Focolare Movement » People & Places Official International Website Wed, 01 Jul 2015 16:45:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Bed and Breakfast near Florence Wed, 01 Jul 2015 06:00:54 +0000

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The challenge of moving on together in Latin America: UNIRedes Wed, 24 Jun 2015 06:00:14 +0000 20150624-03In 2013 the Colombian city of Medellín, with its 2.4 million inhabitants, was recognised as the city that achieved the most rapid modernisation process in the world, also due to the developments undertaken over the last years, like for example, the drop in carbon dioxide emissions, creation of cultural areas, and reduced criminality. The Mundo Mejor Foundation operates in Medellin and due to this was chosen as the seat of the 3rd UNIRedes Seminar, that was held from 3 – 7 June. There were representatives of over 30 organisations from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Venezuela and Colombia, with the addition of other 10 countries that participated via streaming.

During this seminar the various social organisations inspired by the spirituality of unity accepted the challenge to strengthen their joint efforts. Anabel Abascal, member of the Coordinating Committee affirmed: “As social associations members of the UNIRedes believe that, in society today, working within a network is the only way in which we can call attention to universal fraternity which is our source of inspiration.”

The discussions of the four-day meeting revolved around the tools available to be able to best respond, with daily work, to the great social challenges. Susana Nuín, of the Episcopal Conference of Latin America (CELAM) illustrated the Regional Church’s viewpoint, by presenting the 4-crossroads for social intervention: care of nature, building of peace, migration and social justice.

An Italian Professor, Giuseppe Milan, expounded on intercultural pedagogy based on the spirituality of Chiara Lubich – a pedagogy that recognises and takes upon itself the sufferings and needs present in social diversity. Milan affirmed: “The principle of education is fraternity, education of universal-men who centre on dialogue to build new societies. The methodology is the art of loving. Accepting all and respecting the different cultures.”

The other themes undertaken were related to the institutional consolidation of the organisations and network management. To this end, Francesco Tortorella of AMU (Action for a United World), explained how the projects are designed, starting from the funding phase up to direct participation of the protagonists.

20150624-02To conclude, the working groups formed a new Coordinating Committee and the various working commissions that will have to pursue the various UNIRedes objectives: develop new communication strategies to intensify communion and diffusion of the various actions, giving visibility to the hope of diffusing the small, but important changes our actions generate in the lives of people; achieve a greater impact in the local public policies; weave new bonds of cooperation between organisations; work in such a way so as to give the beneficiaries of the project an active, leading role; incentivise reciprocity; promote social volunteer work as a strategy to improve the management of organizations and form a new humanity.

The various discourses of the 3rd Seminar can be view via streaming and in the web page Sumá Fraternidad.

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Back from Iraq Tue, 23 Jun 2015 06:00:33 +0000 20150623-01“Iraq is going through its worst period in ten years,” write Gemma and Pierre from the Focolare Movement in Jordan and Iraq, following their short trip to Erbil, Iraq. Their objective was to make the people there feel the closeness of the Focolare community that has been in that region for many years. “Being with them, even though we found them so tried and exhausted, we were struck by how their generosity towards others, and how they continue to believe in in God’s love.”

“Nine months have passed since the villages of the Nineveh Plains were invaded by ISIS. The general situation of the country has worsened with recent developments, that is, the taking of new territories. The people, including our friends, feel a great sense of uncertainty about the future. Many have already fled the country and others are planning to do the same.”

Spiritual closeness no small matter if, at the conclusion of the days together, one person confided: “We’ve lost everything, I wasn’t able to finish my university studies, there are no jobs . . . but finally, I have peace again, and I decided to begin my relationship with God again.”

Pierre and Gemma recount: “During the meeting with the Focolare community there was one very important moment: it was when we openly declared our desire to give our lives for one another, to love each other with the measure of Jesus’s love, so that He could be present among us as He promises. Then we meditated on the link between the Eucharist and Church, using a 1982 talk by Chiara Lubich, The Eucharist makes the Church and the Church makes the Eucharist. We also met Archbishop Bashar Warda, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, who was pleased by our visit. In concluding he asked us to pray for Iraq like never before.”

