Catholics comprise 26% of the population in Australia. Therefore they belong to the most widespread Church of the Christian world that brings together more or less half of the country’s human population. The Conference of Catholic Bishops is comprised of 42 bishops under the guidance of the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis James Hart.
The Australian Church is undergoing many challenges at the moment: growing secularisation (“a real challenge for the civil and religious conscience of the country,” says Bishop Peter Elliott, Auxilliary Bishop of Melbourne); the phenomenon of immigration that brings with it the faithful of other religions (“Our Church is on the way more than any other, because it is mostly comprised of immigrants,” according to the director of Migrant Ministry, Fr. Maurizio Pettena); the accusations being made toward the Catholic Church because of the sexual abuse of minors (“that has removed a lot of credibility from the word of our pastors,” affirms Bob Dixon, director of the centre for studies of the Australian Bishops Conference); because of the teaching of a sexual ethic that the majority of young people do not share (“though there is a strong sensibility, also among non-Catholics for the Christian notion of the human body,” explains Matthew MacDonald, executive officer for Melbourne’s Archdiocesan Office for life, family and marriage.
Some Bishop Friends of the Focolare were invited to the Thomas Carr Center next to the cathedral in Melbourne. This movement is very much loved by the bishops because of its “Marian nature” Bishop of Sale, Christofer Prowse pointed out.
The meeting had been organised by Bishop Prowse. He recounted his encounter with the Focolare, when he was still a seminarian and had ascertained that the Holy Spirit was working in Chiara Lubich. The fact is that “someone would place the Word of Life under my door . . . Then I came to know the Movement and was able to appreciate it, also for the conciliating character of its ecclesial presence. The Focolari, without ever imposing their intuitions, set in place a great welcome, one based on dialogue and friendship that wins hearts.” He concluded: “I had an extraordinary experience at the Mariapolis on Phillip Island, which very much helped me and strengthened me in the faith. The Holy Spirit works gently but firmly in the Focolare Movement.”
A dozen bishops were present, including Anglican Bishop Phillip Huggins who has known the Focolare since 1990. Archbishop Francesco Kriengsak, moderator of the Bishop Friends of the Focolare and Archbishop of Bangkok, sent a message to the group in which he underscored how “the charism of unity is a great help in bringing ahead the New Evangelisation.”
Bishop Prowse introduced Maria Voce in a climate of simplicity that the Australians know how to create. The Focolare president then presented the Movement’s thought on the New Evangelisation beginning with her recent experience as an auditor at the Synod of Bishops: “The Church has come out poorer in glory and honour following a period of humiliations, but richer of God and therefore more strong.” The Synod particularly focused on the Words of the Gospel that regard love.” And concerning the Synod Fathers desire that the Gospel be brought out of the churches: “I think this has happened in many parts of the world also by the Focolare community, especially because of the presence of Jesus in the midst of His own.”
During the course of the discussion Bishop Elliott told how the spirituality of unity had helped him, especially at the beginning of his ministry, and he asked Maria Voce to say something about Jesus Forsaken and Jesus in the midst. “If you don’t choose Jesus Forsaken you cannot have Jesus in the midst. But when Jesus makes Himself present, the joy arrives as He takes up His dwelling among His friends,” she explained. She was also asked about her trip to Istanbul, “where I experienced that mutual acceptance was possible with the Muslims.” They spoke about the present spreading of the Movement and the frontiers that lie ahead, following the death of the founder. Finally, Giancarlo Faletti offered a reflection on what the Movement proposes to priests and to bishops.
By Michele Zanzucchi