The meeting has drawn 31 bishops from 18 countries, representing 15 churches. It is the 30th ecumenical meeting of its kind sponsored by the Focolare Movement, the first of which was held in 1982. This year it’s taking place in Welwyn Garden City, a town about 40 km north of London. It is truly a garden city with tree-lined boulevards, parks and lakes. The city was founded by Sir Ebenezer Howard in 1920 and has about 40,000 inhabitants. The Focolare Centre for Unity began here after a visit to England by Chiara Lubich in 1983, when she felt the need for a “cradle”, a place where activities of the Focolare could take place.
These annual ecumenical meetings of bishops take place in different places, allowing participants to get to know the ecclesial realities of the host country. This year their focus is the Church of England. In particular, the proposed “Anglican Covenant”, has been a subject of great interest. It proposes a pact to sustain the Anglican Communion, and it formulates an agreement, prepared by a group of Anglican theologians, binding churches of the Anglican Communion to commit the 44 autonomous Anglican churches into recognising principles held in common. It will be an important instrument for building communion which might even become a requisite among non-Anglican churches. Adherence to the pact will always be unrestricted and there are no legal sanctions envisaged for those who change their minds.
The program of the conference includes visits to symbolic places of Anglicanism such as Lambeth Palace, the seat of the Primate of the Church of England, Dr Rowan Williams, who welcomed the participants, the visit to the shrine of St Albans, where the relics of St Alban, the first English martyr, are kept, and the meeting at Westminster Cathedral with the Catholic Archbishop, Msgr Vincent Nichols.
The theme chosen for this year is “The Word of God and its Transforming Power”. Maria Voce, President of the Focolare Movement, gave an impassioned speech on the ecumenical spirituality of the Focolare Movement which came to life through living the Word. She recalled how the Focolare spirituality was born in a dark shelter, when Chiara Lubich and her first companions would read the Gospel by candlelight during the bombings of the Second World War.
“In these times, the dark shelter can represent the world with all its challenges and its search for meaning,” explains Maria Voice. “The Truth is replaced by other truths, and what prevails is economic interest; the family seems to have no significance in the scheme of things. The dark shelter challenges us to have nothing but the Gospel. This is where we can start to re-evangelize ourselves and consequently humanity which surrounds us.”
“We can start off by living the Word, moment by moment, and sharing our experiences, the fruits of living this life.” Even Martin Luther wrote: “The soul can do without anything, except the Word of God.” And, at this delicate time of transition,” Maria Voce says, “as we pass from the period of foundation of the Focolare Movement to the period of renewal and development, we need to go back to the basics, keeping in mind that the explosion of life within the Focolare came about through people living the Gospel”. It was in this way that communities centred on the Word were born, that the spirituality of communion was born, and the commitment to live the Word has even paved the way for ecumenical dialogue at all levels. “The faithful embracing of the one Gospel – written in the joint declaration “Road towards Communion” drawn up by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation – is an essential step towards full unity.”
The unity to be pursued is not only between Christians of different churches “but also,” adds Maria Voice, “by widening the dialogue to people of other religions and by embracing those of other convictions.”
From our correspondent Aurelius Molè