Ever since the beginning of the Focolare Movement, the members have always looked to their bishops with an attitude of trust and willingness to adhere to his words.
Quite early on the bishops themselves realized that the spirituality of unity wasn’t only for lay people, religious and priests, but it also had something to say to them.
In 1977, upon the invitation of the theologian Klaus Hemmerle, Bishop of Aquisgrana in Germany, the first meeting for Bishop Friends of the Focolare Movement was held. These were bishops who were desirous to live the spirituality of communion deeply. They were twelve at first, when they attended the general audience in the Vatican, and they came from every continent. Pope Paul VI greeted them and encouraged them to go forward. The following year, when he met them for the first time, he said: “As head of the apostolic college, I encourage you, I urge you, I exhort you, to continue on with this endeavor.”
A few years later, in February 1982, John Paul II addressed them saying; “Your longing for unity will bring you to take upon yourselves, with ever new momentum, the ecumenical problem, pushing you to try new initiatives.”
And this is what happened. Bishops from other Christian Churches also took the Spirituality of unity as their own and they began to meet annually in places with ecumenical significance: Istanbul, London, Amman, Beirut, Geneva, Bucharest, Augsburg, Trent, Prague, Lutherstadt Eisleben/Wittenberg and, obviously, Rome. They are joined by their common belonging to Christ.
At present the Bishop Friends of the Movement are around a few hundred and they hold meetings at international and regional levels.
“Contribute to giving a soul to collegiality:” this is what Chiara Lubich indicated to the first bishop friends. “Your communion will bring an advantage for each diocese,” she assured them, “because if the bishops are like this, if they are always joyful, always available, then everyone will be drawn to them.”
The relationship of the bishops with the Focolare Movement is of a purely spiritual nature and it illuminates the many fields of action of their ministry: from pastoral activity to relations with their collaborators, from dialogue within and outside the church to evangelization.
They recognized that the Spirituality of unity is “in very deep harmony with the episcopal charism, that it strengthens effective and affective collegiality and unity with the Holy Father and among bishops, and it leads them to actualize the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on the Church-Communion.” Thus it is written in the Regulation for the Branch of Bishop Friends of the Work of Mary, where they are recognized as such by the Pope and approved by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in a letter of 14 February 1998.