20150623-02I have come for you, each one of you is like the whole world to me. . .” said Bishop Salomone Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad, from the Chaldean Catholic Church, who had travelled from Baghdad just to be at our gathering. He exhorted everyone: “Have no fear, carry on in the life of the ideal of unity, because each one of us has a mission to accomplish.”

One person said: “I try live love in concrete ways until [love] becomes reciprocal within the community. In the Eucharist I find the strength to carry on loving.” Then there is the joy of being together. In spite of the situation there is very lively group children and teenagers who held a local edition of the Run4Unity sport relay for peace, with 35 boys and girls. “These were intense days for us,” conclude the two focolarini from Jordan, “a deep and divine experience. They gave much more to us than we were ever able to give to them. Who knows how much life must be coming from this suffering that is being lived in a Christian way.

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The Amazon: environmentalists with a heart Thu, 18 Jun 2015 06:00:27 +0000 “Laudato Si” document, the encyclical letter of Pope Francis on care for our common home.]]> 20150618-aRaimundo is a hairdresser and Edilene, an anesthetist and public administration clerk. So to take interest in the environment is not exactly their line of expertise. But in the face of the environmental and cultural invasion they are undergoing, together with other families with whom they share Christian ideals, they started to pose some questions to themselves. What heritage would we be leaving to our children? How can we diffuse our vision to a society that seems to be unaware of this destruction? How can we go against the current?

They have been married for 29 years, and have three children and three grandchildren.They live in Abaetetuba (Parà – Brazil), an «island» that covers Igarapé-Miri, Moju and Barcarena, three cities that were famous in the 1980s for the mining and industrial settlements. Many families had left their fields to work for the multinational companies, and settled down in the suburbs, nurturing new areas of poverty, with the illusion of a wealth they never reached.

The impact of these industries on the environment was devastating, to say the least. It had started with the indiscriminate felling of the açaizeiros (a regional native plant) to extract the palmito which was exported, depriving the families of an essential nutriment. The industrial residues dumped in the rivers had caused a visible reduction of fish and prawns, while atmospheric pollution reduced the production of fruits remarkably.

This happened at a local level. But the effects of the deforestation had a repercussion at global levels.The Amazon, in fact is a region where everything is mega in size, like its extension (occupying over 50% of the entire Brazil), its biodiversity, its forests and volume of sweet waters. But with the deforestation underway, all these precious resources run the risk of completely losing their efficacy.

It was not easy to see what had to be done. But Raimundo and Edilene could count on an element to make the difference: unity with the other families and the strength deriving from letting God guide them in their choices in life.

So they made a joint decision to transform with their own resources, a grazing field of 34 hectares into a fruit grove. For trees, they chose the typical varieties of the region that were more at risk of extinction, and at that point, some of these were no longer known by the youth. They worked hard and with great enthusiasm to create in Abaetetuba, an area for the preservation of local biodiversity.

The fruit grove, now producing edible fruits of 166 native species with two African species, makes up a collection of a unique genre: a wealth that offers an alternative to the region’s sustainable future.

The area called Radini, in honor of their children, Raisa, Radi and Raoni, is often visited by internationally famed researchers and environmentalists, actors, singers and also bishops and common folk but especially the youth. In fact, the site offers theoretic/practical lessons on biodiversity and conservation of the environment,with the distribution of informative material.

Even after the awards and acknowledgements received – like the important recognition in 2012 given by the Goeldidel Parà Museum – the site is now the subject of newspapers and magazines in the region. Edilene and Raimundo are always surprised to see the interest of so many people, some of whom feel the urge to follow their example and become, as they like to define themselves, “environmentalists with a heart.”

