An event which falls 50 years after the first audience granted by Pope Paul VI to Chiara Lubich (31 October 1964) and a short time after the beatification of the pope. An opportunity to illustrate, through a wide selection of contributions, the thoughts of Paul VI on the ecclesial movements and their significance in relation to the vision of the Church given by the Second Vatican Council. This was the focus of the Study Days (Castel Gandolfo, 7-8 November), which were opened by Maria Voce, president of the Focolare Movement, and Prof. Don Angelo Maffeis president of the Paul VI Institute, and saw a succession of talks by scholars, specialists in different disciplines.
This great Pope has played an important role in the history of the Focolare Movement: “We are indebted to him for several reasons – said the president Maria Voce – first of all for his luminous teaching that marked in a clear and strong way the formation of those coming to our movement.” But also because, she continues, “in the exercise of his Petrine ministry, Pope Paul VI was instrumental in recognizing, promoting and also for identifying ways which were juridically feasible to express the specific character of this new work in the church.”
The talks by Professors Andrea Riccardi and Alberto Monticone offered a general historical background on the birth of ecclesial movements, their novelty in the 20th Century and the maturation of the vision and the role of the laity. An analytical investigation of the two figures followed, on the basis of unpublished documents. Lucia Abignente (Chiara Lubich Center), starting from Chiara Lubich’s first meeting with Mgr. Montini in ’53 through Giulia Folonari, and looking at also delicate moments in her history up to ’64, based on diaries and unpublished writings, showed what that first meeting was for Chiara, in a period when the very secular nature of the nascent Focolare Movement was in danger. It is important for the members of the Focolare themselves, therefore, to realize who Paul VI was. Chiara speaks of him as “the father of the Opera.”
Prof. Paolo Siniscalco was then given the task of analyzing how important the Focolare Movement was for Paul VI in keeping alive the spirit of Christianity in Eastern Europe, and how the Pope encouraged the concrete initiatives in this area.
Ecumenical dialogue, another issue of central importance, was examined by Dr. Joan Back. Suffice it to recall the story that ties Paul VI, Chiara Lubich and Patriarch Athenagoras.
The lawyer Adriana Cosseddu pointed out the difficulty for completely new forms like the realities of the movements, to be recognised within the Code of Canon Law (1917). It seemed that an organisation with different vocations in it was not possible because … canon law had not foreseen it! “The Pope wanted to take care of this himself, personally, and that is how approval was reached,” Chiara said in an interview with Città Nuova in 1978.
Prof. Albert Lo Presti, director of the Igino Giordani Centre, offered a new perspective of the concept of the social doctrine of the Church in Giordani – considered the co-founder of the Focolare Movement – in relation to the social teaching of Pope Paul VI.
Prof. Piero Coda, rector of Sophia University, crowned it all with a theological reflection which, on the background of the encyclical Ecclesiam suam, manifesto of the pontificate of Paul VI, and the mystical experience lived by Chiara in the years ’49 -’50, highlighted the profound harmony and synergy between the Petrine ministry of Pope Paul VI and the charism of unity of Chiara Lubich.
“It was particularly rewarding for me to see the Focolare Movement and its founder, through the eyes of Paul VI – Fabio Ciardi, one of the participants at the conference, writes. This enormous figure, who had a wide perspective on the Church and society of his time, also had a special eye on this work of God, experiencing at the same time joys and doubts, praise and concerns, hopes and enthusiasm … Looking at things from his perspective we can see new aspects of this charism and how it developed in the Church.”
At the conclusion of this work Prof. José-Román Flecha Andres,, compared the mystical experience of Chiara to that of the Spanish mystics of the 16th Century, Teresa of Avila in particular, and remembering how they had understood the need to make a gift of their inner life to the whole Church, said: “Here we have been able to see what, thanks to the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, was accomplished in the life of Chiara, of this Movement.”