Relationships with the Buddhist faithful have comprised a significant portion of the Focolare Movement’s history in dialogue. Although Focolare founder Chiara Lubich intuited as early as the 1960’s that it would be possible to construct genuine fraternal relationships with persons of different religions and cultures, it was not until 1979 that she personally met a leader from another religion, the Rev. Nikkyo Niwano founder of the Rissho Kosei kai. The friendship that developed between them was based on deep mutual respect. In 1981 Niwano invited Chiara to talk about her Christian experience to 12 thousand Buddhists in Tokyo, Japan. This marked the historical beginnings of an experience of genuine fraternity. The relationship continued for many years and was recently reaffirmed by Maria Voce’s visit to Tokyo in 2010.
Paths of cooperation and understanding opened with other Mahayana traditions in Japan and Taiwan. Meetings with Venerable Etai Yamada from the Tendai School were unforgettable moments. Venerable Etai Yamada was fond of quoting the motto of the great Master Saicho: “Forgetting yourself and serving others is the apex of compassion-love”. These words were also cited by John Paul II during the meeting with representatives of other religions in Tokyo, 1981. Yamada added: “You can say that the Focolare puts into practice the words of the master 1,200 years later.”
Currently there are very fruitful relationships with the Nichiren School. And there have been contacts with the Chinese Buddhist Monastary of Fo Guan Shan and with the Monastery of Dharma Drum Mountain. There are also contacts with Chinese Buddhists from the Fo Guang Shan Monastery and the Dharma Drum Mountain Monastery.
Over the years, paths of knowledge and understanding have also opened with the world of Therevada Buddhism. During an extended visit to the international town of Loppiano two Thai monks – Grand Master Ajhan Thong and Phramaha Thongratana – came into living contact with Christianity. When they returned to their land, they shared their discovery and invited Chiara Lubich to present her Christian experience at a Buddhist university and in a temple in Chiang Mai. The Great Master Ajhan Thong presented the founder of the Focolare saying: “The sage is neither man nor woman. When a light is lit in the darkness no one asks whether it was a man or a woman who lit it. Chiara is here to give us her light.”
From 2004 until the present several symposiums have been held. The fifth was held on 28-31 May 2012, following those held in 2004 and 2008 at the Mariapolis Centre in Castelgandolfo, Italy; in 2006 and 2010 in Osaka, Japan and Chiang Mai, Thailand, which was attended by people from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, England, USA, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. The variety was not only geographical, but also the traditions that were represented. Among the Buddhists there were representatives – both monks and laity – from the Theravada and Mahayana traditions; and, among the Christians, representatives from the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church.
Over the years deep mutual trust has developed among the participants in these gatherings, which has allowed for open discussion on the Scriptures without any misunderstanding. The Castelgandolfo meeting was attended by His Eminence Cardinal Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and by the president of the Focolare Movement, Maria Voce.
An event is scheduled for March 20, 2014 at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, dedicated to “Chiara Lubich and the Religions: Together on the Road to the Unity of the Human Family”. Six years after her death, the event will highlight her commitment to interreligious dialogue. The event also coincides with the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions. It will also be also be attended by religious leaders from Buddhism.
Interview to Chiara Lubich about interreligious dialogue (1998)