The Synod on the New Evangelisation closed its doors three months ago. It had been a universal collegial experience from which to look at and face challenges that modernity poses to the witness and proclamation of the Gospel. The fruits of that Synod have been a great stimulus for the 32 Bishop Friends of the Focolare Movement who gathered in Rome on January 29-31. At the general audience of Thursday, January 30, they received the “special greeting” and encouragement of Benedict XVI. His words truly hit the soul of the bishops as he assured them of “my prayer” and best wishes “that the charism of unity that is especially dear to you may support and animate you in your apostolic ministry.” As in all family gatherings, this was followed by a personal greeting for each bishop and a joyful group photo as a greeting that Pope Benedict wished to extend to the bishops who will “take part in other such meetings that are to be organized in several areas of the world.”
This year, in fact, the usual meeting at the beginning of the year will be taking place in other cities as well, including Melbourne (Australia), Beirut (Lebanon), Seoul (South Korea), Buea (Cameroon), Ambatondrazaca (Madagascar), New York (USA), San Paulo (Brazil) and Berlin (Germany). These are occasions to meet among bishops from neighbouring nations and respond to the needs of the local Churches.
For this reason the bishops attending the meeting in Rome were primarily European, mostly from Italy, with representatives from Spain, Luxembourg, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia and the Republic of Moldova. The presence of two bishops from the Middle East was very meaningful, expanding everyone’s hearts and bringing down prayers on that suffering region of the world.
The three days were woven together by the spirituality of unity, reflection and testimonies embedded within the current life of the Focolare Movement in today’s Church. Topics included the Year of Faith and love for Jesus in our neighbours; the New Evangelisation and challenges of the European continent; the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the prophetic dimensions of the charism of unity.
Significantly in this regard was the analysis of the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Archpbishop Nicola Eterovic, who deepened the awareness of the crisis in the Old Continent and the need of finding new paths for transmitting the faith. His remarks were echoed by the fruits of Gospel commitment in the community of the Movement in the heart of Europe.Another reflection that added to the mutual exchange was that of theologian Fr. Hubertus Blaumeiser, on the Church in its transition seen from the prospective of its duty of being “sacrament of unity” as the Second Vatican Council states.
The bishops enjoyed the group of young people who brought a breath of hope and courage to the gathering, from what they had experienced at the Genfest in Budapest: “something unusual, because it is usually the youths who sit listening to bishops; but they wanted to hear what we had to say.” Another testimony that the bishops listened to with great interest within this wave of the New Evangelisation was that of the Gen Rosso Musical Group and the impact they are having among children and young teenagers in many schools in several countries.
One novelty of this year’s gathering were the many interviews performed by journalists from various news agencies. When asked about the meaning of the central meaning of the Focolare Movement’s central theme for the year, on love for Jesus in each neighbour, Bishop Anton Cosa, Bishop of Chisinau in the Republic of Moldova spoke the following words into the microphones of the Vatican Radio: “I learnt that there is no other path for evangelising, for creating bridges, for offering hope. Living alonside the brother or sister that the Lord places beside us is a challenge, but every neighbour that you meet, that you listen to is a way of living the Gospel, [it’s] an act of faith. And this is also what this Year of Faith asks of us, that we allow our faith to grow – but without love there is no faith. First we must believe that He has loved us and then we need to take our step. I as a bishop would no longer be able to fuflill my minstry if not by taking this path: the path of the neighbour.”