Building a united world without distinction of race, religion, social or economic status.
“As a new Movement within the Church, we have a universal vocation. In fact our motto is ‘May they all be one’. We can’t do this without you, because this ‘all’ includes you. Otherwise we cut ourselves off from a third if not half of the world. How can we exclude all these while at the same time saying ‘May they all be one’!” This is how Focolare foundress, Chiara Lubich in May 1995 explained why her Movement was reaching out to dialogue with people who do not acknowledge any religious faith.
We talk to 73-year-old Luciana Scalacci, from Abbadia San Salvatore, Italy. A self-declared ‘non-believer’, she is a member of the Italian and International Commissions for the Focolare’s Center of Dialogue with people of non-religious convictions.
The Focolare Movement’s interest in dialoguing with people who have non-religious convictions goes back a long way. What are the most significant steps?
The Focolare’s Center for Dialogue with ‘non-believers’ was opened in 1978. A year later, for the first time, people of non-religious convictions participated in a conference organized by the Focolare. Chiara encouraged the whole Movement to embrace a new openness towards ‘non-believers’, maintaining that as we’re all ‘sinners’, we can embark on a common journey of liberation to build universal fraternity together. In 1992 the Center organized its first international convention, entitled “Together to build a united world”. Chiara told us, “Your participation in our Movement is essential for us. Without you (as without its other parts) it would lose its true identity”. A second convention followed in 1994. At that meeting, Chiara affirmed, “our goal is to contribute towards the unity of all, starting from Love for every single person. Therefore we’ll try to see how strong the aspiration for universal fraternity and unity is among humanity at all levels”. After Chiara’s death in 2008, Maria Voce, as President, confirmed on various occasions that people with non-religious convictions are an essential part of the Movement.
In the 1970s it was quite unusual for a Christian-inspired movement to open its doors to ‘non-believers’. Why do you think they did this?
For the unity of the human race. To make the goal “May they all be one” more solid, because a united world can only be built with others, not despite or against them!
What are the foundations needed to build a dialogue between ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’?
The existence of common values, like fraternity, solidarity, justice, help for the poor. We also share an understanding that we all have a personal conscience, which permits us to reflect on these values on our own and also together in a collective way, so they become a shared patrimony for everyone.
What difficulties have you encountered along the way?
To engage in dialogue when holding very different positions is not always easy. Connecting together to achieve something practical is simpler, because action doesn’t distinguish between colour, religion or ideas. The difficulties start when you move from action to values, to ideologies, to the super-structures. At this point, dialogue can risk running aground. But this hasn’t happened. Chiara has challenged both believers and us ‘friends’ to open ourselves up as much as possible, not as an ‘act of charity’ but to enrich and be enriched as we journey together towards a better world.
Claudia Di Lorenzi