correspondent Aurora Nicosia