The Focolare Movement’s first contacts with Hinduism were marked by warm friendship that led to sharing life and dreams and ideals.
The main protagonists of this friendship were Natalia Dallapiccola who was one of the first witnesses to the beginnings of the Focolare in Trent, Italy, and Dr Aram, a Hindu who now stands among the presidents of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) of which the Focolare is also a member.
Following the death of Dr Aram, the Shanti Ashram and representatives from several Gandhian groups in the State of Tamil Nadu, invited Chiara Lubich to India in January 2001, to receive the 2000 Defender of Peace Award. The explanatory statement affirmed: Chiara was tireless in her role of spreading peace and love among all, continually strengthening the fragile vision of peace, for the wellbeing, prosperity and spiritual life of the world.” At the award ceremony, which was attended by over 500 Hindus and members of other religions, Chiara spoke of her Christian spiritual experience, highlighting common elements between the Gospel and the Hindu Scriptures.
“I came here today to see, to be silent as much as possible,” she wrote in his diary that day, “Above all I discovered the rules: tolerance, love! Perhaps our dialogue has a place here.”
On the same occasion, Professor Kala Acharya from the Somaiya Sanskriti Peetham Institute, was deeply impressed by Chiara. In a matter of days she decided to organize a gathering at Somaiya College of Mumbai. Six-hundred people attended. These events marked the beginning of a dialogue with Hinduism both in Mumbai and in Coimbatore.
A deep dialogue was begun with university professors in Mumbai. In order to continue along this path it was decided to hold an academic symposium. The first was held in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, in 2002. The title was: “The Bhakti and Agape as a way of love towards God and neighbor.” Professor Kala Acharya from Somaya College of Mumbay called the meeting: “a deep spiritual experience.”
In the name of this common journey, Chiara Lubich visited India again in 2003. At the Centre of Indian culture Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Natalia Dallapiccola touches one of the aspects of the art of finding love in the Gospel: “becoming one” with each other as the key to the box: unity and of universal brotherhood. And she shows what Chiara said about an aspect of the art of loving which she discovered in the Gospel – making yourself one with others – as the key to dialogue: “In the moment that we meet someone, we need to place our self on their level like a partner, no matter who they are. And this calls for detachment from everything, even from the richness of our own religion. And at the same time we need to become empty within ourselves, in order to allow our brother or sister the freedom to express their thoughts and for us to be able to understand them. This is such an important attitude, even indispensable, which has two leading effects: It helps us to enter into the world of our brother and sister, to know the language and culture, the belief system, and so on. And then it predisposes our neighbour to listen to us. Then you move on to a “respectful proclamation” where – because of your loyalty to God and sincerity toward your neighbour, always respecting what your neighbour thinks – you can say what you think and believe about a particular topic, without imposing anything, without desiring to win anyone over to your own way of thinking.”
“This marks the beginning of a journey that will take us far,” commented Professor Dave, honorary president of the institute. “There is something in her words that goes to the very roots of human thought, the very roots of our santhana dharma, the universal religion.”
“This experience of dialogue highlights what was said by John Paul IIwhen he was in India: “Through dialogue we allow God to be present in our midst, because as each of us opens in dialogue, we also open to God. And the fruit is union among men and union of men with God.” (John Paul II, Discorso ai rappresentatni delle varie religioni dell’India, Madras, February 5, 1986.)”
Dialogue with Gandhian movements characterized this experience from the beginning, and it continues in Coimbatore where each year since August 2001, roundtable discussions are held to examine and discuss spiritual and human aspects of the Gandhian outlook and the spirituality of unity.