“Soul” is the name of a television program that seeks “to go deep into the soul” of key figures of our times who have a great depth of human and cultural experience. On Sunday, September 24th, Monica Mondo, the show’s presenter, conducted an interview with Maria Voce.
A group of girls in Trent . . . a disastrous context of war. “An inspiration had made Chiara Lubich understand the need for an eternal ideal that doesn’t pass away. This ideal is God.” These were the first words by the Focolare president, Maria Voce, during an interview that ranged from the origins of the Focolare Movement to its current challenges. It is the only Movement in the ecclesial world that, according to its Statutes, must be led by a woman. “The recognition of women is much simpler than we think. It means recognizing their specific characteristics without which people cannot express themselves. God created humankind in his image and likeness, and he created it distinctly, man and woman, to create humanity in them. The woman’s role is very important. It’s her femininity, her capacity to give herself and be disposed to sacrifice.”
Referring to her personal experience, Maria Voce explained, “I come from a traditional practising Catholic family. The problem started when I decided to give myself to God. My father was quite attached to me and had many plans for me. Being the first of seven children, it was also normal for me to think; I will get married and have many children. The Movement made it possible for me to live the Gospel in its entirety. It changed my life. I continued to practice law in my region, but I began to meet my clients seeing them as neighbours I could love. This was the transformation in my life. When I was in the focolare community in Turkey, my father wrote me for the first time on my birthday, ‘Best wishes! Dad’. A few days later, he died of a heart attack. I felt it was God’s love that had reconciled him to my choice in life.”
What is a “hearth” (focolare), a house? “It’s a group of people who live together, all called by God to the same vocation, each being ready to give their life for the others, moment by moment – in order to be Work of Mary. The greatest work Mary did was to give Jesus to the world. The men and women focolarini want to relive Mary by having the living presence of Jesus among them through mutual love.”
Virginity is a word that is not in vogue nowadays. “Virginity is the answer to a calling. Out of love, Jesus calls someone to an infinite love; and infinite does not have parts, the infinite is everything. If God calls with this love, the answer can only be an all-encompassing love. To live marriage, too, you need to be virgins at heart.”
Chiara Lubich gave you another name. A strange name, the name of a place? “Yes. Emmaus. It expresses the desire and the effort to enable Jesus to be present even after his death and Resurrection, and to walk with Him.”
Succeeding a founder is not easy. It is difficult to reconcile faithfulness and contemporising of a charism. “The inspiration lies in the charism. The charism is eternal; people pass away. Chiara Lubich lived this charism to the full in her times, and she has handed it on to us. We are united to the source, but now the question we ask is; ‘What would Chiara say today?’ This is what guides my actions. It’s not repetition; there are many things now that weren’t there in Chiara’s day.”
Is this still the age of Movements? “The Movements have characteristics that foster Christian life. They still have much to say and give, not only for young people but for the health of families.”
Catholics involved in politics and Europe. What is your view? “If Europe forgets its Christian roots, it will disappear. Therefore, it is important for Catholics to work in politics, to revalue their Christian roots, recognizing the equal dignity of other people, because we are all sons and daughters of God. You can dialogue with everybody, whatever their creed, because you dialogue with people. Loving our enemies is still part of the Gospel!”
Is there still the capacity to come up with places, experiences, and new ways? “We don’t need to create new things, but to renew the world with the charism we have. I think of the people from the Movement, from all walks of life, who decide to give up their vacations to travel to the Amazon, to share the Gospel life with people there; or who move to another place in order to build a school for poor children.”
How do you distinguish between witness, evangelization and dialogue, without imposing ideas or being combative? “We should proclaim Christ first and foremost with our life. If our life witnesses to Christ, eventually other people will become interested in knowing what is at the root of it. The unity [we speak of] is the one the Gospel talks about, it is unity in God, with which each one identifies, because all are children of God and brothers and sisters to one another. If there is not this foundation, then you cannot talk about unity, but mutual understanding. Unity comes from God and is in God. You can experience it with people who aren’t of the same faith or do not have the same way of seeing things, but who are willing to join together for a greater ideal, that of being brothers and sisters.”
Do Catholics hide themselves too much? “They need to be more incisive. Perhaps one of the fruits of the Movement is to reawaken the Christian DNA we bring with us from Baptism.”
You still have a lawyer’s attitude! If you had to defend a cause right now, what cause would you devote yourself to with the greatest passion?
Maria Voce did not hesitate to say, “Universal brotherhood.”