A land rich in history with deep Christian roots that go all the way back to the earliest centuries after Christ (432), the island was evangelized through the efforts of St. Patrick. Known for its ancient Celtic traditions and its national and traditional song, with U2 and Riverdance, its great literary stars including four Nobel Prize winners, Ireland has also had some sorrowful pages among the leaves of its recent history:the drama of the independence’s war, the violence between Catholics and Protestants and the still open wounds of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
The words of Benedict XVI in the Letter to the Catholics of Ireland (March 2010) continue to resound: “As you face the challenges of this moment, I ask you to remember the “rock from which you were cut” (Is. 51:1). It is in this context, within this process of purification and rebirth of the Irish Church that the 50th International Eucharistic Congress (10-17 June 2012) is set.
Ireland’s soil has been irrigated with the Movement’s spirituality of unity since 1969, when a woman, Margaret Neylon, on her way back from England spread to those around her the new way of life she had just discovered: based on the love taught by Jesus. She and her son Eddie, who suffered from muscular distrophy, became the soul of the first Focolare community that led to the opening of the first focolare in Ireland in 1971, followed by a second in 1976. Currently there are five focolares in the country and a formation centre has been begun at Mariapolis “Lieta”. This Mariapolis was named after an Argentine focolarina, Lieta Betono, who lovingly devoted her life to bringing the ideal of unity among many people from Ireland, until 2002 when she died of a serious illness.
Many stories intertwine as you examine the history of the Focolare’s growth in Ireland: among them is the story of Sister Anna who decided to bring a group of Catholic and Protestant youths to an international gathering in 1973, the Genfest. Among them was Sally McAllister, who would become the first Irish focolarina. Originally from Northern Ireland, she had decided to join the armed struggle.
But then she discovered the biggest revolution in the Gospel, which gave meaning even to the pain of division and of the violent fratricides of the world.
Today the Focolare Movement is spread at various levels and among persons of all callings. It works in collaboration with other Catholic movements, with members of other Churches and with members of the Sikh community. Since 1991 when the Economy of Communion was born, several businesses have joined the project, for example: Paul Connoly Optomerist, Nettrafic Telecommunications and the Language and Leisure International, English language school.
The Teens for Unity have carried out many projects in favor of peace and hope in the cities: a video documentary in which they present their projects to “colour” the dark corners of the cities; the worldwide baton race, ‘Run4Unity’ which was held in Belfast on 12 June 2012 in front of the Northern Ireland’s Parliament building. Together with projects promoting the Golden Rule through sport in many schools throughout the country, the cube of love for children and the Run4Unity have become part of the official programme in preparation for the Eucharistic Congress.
Chiara Lubich visited Ireland in 2004 when she met Sean Brady, the Primate of all Ireland, various bishops including Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin; Mary McAleese who was then President of the Republic; Bertie Ahern, who was then Taosieach (Prime Minister) and President of the European Union, and the Focolare community. On that occasion Chiara said: “We need to foster unity, unity among Christians who give witness to the faith in a different way today (. . . ) and I believe that this living witness of authentic family life and of the life of faith is one of the most important things that we have to offer for the future of our Land.”
In 2012 Maria Voce visit Ireland together with Co-President Faletti for the International Eucharistic Congress (10-17 June). There she has been asked to present her own Christian experience. Several of the Congress events are presented by the Focolare: the “Chiara Luce Youth Section”, workshops on the Economy of Communion and the Church as Communion, the open meeting, an Ecumenical gathering in the Anglican Cathedral of St Ann in Belfast on 14 June, which will give a sense of ecumenical dialogue to the entire Congress.