In her opening statement at the interreligious convention held in Castel Gandolfo on March 17, 2014 Maria Voce remarked: “Chiara Lubich had always wanted to see a gathering such as this, but it was never possible during her lifetime.” Voce went on to say: “Today we have the joy of knowing that she is watching us from Heaven, seeing us gathered here as brothers and sisters with such a wide array of customs, ethnicities, cultures, faiths and traditions.” Voce called it a solemn occasion for several reasons, but especially because it was the first time that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Shintoists and members of Tenriism had joined together to meet.
The meeting was the result of years of commitment to deepening mutual understanding, “becoming friends and then brothers and sisters.” Voce described the steps that have been taken along this path since her election six years ago. The initial fears and concerns were legitimate: What would ever become of this dialogue after Chiara’s death? But only two months following Voce’s election a gathering of Christians and Muslims took place, which was followed by a gathering with traditional religions in Cameroon, Africa; Jews in Jerusalem and Hindus.
Voce stressed that this journey of dialogue was the result of a charismatic experience: “We must thank each of you for your great faith in God and for the friendship that joins us. But we must be especially grateful for the gift of dialogue that Chiara led us to. Thanks to this mutual trust we have been able to continue the journey along the path traced out by her and others, who with their own religious faith gave life to this experience of dialogue: Reverend Nikkyo Niwano, Imam Barkat, Dr Aram and his wife Minota and others.”
During the six years since her election Maria Voce has visited Focolare communities in lands where Christians are a minority. In Asia: “I was impressed by how Hindus and Buddhists felt like full-fledged members of our family. We weren’t so much in dialogue with each other, but together in dialogue with the world”.
In these communities she met Christians, Jews and Muslims who are praying and working for peace; and she was touched by their daily experiences, reaching out to people who were different from themselves.
In Buenos Aires she met with Jewish communities and in Algeria she found a Focolare community that was totally comprised of Muslims. In Tlemcen she said she saw a “Muslim expression of the Movement inspired by the Ideal of Chiara. We were truly the same family.” Now this experience is spreading to other countries.”
“This is certainly a deep experience, not easy to convey and not without some questions. . . . But it witnesses to the fact that unity in distinction is truly possible, but you need courage to experience it.”