“I left expecting to encounter mystery. I return with the feeling of having encountered a far greater mystery than I had imagined.” “My impressions in these first hours . . . on one side, a greater desire for the Absolute and the inner life . . . on the other, a stronger liking for pluralism and less fear of diversity . . . finally the beautifulness of the people especially the young who are the future.” These were some of the first impressions shared by Maria Voce and Jesús Morán on a February 13th telephone link-up with Focolare members across the world, following their long visit to the Focolare communities in India.
It was a complex, month-long visit with stops in New Delhi, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Trichy and Mumbai. Interreligious dialogue is a major feature of the sub-continent, and the Focolare has been engaged in this dialogue since it first arrived in the 1980s. The paths that were opened in 2001 and in 2003 during two visits by Chiara Lubich to Mumbai and Coimbatore have, over the course of the years, led to a growing relationship that was both academic, and Gandhian. Even though they had many common experiences such as symposiums in 2002 and 2004 in Italy, and 2011 in India, they developed their own unique characteristics that led to diversified types of dialogue that were all the while animated by the same spirit. The definition given by several Hindu friends to describe the dialogue between the Focolare and the Hindu world – as a dialogue of hearts and minds – remains true for all.
In 2001 Chiara told a group of Hindus in Mumbai: “I’ve come to India, especially to listen, to learn from you, to possibly begin a cordial dialogue with you in whom I see many brothers and sisters.” When someone asked her what attitude was needed for dialogue, Chiara responded: “We focus on the so-called Golden Rule that is found in all religions, also Hinduism: ‘Do not do to another, what you would not want done to you.’” Another time, during that same period, in an interview with Vatican Radio: “Dialogue first of all means placing yourself on the same level, not having a priori notions, of being better than the others; opening yourself to hearing what the others have inside, putting everything aside in order to enter into their souls and then, naturally, asking them to listen to us. This process allows us to embrace our commonalities that are there – and then agreeing to live those together. That’s concrete dialogue.”
In Delhi, during the first phase of the visit at the India International Centre, an intense and interesting meeting was held with the participation of people from different faiths and cultures. The moderators were Mr Merchant, a well-known representative of the Baha’i in the Indian capital, and by Dr Vinu Aram, director of Shanti Ashram in Coimbatore. The programme attempted to offer plural answers to the challenges that dialogue is called to face in today’s world. The afternoon event was titled: ‘The relevance of dialogue in today’s society’ and included a presentation of the experience of the Focolare Movement in the field of dialogue.
Maria Voce and Jesús Morán discussed the tension between progress towards unity and the tendency to defend and characterise respective identities, which is major feature of the times we are living in. The charismatic experience of dialogue proposed by Chiara Lubich that has opened original and articulated paths of dialogue is situated precisely in this tension that is typical of the globalisation process and, at the same time, is seeing the world rapidly changing because of the influx of immigrants and regional conflicts,
Maria Voce remarked on the Golden Rule that is found in every culture and religion as a point of encounter which enables us to actualise what Chiara loved to call the Art of Loving, an authentic method of dialogue.
Jesús Morán presented an anthropological aspect of dialogue describing several characteristics that reveal surprising consonance precisely in the experience between Hindus and Christians in recent years. During the course of the afternoon there were also other presentations concerning quite timely and deeply spiritual topics. Among these, Prof Satyavrat Shastri, a famous expert on Sanscript, Prof Uma Vaidya and Prof Shashi Prabhakumar who highlighted the analogies between traditional Hindu scriptures – especially the Veda Upanishad – and the dialogical charism of Chiara Lubich.
Loppiano (Florence), 7th February 2001: