Midwest Men Volunteers’ Convention

 
In early February, 2017, twenty-three Volunteer men and a group of close friends gathered at the Mariapolis Center in Chicago for the annual Midwest Volunteer weekend convention and retreat.

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Within the Focolare there are those men and women who from the first days of the Focolare have felt called to bring the spirituality of unity into the world, into all areas of human endeavor. These men and women radically and freely live out the Gospel and Focolare spirituality in their daily lives, striving to transform society according to these principles. With this free and radical commitment, they are called Volunteers for God.

Ed Johnstone, Director of the Midwest Volunteers, commented on the purpose of the gathering: 

“It is always a time to discover and rediscover the life of the volunteer.  To make clear what is unclear.  To renew and rebuild relationships with God and friends. To focus and refocus the direction of our paths to holiness.  And, above all, to experience in a strong way the presence of God in an atmosphere of mutual love.”

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Within these days, the Midwest participants took time away from their professional and daily lives to consider the root of their vocation and commitment as Volunteers for God. During the long weekend, there were presentations and video programs covering themes at the core of the Focolare’s spirituality of unity. There were meditations on the theme of Jesus Forsaken, an inspiration of Chiara concerning the depth of suffering Jesus experienced in feeling abandoned by his Father and its role in the redemption of humankind and its relation to the human experience of suffering and failure.

The program covered aspects from a particular time of deep understanding for Chiara Lubich and her first companions which took place during August, 1949, while on vacation in the mountains of Northern, Italy. Chiara Lubich speaks of this experience, “That is when a moment of particular graces began. We had the impression that the Lord threw open the Kingdom of God that was among us, to the eyes of our soul.” The group of young women and men with Chiara that August felt they came to understand many aspects of the young movement which was developing around them. The August, 1949, experience is referred to as Paradise ’49. One can find more study and reflection on this experience and its enlightenment in an online journal produced by experts within the Focolare Movement, Claritas.

The Midwest Volunteers for God also enjoyed a video presentation on the vocation of the Volunteer for God in today’s world given by the Focolare President, Emmaus Voce, and Focolare Co-President, Jesús Morán.

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Throughout the weekend there was a strong emphasis on exploring the concrete application of the Focolare spirituality in daily life. Towards this exploration, a resident of the Chicago Men’s Focolare house, Sylvan Praturlon, offered a practical talk showing how the spirituality has a role in all aspects of daily living and, when lived out in each aspect of daily life, one’s life becomes like that of the white light of God’s love for those around us.

As well, two inspiring examples of life were shared. The life story of Fr. Ed Schramm from St. Louis, Missouri, who died recently from cancer, was presented. Fr. Ed had made a clear choice of modeling his life and his suffering of living and dying with terminal cancer on the example of Jesus and His experience of forsakenness in the crucifixion. There was also a photo presentation on the experience of one young couple, Luke and Katie Johnstone, of the Focolare who gave one year of service to the street children of Manila in the Philippines.

As the weekend ended, many participants agreed that this retreat was the perfect way to renew their commitment to their vocation as “Volunteers of God.”  The following impressions capture the mood and experience for many who attended the 2017 Midwest Men’s Volunteer Convention and Retreat:

“One of the things that made a strong impression on me this weekend is the constant call to face and embrace Jesus Forsaken from one moment to another. Jesus Forsaken, being a ‘window’ to experience the reality of God seeing his creature, and at the same time, the creature seeing God. This explanation made it clearer and with less difficulty for me to see the many faces of Jesus Forsaken.”

“After seeing the great volunteer mission work that Katie and Luke Johnstone are doing, I had to ask myself: ‘Am I doing enough?’ The answer: ‘I don’t think so!’ But now I have an urging and desire to change this as I prepare to go back out into the world.”

“After all, it is for this reality that we are ready to give our lives!”