In February a group of religious from various parts of Western Europe came to the Focolare Centre for Unity in Welwyn Garden City for their annual meeting.
The idea behind this meeting was to listen to the theme of the year which is lived by the whole Movement and to deepen the relationships among participants through the sharing of experiences, both formally in the hall, and informally during breaks and meal times. The religious are very keen to let many more religious, both male and female, get to know the charism of unity, so this year they made an open invitation for others to join them, either for the whole meeting, or for the Thursday, when the programme would be particularly for newcomers. In fact, Br David, an Irish Christian Brother, and Sister Jo, a sister of Mercy, both living in Liverpool, though new to this meeting, decided to go the whole hog! The main theme of the year,Maria Voce’s talk on the Church and the Holy Spirit made a deep impression on the participants as did the video of Pope Francis’ visit to the Focolare ‘town’ of Loppiano last May, in Tuscany. But it was perhaps Chiara Lubich’s talk entitled “A Passion for the Church’, which really captured the hearts and minds of all. Though given in 1966, everyone was amazed at how relevant it was for the situation in which the Church finds herself today.
It was the first time that this meeting had been held in Britain and those who came from Spain, where ecumenism is almost non-existent, were struck by the lived ecumenism they witnessed at the Centre for Unity. They were very taken by the experience shared by Jane Evans, a married Anglican focolarina, whose husband is a priest in the Church of England. Sarah Finch, an Anglican focolarina and an actress, told her experience of being invited by the government in Cuba to teach Shakespeare to drama students. What struck the audience was how she was able to communicate the life of the Gospel through her teaching, because she was forbidden to evangelize openly.
There was some very honest and open sharing of the many difficulties encountered by religious orders today: the lack of vocations, aging communities, the abuse scandals and the lack of communion with brothers and sisters in the community. What the meeting gave them was new hope and an understanding of how the charism of unity can shed light on their own charism.
Jonathan Cotton, an English Benedictine who has known the charism of unity for 45 years said: It was a moment for me to touch the presence of God which is the prophetic aim of all consecrated to God for the world and the Church. The men and women focolarini belong to the lay side of the Church; they make this charism from the Holy Spirit their own and it has the same prophetic element as for the charisms of Religious Orders and other charisms.
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