It would be difficult to imagine a more liveable place than Wellington. We are here now in the summer, the sun shining and the temperature ideal. In this city that is considered the windiest in the world after Chicago, the wind is not so impetuous. This weekend there is the Sevens Cup, the country’s main rugby tournament. The spectators use masks for this occasion, and this pleases the photographers. Wellington is truly enchanting in every way.
At St. Mary’s College in the capital, just above the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals, more than 200 people of the New Zealand Focolare community have gathered this weekend, coming from the two main islands that comprise the country. They are both non-indigenous and members of the Maori population which is the minority. This is the reason for the name “Aotearoa” (the land of the long white cloud). Unlike Australia where co-existence between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples has presented serious problems, here in New Zealand inter-ethnic relations are much less problematic thanks to the combined efforts of civil and traditional authorities. The country now presents itself as a real example of peaceful co-existence.
The visitors from Italy were welcomed by the popular anthem and dance of the karana. Choral refrains were accompanied by loud shouts of challenge and welcome as we have also heard from the best ambassadors of New Zealand, the fabulous All Blacks, the most powerful rugby team on the planet.
There was a brief but helpful review of history – done in pictures – sounds, dances and testimonies. All of it enabled both local and guest to value and better understand the story of a diverse but united people that thanks to the Christian presence was able to achieve true social cohesion. It is this that has always allowed them to boast of their enviable quality as a people without enemies, who are able to be accepting of others. It is quite instructive, no doubt about it, especially in these times when immigration is so common, also here, arriving mostly from Asia. “Welcome home!” the band sings, joining European sounds and local rhythms in a suggestive mix.
The brief history of the “populace born from the Gospel” of Chiara Lubich, began with words of the psalm: “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps. 2:8). And here we are at the anitpodes of Trent, the ultimate limits. The history began with a Dutch man, Evert Tross and a young New Zealander, Terry Gunn, who had made the decision to live according to the Gospel, following the example of the little school teacher from Trent (Chiara Lubich). The history later continued with the opening of a focolare, with the blessing of Archbishop Tom Williams, now cardinal emeritus of Wellington, who came to know the charism of unity
in Rome, 1960, during the Roman Olympics. Later this charism spread to several main cities of the country and to many rural regions.
Bill Murray, an elder, a senior member of his tribe, the Ngati Apa testified that: “After having known the focolare I changed quite a bit in my life and in my way of being an elder. The love of Jesus is now an integral part of the way I do things. Every judgement and decision is based on the love that I have learned from Chiara.” The current Archbishop of Wellington, John Dew also recognised the importance of the Focolare for New Zealand: “Amidst the current wave of secularisation, the Holy Spirit has bestowed some charisms for making the message of the Gospel ever new. Here in New Zealand I see that the Focolare has understood the people and their needs, and they know how to act with imagination and courage.”
Then Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti offered some words to the community that had gathered from all the cities of New Zealand, from the extreme North of the country to its southernmost tip: “The trips that I’ve taken have allowed me to know the beauties of many peoples. Imagine you, who live in such beautiful country that is so rich in humanity,” the president began. As happened in Australia, here too the influence of secularisation and multiculturalism has had a strong influence. The youths in the audience brought up existential issues such as the existence of God, the salvation brought by Jesus, a person’s freedom to sin, the strength to change oneself, helping those who are without work or a place to live. . . These are the children of Christian families who bring up these topics, once more highlighting the vast horizons of the New Evangelisation. Maria Voce suggested that finding answers means working together, not asserting prefabricated answers. Such answers point to the love of God as a credible answer and to the life of sharing, of unity, as the method for never falling under the weight of such questions. Other topics included the unbelief and the difficulties of educating people in the faith. Here again Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti tried to give encouragement, suggesting the power of unity as an answer, as a united and adequate testimony for these times and situations.
There was another demanding topic: “God seems to be irrelevant in the lives of the majority of people. Therefore we tend not to talk about God. We know that the first step is to love our neighbours, but is it enough? Shouldn’t we also talk? Giancarlo Faletti offered his response to this comment: “We should see Jesus in each individual and therefore every person should be loved as if we were speaking with Jesus. This is basic. After we’ve done this, we’ll feel a need to speak to each person in a way that is appropriate to him or to her.” But there’s more: “We have to discern and choose the correct ways of acting, not doing certain things, or even leaving certain situations. Then we need to explain ourselves in some way. We should be able to see in our life a proclamation of Jesus and of God’s love.”
“In the Movement I can somehow see the Church as it should be. What can we do then so that everyone will experience Jesus in the midst (Mt. 18:20)?” asked one of the Movement’s adherent members. Maria Voce offered some thoughts: “John Paul II once asked something similar about the Focolare: “I see the post-Conciliar Church in you.” What can we do then so that all of mankind can experience Jesus in the midst? We don’t know when, but it will happen because Jesus wanted it by asking unity from the Father (Jn. 17:21). But He asks us to help Him to make this dream come true. Our task is to establish small fires in the midst of the human family, small groups of people who are united in the name of Jesus. There might be only two people, but together: in a school, a hospital, a band, even on a cricket team. Two people only, a small fire. But all these small fires at some point will meet up with the other fires. And then the fire will become larger and larger, even though we will never be exactly sure we’re the fire has caught on. One thing is certain: God is at work. Well, let us also collaborate with Him then by lighting these small fires and keeping them burning.”
At least for today, Wellington has become the heart of this “populace born from the Gospel”, no longer the last frontier.
By Michele Zanzucchi