A festive representation of the Focolare’s local community welcomed Maria Voce and co-president Giancarlo Faletti to Toronto at its International Airport on 16th March. Amidst the waving of the Canadian flag with its red maple leaf, Maria Voce was presented with an elegant bouquet of white and yellow flowers and many warm embraces.

A quick glance at the members of the welcoming committee was enough to confirm that the local Focolare community is a faithful representation of Canada’s multiethnic, multicultural society. A hospitable nation that homes numerous immigrants from over 150 countries, in 1976 it amended its law that limited non-European immigration.

The terrible tragedy in Japan is therefore very much felt by the local population where there is a significant and particularly integrated diaspora from the Land of the Rising Sun. This experience of solidarity is repeated in Canada every time an immigrant communities’ country is struck by hardship. The welcome given on March 16th is typical of the Canadian population with its 34 million inhabitants, 90% of whom live in a concentrated strip of land- only 160 km long- running along the immense U.S. border. This is despite the fact that the country boasts 10 million km², making it the second largest country after Europe.

The cohabitation and integration of peoples, races, cultures and diverse religions that characterises Canada make it a source of interest and study for an ever increasing number of countries affected by migratory fluxes due to poverty, war and oppressive regimes.

Toronto, with its 5 million inhabitants from over 100 ethnic groups, thus lends itself as a perfect starting point for a first meeting with Canada. On the warm sunny day that followed, Focolare president Maria Voce visited the city before heading to an undisputedly fascinating wonder of nature only 140 km from Toronto: Niagara Falls.

If I were to define this nation after what I’ve experienced so far, I would say that it’s peaceful”, commented the lady who followed Chiara Lubich as president of the Movement after she passed away on 14th March 2008. “Its open spaces, that stretch as far as the eye can see, the friendliness of its people, the diversity of its population all make it a country that deeply expresses peace”.

Canada’s 13 million Catholics make up just over 43% of the population. However the country is experiencing a persisting secularisation process which tends to banish religion and all its symbols from the public sphere resulting in intolerance from the mass media and making the Church-State relationship difficult.

On this backdrop of radical transformation the Focolare movement and the Charism of Unity is present. Silvana Veronese, one of Chiara’s first companions, and Giò Vernuccio stopped off in Toronto for the first time in 1961 where they met a small group of people. But it wasn’t until 1964 that a Focolare community truly kicked off and in 1967 a women’s focolare was founded followed by a men’s focolare two years later.

A well known story to the Canadian Focolare Community that looks forward to meeting Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti over the next number of days.

By our correspondent Paolo Lòriga

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