Insights by Sherin, a focolarina of the Coptic Orthodox Church, drawing from her daily experience of how unity among Christians from different Churches is possible.
The Church of tomorrow will follow “the example of the Most Holy Trinity, where there will be unity in one truth, and variety in all traditions; they will be different aspects of the same truth”. This is how Chiara Lubich described the ecumenical journey towards unity among Christian Churches in her book Una spiritualità per l’unità dei cristiani. Pensieri scelti (A Spirituality for the Unity of Christians. A selection of writings), edited by Città Nuova. Focolarina Sherin, a member of the Coptic Orthodox Church living in Cairo, Egypt, agrees with Chiara, adding that it’s possible to experience unity among Christians of different Churches in our daily lives.
What was it about the spirituality of unity that struck you when you met Chiara and the Focolare Movement?
“I discovered that the Gospel, lived by a people with a new lifestyle, language and culture, is leaven for a new humanity. I learned universal fraternity and our own lives are not in separate compartments. And one can live one’s faith 24 hours a day, allowing Jesus to transform us, to become another Him, so He Himself can live among His people, as He promised in the Gospel”.
You are a member of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Has joining the Focolare Movement, founded by a Catholic woman and largely Catholic in its membership, created a sense of distance from your own Church?
“Certainly not! Maybe God prepares us. I went to a school run by Catholic nuns where there was such respect and love that I never felt any conflict in belonging to another Church. When I met the Movement, the experience was even deeper, and my heart opened up to the whole Church. It prompted me to go deeper in my understanding of my own Coptic Church, to discover similarities in it with the life I found in the Focolare. I discovered, for example, that St Anthony the Great invites all Christians, as brothers and sisters “to become one soul with one will and one shared faith”. So as time passed, I felt I wanted to commit myself to live for the unity of the human family. I feel such gratitude to Chiara”.
You live your daily life in community with other Focolarine who are Catholic. What does building unity with them mean for you?
“It means never being afraid to face up to any differences, because they are always an opportunity to love, believing that this actually builds unity and allows us to experience the presence of Jesus among us. It’s the same for people with different ethnic backgrounds, social provenance, politic beliefs, and so on. If we think we’re all children of God the Father, then every other person is a brother or sister to love”.
For the Coptic Orthodox Pope, His Holiness Tawadros II, the journey towards communion among the Churches is centred on Christ. The “ways” leading to Him are dialogue, study, prayer, relationship. In practical terms, what does it mean to seek unity in these areas?
“In the Focolare Movement ecumenical dialogue is understood as a “dialogue of life”, in which we try to love one another reciprocally in our daily life as Jesus did. Then through dialogue we can discuss themes of faith, focussing on finding what unites us. The Coptic Orthodox Church gives great importance to prayer and fasting. So we pray together because unity is a gift only God can give. And we practice fasting for the soul to transcend the material level and so get spiritually closer to God. Within the Movement there is also a group of academics who together look into many different subjects, each one from the perspective of their own Church. Their approach is one of mutual love, listening, welcome and respect. They pray to perceive and discern how God may view things”.
Claudia Di Lorenzi