Interfaith gathering at the Kehilath Anshe Maarav synagogue, Chicago

“Fear has gone. Now we must continue on this path.” These are the words Maria Voce addressed to the 200 faithful of various religions gathered in the Kehilath Anshe Maarav Temple on April 10.

The Kehilath Anshe Maarav (KAM) synagogue of Chicago, built in 1847, was the ideal place for the gathering of 200 faithful of different religions. Located in Hyde Park on 50th Avenue, it was the first synagogue ever built in the Midwest. Its very architecture seems inspired by a desire for dialogue. Lutherans, Armenians, Presbyterians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians were present to the meeting.

About thirty of the people present took turns on the stage to share moments of spiritual communion they experienced in the course of the last thirty years by living the spirit of brotherhood exemplified by Chiara Lubich when she met representatives of various faiths throughout the world. Those meetings were seeds of prophecy that, one by one, came to fruition. The participants remembered with emotion the meeting between Chiara Lubich and Imam W. D. Mohammed in the Malcolm Shabazz mosque in Harlem in 1997, and later in Washington D.C. in 2000; the two leaders made a pact of mutual love which continues to these days among their respective organizations.

The representative of the Buddhist movement Rissho Kosei Kai remembered the meeting between Chiara and founder Nikkyo Niwano.

Emily Soloff, associate director for Interreligious Relations of the American Jewish Committee, one the people who emceed the event, said that moments of dialogue with members of the Focolare remind her of the Jewish Sabbath because of their solemnity and sense of family. Sister Laila Mohammed, daughter of the late Imam W. D. Mohammed, echoed those feelings: she said that the meeting between Christians and Muslims she attended in Rome had great spiritual depth and brought to her the same spiritual fruits of a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Prof. Donald Mitchell, Imam Mikal Saahir and Imam Kareem Irfan recounted an experience of dialogue between academics and religious leaders they had during a joint trip to Asia. In the Philippines and Thailand, in particular, the spirit of universal brotherhood felt by everyone who met in the Focolare centers gave hope that dialogue can bring a solution to the conflicts with Muslim minorities that afflict the South of both countries.

Young people who work in collaborative social projects aimed to people in need also shared their experiences.

At the end, Maria Voce, president of the Focolare, and co-president Giancarlo Faletti greeted those present and answered questions presented by a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew. The answers brought into evidence that the dialogue conducted by the Focolare has its origin in Chiara Lubich’s dream to contribute to the unification of the human family, and is thus not the responsibility of only a part of the Focolare movement but of everyone – young people and adults, the elderly and children. Giancarlo Faletti emphasized that, while the day had been a trip down memory lane that allowed everyone to remember the milestones of their common history, it was important not to dwell in nostalgia but to strengthen their mutual love.

At the end Maria Voce said: “Often religions have been like spheres that brushed one another. Then people came along who pierced these spheres so that the wealth of each could be shared by the others. This was the prophetic role of Chiara Lubich, Nikkyo Niwano, Dadaji of the Swadhyay movement, Imam W. D. Mohammed, and others. Thanks to them we were able to discover riches we weren’t aware of. Fear has gone. Now we must continue on this path.” The attendees responded to this invitation with a standing ovation. Some said: “We bring to our communities the wealth we have discovered. You help the Focolare; together we will help humanity.”

By Roberto Catalano

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