Focolare Movement’s Assembly: a journey towards tangible unity

In the afternoon of 18 September, the General Assembly of the Focolare Movement opened with an invitation to friends with whom the movement has for many years undertaken its journey towards brotherhood of the human family.
Heinrich Walter, President of Schönstatt with Jesús Moran.

Representative of other Christian movements, brothers and sisters of various religious faiths and agnostics: some travelled far to participate in this afternoon’s event, such as Emily Soloff from Chicago, a member of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) who cancelled other appointments in order to attend, as she saw the importance of the event, and likewise, Fr Heinrich Walter, President of the Schoenstatt Presidium. Also Jurif Pismak from Russia, a friend who professes non-religious beliefs made it easily to the Congress Hall of Castel Gandolfo, where the Focolare’s Assembly is being held (1-28 September).

This is a testimonial of a journey that traces way back to the past, and which has come to uphold its belief that: “In a assembly like ours which looks to the future, firmly rooted to its source, such an event, such a memorable afternoon could not be missed. Together with all of you we are ever more true to our own calling,” were the closing remarks of Jesús Moran, the newly elected Focolare Co-President.

20140919-04 Gerard Pross
Maria Voce with Gerard Pross, leader of a network of over 100 evangelical movemements.

Maria Voce with Gerard Pross, leader of a network of over 100 evangelical movemements.

All present speak in the name of a vaster network of dialogue, “which we consider a true support for the construction of universal brotherhood,” Maria Voce affirmed. In the “Together for Europe” organisation, for example, there are more than 300 Christian movements,  bound to each other by a pact of unity which “unites the spiritual and ‘politics’ and breaks down the barriers to work for peace,” declared Gérard Testard, French, and past President of Fondácio. Also present were the founding members who had started this journey with Chiara Lubich years ago: Thomas Römer of the Ymca of Munich and Gerhard Pross, head of a network of over 100 evangelical movements; Cesare Zucconi and Valeria Martano of the Comunity of Sant’Egidio, on their return from Antwerp where the 28th international meeting for peace in the spirit of Assisi was held, conveyed the greetings of Andrea Riccardi. Together they encouraged the Focolari to continue living in a more forceful manner, this ideal of brotherhood. From the Orient came the best wishes of the Buddhist monks of the Teravada tradition of Thailand, and the Japanese members of the Risho-Kosei Kai.

Inter-religious delegation (Christina Lee, Mustafa Cenape, Shahrzad Houshmand, Adnane Mokrani, Hiromasa Tanaka, Katsuotishi Mizumo)

Inter-religious delegation (Christina Lee, Mustafa Cenape, Shahrzad Houshmand, Adnane Mokrani, Hiromasa Tanaka, Katsuotishi Mizumo)

Together, as players of dialogue, is the vision that emerged from the testimonials of the Muslim friends, Dr. Adnane Mokrani, and Professor Shahrzad Houshmand, Iranian theologian, who shared her experience with Chiara Lubich: “I learned from her the force of universal faith which touches the hearts of all believers, also those of Muslims.” We are dealing with a “new evangelization which works not only for the formal conversion of hearts, but for the deep conversion of souls.”  The theologian also launched an appeal to the Focolare Assembly which will be received by the Pope on 26 September: to convey to Pope Francis our support in the effort to stop the tragedies being perpetrated, for “the blood of Jesus is still being spilt today.”

Another distinctive stretch of the dialogue: life. This was underlined by Emily Soloff, an American Jew. “I see an assembly infused with life. For me the dialogue with the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists in the Focolare has always been a dialogue of life,” which begins with the experience of each one, mutual understanding taking precedence over the theological, doctrinal and philosophical aspects.

“I have always been struck,” commented Lisa Palmieri Billig, also an American, and member of the Jewish Committee, “by your idea of being the first to go towards the others to offer love. You give empathy, and a concrete remedy to the rampant hatred in today’s society.”

“Chiara Lubich had understood, from the very start, that unity is built with the others and not against the others, and that she could not let aside the other half of the world which does not profess any religious faith,” were the words of Luciana Scalacci, an agnostic, who declared that she was “lucky to have been invited to the Assembly.”  In these weeks she took part in fact, in the various work sessions. She also encouraged all, in remembrance of Chiara, to always keep in mind the other cultures.

20140919-05The various interventions were “precious pearls that enrich the heritage we have all received,” affirmed Maria Voce. A heritage we have “to safeguard together and multiply for the benefit of humanity,” she stressed – just before the election of the new directors of the Focolari Movement – since this is a journey we have to undertake together. And concluded with an image: “Chiara’s embrace which reaches out to all, and leads all towards God, an embrace made visible today, due to the presence of all of you here.”