See reportage on page 47 of the journal Amazonia Viva

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Argentina: “Clothes fair” Mon, 15 Jun 2015 06:00:14 +0000 004In 2011, three young people from a parish in the province of Córdoba (Argentina) were invited to a meeting in “Mariapolis Lia, a small city of the Focolare Movement, 250 km from Buenos Aires. Participating at this meeting was a great experience for all three, a full immersion in the Gospel in action, an incentive to concretely give of themselves for others. “That meeting changed us,” says Susana. “We found that we were more enthusiastic, more welcoming, more trusting in God who we rediscovered is Love. It was a chance to grow as people but also as a group.” So much so that today there are about fifteen teens who are moving forward together with some very interesting initiatives. As an example, the “Clothing Fair,” a very useful idea for their region in which there are many families who live below the poverty line. In the parish, many items of clothing had been arriving which remained there, unused, because there was no one to bring them to those in need. So the teens took over: working hard, in a few Saturdays they had organized the location, which was a transformed basement; they had cleaned and perfumed it, thinking of those who would come to choose their clothes; they had displayed the merchandise, ironed and fixed up like new, and the result was the “Clothing fair.”

At the beginning, they had thought not to ask for any compensation for the clothing, but then—thinking of the dignity of the buyers—they established prices that were accessible to everyone, without drawing attention to who was giving and who receiving, so that only love would circulate.

003“One day,” recounts one of the teens, “a mother of eight children came. Seeing those affordable prices she chose a lot of clothes, and when she went to pay, with tears in her eyes she confided to us that it was the first time she was able to buy something for her children. Another time a woman came who seemed very interested: she walked around, looking at all the clothing but without buying anything. In the end she stopped to talk for a long time with us teens. We found out later that she came back other times, too, because as she herself confided, she knew that here she would always find someone who listened to her.”

Leaving after her turn at the Fair, one of the girls noticed a man on the church steps who was crying. Knowing that Jesus is concealed within every person, especially the poor, she thought of something: “If he were Jesus, would I leave him alone to cry?” She decided to approach him, and the man sorrowfully described that for days he had lived on the street, he had nothing to eat and he suffered from serious health problems. The girl returned to the Fair to call the others from the current shift to search for a place for him to stay and for some food. Afterwards, they also found him a job.

002In many countries in Latin America, a girl’s 15th birthday is an important date. One young girl in the group was about to arrive at this date, but her family had no means to celebrate it, inviting friends and family. Hearing about this, the teens from the group wanted to help. First, they dedicated themselves to the decorations of the hall, according to the preferences of the girl’s mother. Then, they organized themselves to serve at table. But they, too, would have wanted to participate in the party and at the dance with elegant attire. What to do? Lined up in waiters’ uniforms, they welcomed guests at the door and served them at table, and then, for the dance, they ran to change, surprising everyone, especially the birthday girl. At the end of the party, they changed back into work clothes to put everything back in place, leaving the hall clean and in order. Talk about love!

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Families: contagious solidarity Wed, 10 Jun 2015 06:00:33 +0000 20150608-03“Last year a two year old girl who is quite dear to me almost lost her life. I thought that because she had been born here, she was immediately given every medical cure and surgery. But what if she had been born in a country with less resources, how would it have gone for her? And why should she have had the good fortune of living here? Do other children not have the same right?” Thus Gabriella got to work organising a fundraising project for disadvantaged children, asking the Mayor for a public space on the main square of her town, Marcignago di Pavia, Italy. She also involved the Parish, the Diocese and the local press. “How will it turn out, I dont’know,” she admits, “I know why and for whom I’m doing this, and the only thing I can do is hope for the best!”

This is but one of the many testimonies of supporters who have become involved in the #obiettivo15mila campaign of the New Families Association begun on May 24 in Rome, Italy, at the Città dell’Altra Economia. “The goal” – Association president Andrea Turatti explains – is to “give visibility to what we are already doing through on-going projects in 50 countries, and to expand our involvement, by involving others in projects of solidarity.”

Solidarity projects have multiplied in many Italian cities and in several social projects that are underway around the world. With internet link-ups they have been able to present their activities: surgical clinics, nursery schools, primary schools and after-school programmes, through which children and teens receive adequate nourishment and medical care, scholastic assistance and other professional services. These programmes are inserted in wider interventions, in cooperation with national and international partnerships in favor of families and entire communities until they are able to be autonomous, and in favour of the well-being of children worldwide.

