“Ten years after her death, we’re here to remember a great woman», announced the Archbishop of Belgrade, Serbia, Most Rev Stanislav Hočevar while celebrating an anniversary Mass on 14th March. He continued, “At a time when darkness overshadowed the world, a new Light illuminated Chiara’s heart. Even as sin, hatred and evil were creating divisions, Love came close, connecting and unifying, to restore and rebuild. Today, as in those times, surrounded as we are by the chaos of social, cultural and historic conflicts, we too are called to enkindle a new light of understanding, unity and cooperation.”
Connecting, coming close, uniting, rebuilding’: these words convey something of the global celebration which began in March and is still ongoing; each event an occasion to recall and relaunch the spiritual legacy of the Focolare founder, Chiara Lubich. «If I was to leave this earth today and you were to ask for my last words, the last word on our Ideal, I would say, sure that you would understand exactly what I mean: Be a family.” Chiara said this back in December 1973, but her words, her legacy, touch hearts today as powerfully as ever, as seen in the news arriving from all over the world of encounters and actions inspired by this anniversary.
First to the mountainous region of Northern Thailand with its hundreds of elaborately-decorated Buddhist temples, to the city of Chiang Mai. Sixty members of the Focolare community, from five different ethnic groups (Thai, Karen, Akha, Lahu, Kachin), together with others from the Philippines, gathered together to mark the anniversary by offering practical assistance to a rural community in need, the Kachin tribe. As the Focolare members explained, “After celebrating Mass, we set off from the city, adults and children alike, on the 7km journey to a rural village where our friends of the Kachin tribe live in very simple and at times difficult conditions. At their request, we cleared a patch of land and prepared it as a playground for the children. When we had finished transforming that space, we realised that the biggest transformation had actually happened within our hearts and in the relationship among us, as we worked together under the burning sun. In that small place, we experienced the presence of God. We saw how we can work with Him to change the world, one village at a time.”
In six regions of Kenya, each in their own way subject to socio-political tensions and at times openly violent conflicts, the local Focolare communities held a series of day meetings proposing a message of unity, more needed than ever to tackle the challenges and difficulties of this multi-ethnic multi-faith nation. Venues included Garissa, eastern Kenya, where tension remains high between Christians and Muslims, Amukura and Seme in the west, Mombassa on the coast, as well as Karatina in the central region and Meru in the North East. “Chiara continues to guide us to this very day,” was the general reaction.
The presence and participation of religious leaders and Church representatives in numerous events was appreciated around the world. In Warsaw, Poland, the head of the Methodist Church sent a warmly-received message, and the Papal Nuncio conveyed greetings from Pope Francis. In Russia, a gathering in Moscow recalled with renewed joy the pioneering era of the 1970s when the first Focolarini arrived in the then Soviet Union. Nearly 2,000km away on the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains, a Focolare community met in Chelyabinsk. While 4,000km from Moscow, in Central Siberia, a 3-day “Mariapolis” at Krasnojarsk also reflected Chiara’s call to be “a family”.
Chiara Lubich’s “legacy” rang out loud and clear in Dublin, Ireland, the city preparing to host the forthcoming World Meeting of Families in August. Particularly moving were testimonies of care and support between the generations inspired by Chiara’s life and words. In Stockholm, Sweden, a group of young people prepared an abundant supper for the whole Focolare community. Over the meal, the conversation revealed the lasting effects of the spirituality of unity in each person’s life. Yet another characteristically “family” celebration.