Interview with the President of the Focolare on the decree of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life on the turnover of leaders governing lay associations.
Encourage leadership turnover. On June 3 a Decree approved by Pope Francis was promulgated by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life that regulates the length of mandates of leadership roles within international associations. A single mandate can last at most five years up to a maximum of ten consecutive years. This is the indicated norm (with relative specific insights, including possible dispensations for founders), while a detailed explanatory note helps to understand the spirit of the measures: to foster greater ecclesial communion, broader synodality, an authentic spirit of service, to avoid personalism, abuses of power, and to increase missionary enthusiasm and a genuine gospel lifestyle. We discussed the decree with the President of the Focolare, Margaret Karram.
Did the decree of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life concerning the turnover of leadership roles in lay associations come as a surprise to you?
We weren’t expecting a decree of this nature at this time, but the content didn’t surprise us. A process has been under way for a number of years in the Focolare Movement that takes into account the turnover in roles of government. This applies at the international centre and in the countries where we are present, putting limits to the length of mandates. The Decree showed us once again that the Church is a mother. In taking care of associations like ours, the Church accompanies and helps every reality to find organizational forms that allow it to remain faithful to its own charism and mission, in keeping with the journey of the Church in today’s world. For this reason, we fully welcome the spirit of the Decree and all it has determined, which also chimes with the open reflection in the Movement on representativeness in the governing bodies that we have already shared with the Dicastery.
The opening paragraph of the Decree states that: “The international associations of the faithful and their internal government have been the object of particular reflection and a consequent discernment by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life”. Do you perceive therefore some concern about movements in general? And towards the Focolare Movement?
I would say that the Dicastery is certainly paying particular attention to the Movements, and we can witness to this, bearing in mind that it is its particular task. Then, as they are such a varied reality, the Dicastery is sure to have some concerns. The Decree itself emphasises the “flourishing” of these associations and recognizes the fact that they have brought “an abundance of graces and apostolic fruits for the Church and the world of today”. It is not the Church’s intention to curb the charismatic drive of the movements, their innovative strength and their missionary impact. It wants to help them achieve their specific aims which are always directed towards the good of people, of the Church and of society. The Decree offers structural elements that can help reduce some of the dangers by limiting the time a person can hold positions of government. However, I do not see in these interventions a particular focus on the Focolare Movement, also because a turnover in leadership roles is already included in our Statutes .
In his address to the participants in the III World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities in November 2014, Pope Francis pointed out a method for reaching the ecclesial maturity also hoped for by his two predecessors: “Do not forget, … that to reach this goal, conversion must be missionary: the strength to overcome temptations and insufficiencies comes from the profound joy of proclaiming the Gospel, which is the foundation of your charisms”. What do you think about this?
I agree fully! What the Pope has called for requires a twofold commitment: it is necessary always to return to the Gospel, to the Word of God and to be aware that the charism of one’s founder is nothing more than a new and modern reading of the words of Jesus, illuminated by a gift of the Spirit, which enables them to be lived from a particular standpoint. We must therefore take into account that a spirituality, which is born of a charism, is a way of proclaiming the Gospel and therefore of working for the good of the Church and of humanity.
Is healthy generational change and a turnover of people in leadership roles enough to ensure there is synodal government, carried out in a spirit of service and hence avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, from personalism to abuses of power?
I would say that this cannot be enough if real, lasting and fruitful cultural change is to be achieved. I think we should first ask ourselves what is the purpose of leadership in an association like ours. Although generational change and avoiding past mistakes are important, these are not the aims. The main purpose of our leadership – as I think is true of every ecclesial movement – is to ensure that the movement goes forward and develops in the genuine spirit of its own charism, following the design that flows from it and fulfilling the purposes for which the Holy Spirit gave it life. The decree itself emphasizes that “government within the associations of the faithful be exercised in coherence with their ecclesial mission, as a service ordered to realising their own purposes and to the good of their members”. It is a work of continuous updating, improvement and renewal which requires above all a conversion of hearts to the Gospel and to one’s own charismatic roots. Generational change in governing bodies, through a frequent turnover in leadership roles, can enable the updating of an association, and can help to avoid – as the explanatory note from the Dicastery says – forms of appropriation of the charism, personalisation, centralisation and expressions of self-referentiality, which can easily cause serious violations of personal dignity and freedom, and even real abuses.” But a turnover in leadership roles alone does not guarantee a correct exercise of power. We need other elements that we have been implementing and continuously improving for several years, such as a path of spiritual and human formation to a coherent leadership, to a gospel lifestyle and to one’s own charism. Therefore it is a style of government that highlights community discernment, with new forms of accompaniment and synodal methodologies for the choice of candidates for positions of leadership.
Specifically, in three years’ time, several of the people elected at the General Assembly last February will have to be replaced. Do you already have an idea of how to proceed, also in order to modify the current Statutes which provide for six years as the duration of office and the possibility of a second term?
We are already in line with some of the points made in the new Decree, especially as regards the maximum limit of two consecutive mandates for leadership roles. What needs to be changed now is the duration, from 6 to 5 years. We had already started the process of setting up a commission for the necessary revision of various points in our Statutes, to which is now added as a priority the work of adaptation according to the Decree. It is a task that we want to do calmly and carefully, because we would like not only to accept these new norms simply as stated, but also and above all to accept their spirit and to study well how to apply them not only regarding central and international bodies, but on a large scale, also in the local governing of territorial centres. In any case, we would like to do everything in dialogue with the Dicastery, studying some specific aspects and some areas of doubt. They have specifically said that they are ready to listen to us on any issues.
When Pope Francis met the participants in the General Assembly, he highlighted some issues to which particular attention should be paid: self-referentiality, the importance of crises and knowing how to manage them well, coherence and realism in living spirituality and synodality. What has been done or will be done to follow up on these points?
We consider Pope Francis’ speech to the participants at the General Assembly as a programmatic document, together with the final document of the Assembly itself. With great joy we see how much the study and research of ways of applying these two documents are bearing fruit in the various geographical areas in which our Movement is present. Two central points are emerging: attentive listening to the cry of suffering humanity that surrounds us, in which we rediscover the face of Jesus crucified and forsaken, and a new family spirit in our Movement, beyond all subdivisions. This expresses the core of our spirituality: to offer the world a model of life in the style of that of a family; that is, brothers and sisters on a universal level, linked together by fraternal love for every man and woman and preferential love for those who suffer most, for those most in need.
What is the style and the methods of this new leadership of the Focolare Movement? What is new in Margaret Karram’s heart?
I feel it is particularly important, within the leadership of the Movement, to have an experience of “synodality”. This means conducting everything in a spirit of listening and to restore to interpersonal relationships that gospel based fraternal love, of truth and charity, that also illuminates the place that belongs to each person, that is, the central one. For example, as the General Council, we have just had the wonderful experience of listening to those responsible for the territorial areas of the Movement all over the world . They are the ones who are at the grassroots; they know the potential, the needs and the cultural and anthropological characteristics of our communities. Listening to them, what emerged was all the liveliness and creativity of “Chiara’s people”, who want to take on board the different forms of disunity and heal the wounds of humanity around them. Perhaps it is not even necessary that the International Centre should always give directives or guide the path of the Movement. What matters is that the Centre always guarantees the unity of the entire Movement and that it highlights what the Holy Spirit is gradually showing us all.
Source: Città Nuova