Mirvet Kelly’s grandfather was a deacon: “I remember going with him every Sunday to the Syro-Orthodox Divine Liturgy. I was proud to watch him all dressed in white as he recited his portion of the prayers at the altar.”
There are several Christian Churches in Homs, Syria, where Mirvet grew up: Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox and various Catholic Rites, Maronite, Melkite and Syro-Catholic. Before the war, even though we were linked to our own Churches, the faithful attended other Churches without any problem.
“As I grew older,” she went on to say, “a lot of things changed: Grandfather died and the Divine Liturgy seemed long and outdated. I was the only Christian at school in the midst a lot of Muslims. At Christmas and Easter I’d be the only one absent and, when I returned, I was bombarded with questions: ‘Why are there so many Churches? Why was your Jesus crucified and rising from the dead on different dates in different Churches? Some friends and I decided to no longer belong to one Church or another, but to be Christians and that’s all. Like many of them, I stopped going to my own Church.”
After a while, Mirvet met a group that was trying to live the Gospel according to the Focolare spirituality. “Through them, I discovered that God is the Father of everyone and that we’re all loved by Him as sons and daughters. My life began to change. Every time I tried to love, going to visit an elderly person or a poor person, for example, my heart would be overcome with peace and joy.
One day, I came across a sentence in one of Chiara Lubich’s writings: ‘We should love the other person’s Church as our own.’ Not only did I not love the other person’s Church – I didn’t even love my own Church, which I had criticized and abandoned.
At that point, Mirvet’s life, which was already very fruitful both personally and ecumenically, took a new leap. She felt God calling her to give herself entirely to Him. “In the Focolare communities I’ve lived in,” she explained, “I found myself to be the only Orthodox among Catholics of all ages, countries, languages, cultures, Churches and ways of thinking. Trying to live in unity with all the different ideas about things is always a challenge, because each of us has her own tastes and ideas down to the smallest details.
But when we try to appropriate the other person’s reality as our own, we experience that the differences become an enrichment. We often pray for each other’s Churches, in an ongoing growth in the faith and in the relationship with God. And almost without realizing it, we bring the fruit of our communion into our respective Churches, to our jobs and into our daily lives. It seems like a drop in the ocean, but even the tiniest steps united to those of many others in the world, can make a difference.
In the countries of the Middle East where I lived, for example, I saw priests helping people, without ever asking what Church they belonged to. They did projects to help out different Churches, to help them meet their needs whether they were Christian – or even Muslim. Last year, Catholics and Orthodox celebrated Easter on the same day. Two Syrian friends who now live in Vienna, Austria, recently reported to me how they and many other Syrians have been helped by a parish priest and some Catholic women focolarini to look for a house, medicine and work. They formed a group in which they live and help each other to share their common Christian experience.
In the United States there are more than fifty Syro-Orthodox Christians who meet regularly, once in the Orthodox churches and once in the Catholic churches. They experience that God is always with us and that we have to pray, to live and to love so that Jesus’s testament ‘that all may be one’ is fulfilled as soon as possible.”