“We would also like to contribute to the solidarity,” said Youn Vera who, thanks to the distance support is now attending the second year of secondary school at the Collegio Gue Pascal of Man, on the Ivory Coast. “To help out four classmates who were ill and in need of medical care, we had the idea of a garden where we could grow salad and spinach.”

“Distance support is a project that does much direct good for us, not only to the ones who receive, but because it makes you grow, it puts you in contact with different people and cultures, it helps you to discover the value of sobriety and creates community,” said Vincenzo Curatolo, president of the Sad Forum which joins hundreds of associations in Italy. One example is Guido and Azzurra who together with other teenagers from the Roman quarter, tell how they have founded an association that has been operating for nearly two years, in which they carry out several activities in favour of others. The most beautiful experience has been in the Philippines, responding to the emergency in the aftermath of hurricane Hayan. Hosted by the Focolare and in cooperation with the New Families non-Profit Association they went into several barrios on the peripheries of several cities and touched with their own hands what previously had seen so distant from their daily lives and could only be seen on television. Living them out in daily life, really changed our way of thinking. Then we wanted to make a long-term commitment in supporting a girl in a wheelchair: Princess, with her sunshine smile.”

Giusy, from near Pisa, Italy, tells of how one group of Focolare New Families slowly got the whole area involved, the municipal council and some 300 families. “The project was begun by me and my colleague, twenty years ago,” says Massimo Grossi of the RCS Corriere della Sera, and it has involved more than 250 journalists and printing services. Thanks to many small donations, we received 50 distance supporters for children in Africa and Asia; many small contributions that united together: this is our spirit and our strength.”

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Archbishop Romero is a Blessed Sat, 06 Jun 2015 06:01:25 +0000 esteri-150523085402“The last time we ever saw anything like this was when Pope John Paul II visited in 1983,” writes Filippo Casabianca, from El Salvador. It is a land with a population of 6 million people in an area of 21 thousand km2 that had amongst its sons this bishop who is widely recognized as one of the most important ecclesial figures of the American continent.

The Cause had been opened by Bishop Rivera y Damas, his successor as shepherd of the Diocese, on the tenth anniversary of his death on March 24, 1980. That was the year Marita Sartori and Carlo Casabeltrame visited three Franciscan friars who had begun to spread the ideal of unity in El Salvador.

In that tragic decade, which opened with the murder of Archbishop Romero and culminated with the murder of 7 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, the Focolare Movement spread in an extraordinary way in several points of the country, in the midst of a theatre of war. The women’s focolare was opened in 1989 in spite of the danger for the foreign focolarine who went to live there. Since then the country has been through a process that led to the signing of a peace treaty in 1992, and then to a more democratic form of governement with some political stability, but not the long desired reconciliation that today is expressed in a destructive polorization. To this is added the scourge of insecurity because of the proliferation of young criminal gangs and of large segments of the country.

The Focolare community are involved in many projects in support of disadvantaged families, through programmes of the New Families Project and the Action for a United World, that have allowed hundreds of children to complete their education supported by the projects of educational centres for poor children, and through interventions in one at-risk quarter for the promotion of social integration. With Romero’s Beatification the awareness of an historic opportunity has grown amongst the people. His message is being preceived as a medicine that could contribute to overcoming opposing views, healing hearts that have been hardened by resentment, and provide what is most necessary in the process of reconciliation.

Maribel remarks: “It is a challenge that begins with following the example of Archbishop Romero, which for me continues to help me and my students to nurture peace and justice in people’s hearts
.” Whereas, for Amaris: “the celebration will have to give way to reconciliation that lies in forgiving and asking to be forgiven, to heal wounds that are still festering.” Commitment to unity and reconciliation have always been present in the Focolare community, but now they take on the new connotation of a mandate in light of the heroic witness of Archbishop Romero “who knew how to weep with those who weep,” Flora Blandon observed, “and rejoice with those who had a reason to rejoice.

