1,500 participants – amongst whom 140 from extra-European countries. These are the ‘numbers’ for the Parish and Diocesan Movement Congress which will take place at Castel Gandolfo (Rome) from 16 to 19 April. Born in 1966, with the encouragement of Pope Paul VI, the Movement is currently present in over 3,000 parishes in 41 nations, in all 5 continents. The spirituality of the Focolare is not only capable of renewing the life of the individual, but can also revive in a community, and therefore also in a parish or diocese, that life of communion which was so characteristic of the first Christian communities.
The theme chosen for the congress this year is ‘The Parish – a witness to God’s love’. ‘Words,’ the organizers say, ‘which respond to a reality that the Holy Father emphasized in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est.’ In his first encyclical Benedict XVI wrote: ‘In the Church's Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive his presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives. He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling that we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has “loved us first”, love can also blossom as a response within us.’
The congress at Castel Gandolfo is held at a crucial moment for the life of the Church and for its communities spread throughout the world. There will be participants from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Canada, South Africa, Korea and the Philippines. ‘Benedict XVI,’ the organizers point out, ‘invites us all to announce to everyone that God is love. This is the inspiring spark of the Focolare Movement. It is important that the face of God-Love is discovered and found again in our Parish Communities so that they become authentic witnesses to the love of God – both because God reigns in their midst and because their love overflows on everyone.’ The programme will alternate meditations by Chiara Lubich on God-Love with experiences of communities animated by this spirit.
Following the Congress there will be a school for the animators of Parish communities that come from Asia, Africa and America, on the Spirituality of Unity and its spread in parish life.