“Society today is in great need of witnesses to a lifestyle from which the novelty given to us by the Lord Jesus shines through: of brothers and sisters who love each other even in their differences. . . . This witness enkindles the desire to be involved in that great parable of communion which is the Church.”
With these words Pope Francis welcomed the Bishop Friends of the Focolare Movement on February 27, 2014, whom he received in a private audience in the Sala Clementina, during their annual convention. Pope Francis called the opportunity of a fraternal annual meeting, in which to share spiritual and pastoral experiences in the light of the charism of unity, “a very good thing”. Bishops, he told them, you are called to bring to these meetings the wide breath of the Church, and to ensure that what you receive there benefits the entire Church.”
Quoting the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte of Blessed John Paul II, he remembered the duty of “making the Church into a home and school of communion” to ensure “the efficacy of any and every effort in evangelisation.” He then emphasised that it is necessary to promote the “spirituality of communion,” to make it emerge as an educational principle wherever a human being or Christians is being formed, and that “cultivating the spirituality of communion contributes as well, to enabling us to live the ecumenical journey and interreligious dialogue.”
There was an opening greeting in the name of all the bishops by Francis-Xavier Kovithavanij, Archbishop of Bangkok, Thailand and moderator of the convention. He then mentioned their experience: “Chiara Lubich has made us discover Jesus crucified and forsaken as the ‘super-love’. In him we have an ever available source of joy for our witness in today’s world.” Like everyone, “we find sufferings in our lives, failures and setbacks, contradictions,” but we try to embrace them “as unique occasions for being similar to Christ . . . in favour of his body, which is the Church.”
A long line and handshaking, brief conversations and a festive group photo concluded the audience with Pope Francis, leaving a sense of a living collegiality in all the bishops.
Sixty bishops from four continents met from February 24-28, 2014 at the Mariapolis Centre in Castel Gandolfo focusing on the theme: “Mutual Love Amongst the Disciples of Christ.” Focolare president Maria Voce gave a presentation on this central point of Focolare spirituality. This was followed by an open discussion, comments and personal testimonials. The voice of the lay people was quite appreciated especially that of a family and a group of lively youths. There were two round table discussions focusing on two important topics: “Ecclesiological themes that emerge from the first year of the pontificate of Pope Francis: this was presented by Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation of the Consecrated Life and Archbishop Vincenzo Zani, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education; and the presentation on “Synodality and Primacy, in the light of the teaching and practice of Pope Francis,” by Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Bishop Brendan Leahy, bishop of Limerick, Ireland, and Bishop Cristof Hegge, Auxiliary Bishop of Munster, Germany.
This dimension attracted the interest of many in the media who amplified the message, gathering testimonies of bishops who shared in the meeting – especially those from countries affected by war, political, economic and social instability – and their experience of “affective and effective collegiality”.
Four days in Rome with the spirituality of unity was also an opportunity to hear about the efforts and commitment of Christians from the Universal Church around the world.
By Victoria Gomez