The Beatification is the recognition of his life that was anchored in love.” In the messages sent by Pope Francis to the current Archbishop of El Salvador, Josè Luis Escobar Alas, the Pope calls Romero “one of the best sons of the Church,” attributing him with the characteristics of the Good Shepherd who was so dear to him. “Because (God) had bestowed upon the bishop martyr the capacity to see and listen to the suffering of his people and to shape his heart that, in his name, he might guide and illumine.” Francis also also recognised his exemplarity and invited all to encounter in the figure of Romero “strength and courage for building the Kingdom of God and being involved in the search for a more dignified and equal social order.”

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Italy: toward the margins next door Fri, 05 Jun 2015 06:00:56 +0000 Pomigliano - pranzi solidali - foto 10Last September,” says Luigi, trade unionist, who seeks to live the spirituality of unity along with Fr. Peppino and others in the parish, “we had the idea to organize meals for solidarity for those on the margins of society, for the lonely.” The place to do it? “We realized that with a little work the space we use for parish meetings could become a welcoming dining room. It wasn’t even difficult to make the guest list. Their faces are familiar to us: people we see on the street, who live in the same neighbourhoods where we live, who are our next door neighbours, those who are helped by the Caritas, the elderly, foreigners…”

“We started by dividing up the tasks to be done,” interjects Grace. “One offered to do the shopping, notifying restaurants and supermarkets; one offered to cook, with close attention to preparing dishes that even our Muslim friends could eat. The strongest offered to fix up the room and the teen girls offered to prepare the entertainment. A well-rounded team: young people, adults, and even children.”

The first lunch was held in October 2014. For everyone involved it was a sunny Sunday, as was the radiant face of the elderly man with the cane and the woman who loved to dance and enjoyed herself so much.

A few days before Christmas, the second lunch was held. “You can’t imagine the joy of the anticipation,” remembers Vincent, “when the hall was opened there were already a few elderly participants sitting on a bench waiting. As soon as they saw us they came to embrace us and give us the season’s greetings, and then went to find a place to sit. Immediately after wards all the others arrived, including the children and their parents. Between courses there was music and karaoke, and then the Moroccan girls instructed everyone in dances to songs from their country.”

The children, meanwhile, played, coloured, and tried to wait patiently for the big surprise…the arrival of Santa Claus, who distributed gifts for everyone.

“For us, the organizers, there were no wrapped presents,” says Carla, “but we received a much more precious gift: the scene of all those people, finally smiling and happy.”

After the Christmas lunch followed that of Epiphany, and still many others: a tradition which continues, and each time becomes a chance to intertwine oneself in many cultures and religions. Among the guests, who gradually become more and more numerous, there are Arabians, Ukrainians, Catholics, Orthodox, Evangelicals, people of no religious conviction and especially many Muslims.

“Is there difficulty? Commitment? Problems? Of course,” admits Luigi, “because it isn’t easy to organize meals like these from nothing. But the joy that moments like these bring us is indescribable, leaving in each of us the desire and the inventiveness to do more. They are truly opportunities to grow as a person and to grow in the sense of community, in us organizers and in the guests, who are no longer guests but truly brothers and sisters.”

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Women, Religion, and Dialogue Thu, 04 Jun 2015 06:00:05 +0000 20150604-aWhile gender is the topic under discussion in the Western world, in developing countries the concern is for the tragedy of exploitation; in the Middle East the rights of women, and peace. Still in the West, women forced to choose between work and family; lives that are subjected to violence…

These are a few of the challenges and problems – differing according to the various geographical areas – in discussion at the United Nations, in view of the new agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals, to be carried out after the year 2015 (the date by which the 193 member states hoped to achieve the famous Millennium Development Goals).

These challenges and problems were also discussed during the three days sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (Rome, May 22-24, 2015), in collaboration with the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations and the World Women’s Alliance for Life and Family.

Not only an overview of the most urgent issues linked to woman’s conditions, nor a mere moment of condemnation of the violations of her dignity and her rights. The 120 women from different countries wanted to offer a contribution of experiences and ideas, then synthesized in a final document towards the new United Nations Post-2015 Development Agenda.

In his message to Cardinal Turkson, president of Justice and Peace, Pope Francis wanted to give voice to the petitions promoted by the Catholic feminine world in international proceedings, inviting those who are “engaged in defending the dignity of women and promoting their rights,” to allow themselves “to be constantly guided by the spirit of humanity and compassion” in the service of their neighbours. “In this way,” continues the pope, “you will manifest the countless God-given gifts which women have to offer, encouraging others to promote sensitivity, understanding and dialogue in settling conflicts big and small, in healing wounds, in nurturing all life at every level of society, and in embodying the mercy and tenderness which bring reconciliation and unity to our world.”

The contributions ranged from: feminine anthropology, women and education, women and interreligious dialogue, technologies related to life and to procreation, human rights, women and agricultural work, to business and finance etc., followed by work in thematic atelier, or workshops (a term which recalls the “artisan work” of finesse and industriousness, typical of women) on the Sustainable Development Goals, for an elaboration of proposals.

Rita Mousallem, co-director of the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue of the Focolare Movement, spoke on the subject of “Interreligious Dialogue, means for a lasting peace. The roll of women,” taking inspiration from her personal experience as a Christian in the Middle East. In the various interviews to which she responded, she stressed the ability to listen, a typical characteristic of women, which provides the possibility to enter into the innermost part of oneself and of others; to know how to suffer and how to hope until the end, because – being a mother – she well knows the value of life. These aspects and others are part of that “feminine genius” – also quoted by Pope Francis – the gift and beauty typical of woman, called to give her contribution to today’s society, for the benefit of all.

Read more: Aleteia

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A special greeting from Syria Sat, 30 May 2015 06:00:14 +0000 20150530-01They arrived from: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Banias, Kfarbo and Tartous. Who would have ever imagined spending a week-end with the youth from all parts of Syria. Is this pure madness? The organizers asked themselves. Maybe so, but it became a reality. The number kept growing day after day, until it reached a total of 67.

«This is how our adventure began,» they recounted. «We chose a safe place which all could reach, even if the trip took 10 hours. The idea was to spend three days together to live, share, pray, cry, and play, immersed in nature but with mutual love among us.»

«What matters most in my life?» was the title of the week-end, a question that echoed even more in an uncertain situation like that of the young Syrians. They divided into four groups that focused on different themes: “A special bond with the Father,” “With Jesus every day,” “the Love that makes us free,” and “Love for Mary,” which they deepened with passages of the Holy Scriptures, the Popes and saints, accompanied by true stories of other youth who had preceded them along the path towards sanctity.

When I arrived for the week-end I was tired of the war – confided Fatima – and I felt that life was stagnant, but then once again I experienced God’s presence in my life and his Love for us through the love of the others. Now when I undergo difficult moments, I just need to think that someone is praying for me and is trying to live in the same way, and this gives me a great inner peace. I have understood that the most important thing is to live life … loving Jesus in every neighbour.»

DSCF5730On the first day they delve d deeper into one of the main tenets of the spirituality of unity, «God who is Love.» Tracing the story of the beginning of the Focolare in Trent during the Second World War, in the destruction of all, they traced also the reality of Syria today. «Everything passes, only God remains,» someone said, and so: «What matters most in my life?». One of them said: «Living Christianity in a radical way.» On the second day, through a discourse of Chiara Lubich to the youth in the 1970s, «Jesus the Master,» their choice of God emerged.

«We even sang, danced and played in the evenings, and it made us all feel like a true family,» Murad and Lina wrote. Upon leaving, some said: «I thank Jesus for all the moments of joy and pain.» Haashim said «I experienced God’s caress once again – I feel the responsibility of bringing this grace to all around us.»

Unforgettable days. «During the week-end – Samir  wrote – «we made our fill of peace and serenity that have given us the strength to return to living in this dramatic situation.» And Nahda concluded – «Despite the absurdity of the war, I no longer feel alone.»

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