In preparation for the General Assembly of the Focolare Movement, New City caught up with the President, Maria Voce (Emmaus), and the Co-President, Jesús Morán. (Part 1 – 2)

[New City Magazine – January and February 2020]

Maria, you were the first president since the death of the founder Chiara Lubich in 2008. How did you approach this new role?

Maria Voce: Right from the start I understood that I could not be another Chiara Lubich. I felt free to be myself, always drawing on her teachings, but without copying her style. I would always ask myself: ‘what would Chiara do to give light to her charism, responding to the needs of today?’

Eleven years is a long time to be the President. How did you live that experience

Maria Voce: When I realized that the Assembly in 2008 was focusing on my name for election, I was very afraid! I asked Chiara, in front of her tomb, if this is what she wanted. But then I felt as if she were answering me: ‘I have put Jesus forsaken in front of you. Do you want to withdraw from loving him?’ I felt that Chiara entrusted the Movement to me with the face of Jesus abandoned, that I had to embrace and love. Over the years, many times I had the impression that this task was too heavy for me. But every time I felt Chiara helping me from heaven and that I could also count on the unity of many many people. In fact, Chiara left a well-formed body, the Work of Mary (the official name of the Focolare), which supported me. When I think of the journeys and problems I have faced without being overwhelmed, I understand that there has also been a grace, day by day.

How would you describe the Movement at that time?

Maria Voce: A little scared and worried about how to move forward. You can understand: the foundress was dead, and in the last four years she hadn’t been well. There was a sense of abandonment, of being orphaned, of disorientation. I had to accompany this pain, but also try to help everyone move on from that uncertainty. My first trip after the election was to Fontem in the Cameroons, West Africa, as they wanted to celebrate the ‘end of mourning day’ with me, according to their tradition. On that occasion we were suffering because of Chiara’s death, but now I felt she was asking us to look to the future. Africa helped me to take this step, together with the whole Movement.

How is the Movement today?

Maria Voce: More tranquil and serene. In these eleven years we have all shared more collectively in being responsible for the life of the Movement. Each one of us felt that we were involved in the difficulties, but also convinced that together we could overcome these obstacles. No one in the Focolare feels alone, at least I hope not. This is my experience: a united family gives me the certainty that we can forge ahead.

How was your experience as co-chairman?

Jesús Morán: At first I felt a great sense of inadequacy. Even in front of Maria, I was daunted by her experience and maturity. However, it became easier, especially because of the unity with Maria and the counsellors, here in the Centre.
In recent years I have felt supported by the ‘grace of state’, a reality that we should always value, while also being aware that this concept can be abused. However, I have experienced this grace as a great support in my role to date.

Maria Voce: I would like to add an important concept: the sense of serving a work of God. This puts you in an attitude of gratitude, a great serenity, for which, even though there are so many problems, you do everything with joy because you know that you are serving a work of God. The President is not ‘the one who commands’, but ‘the one who loves the great family of this Movement’. She feels the burdens and the sufferings – sometimes she doesn’t know what to do, but she always tries to live in an attitude of motherhood towards everyone, even towards those who perhaps make you suffer or even betray you.

How do you see your role as Co-Chairman?

Jesús Morán: Pasquale Foresi (the first co-president) was a model for me, without wanting to compare myself to him. With his writings and speeches, he always tried to mediate, to embody the charism of Chiara, both in terms of ecclesial and social developments. I too have tried to do this, helped by the love of those around me.

What do you feel sorry for not having been able to complete?

Maria Voce: Two points above all. The first is the recognition by the Roman Catholic Church of the full membership of all those who belong to and work tirelessly for the Movement – whatever Church they belong to. Evidently, the Movement has not yet succeeded in fully expressing the unity that already exists, beyond denominational differences. On this point we continue to work, but with peace, understanding that for God, everything has its own time. The second point is the incardination of priests. We have focolarini who, in order to become priests, must be adopted by a diocese, which can then make them available to the Movement. However, this is always a temporary arrangement and not well defined. We would like these priests to be recognized and incardinated within the Movement.

Jesús Morán: A third point not yet fully developed is the education and formation of our young people. We want to develop a programme of formation for young people which transmits the charism of unity. It needs to ‘fill all the dimensions of man’, as the Pope said in Loppiano. This must involve the head, the heart and the hands. Chiara achieved a great deal in this area, but we need to bring it up to date to reflect today’s situation. We have made important progress with regard to children and adolescents. However, there is much more to do for the older youth, who can become the most disoriented and suffer because of this. At present we are focusing on formation for those who accompany and support our young people.

The 2nd part of the interview (February 2020):

 In the last 5 years, where have you focused your energies?

Maria Voce: Developing what we call the ‘new setup’. We saw a real need due to the decrease in the number of men focolarini, and the impossibility of going ahead without making significant changes.

The solution was to ‘open’ the doors of the Focolare, both to invite the other vocations to help develop the Movement, and to widen our gaze, from specific geographical areas to the needs of the whole world. We will always be few focolarini, but if we share responsibilities, we can do more.

Over the years we realized that it was an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Now, we see that this action has broadened our hearts. It is therefore not an organizational response, but a way of responding to our vocation of ‘that all may be one’, asked by Jesus of the Father. To respond to this vocation, we must look to the needs of those around us, but at the same time understand that we are doing something for all humanity. At the beginning some people were disorientated, but the act of abolishing barriers, of thinking of larger ‘zones’ (perhaps composed of various nations), helped to keep our eyes fixed on our goal of unity. It is an ongoing process. Over the years we will have to find new ways to carry forward our vision, to look further, to go further afield. Each ‘zone’ must look for the best way to achieve this. This can be supported by the media, such as conference calls, but above all by widening our hearts.

In addition to the ‘new set-up’ what have been the other challenging situations in recent years?

Jesús Morán: Some parts of the Movement are in economic difficulty. In continuing with them as they are, without changing them, we have made several mistakes. We have understood that a charismatic drive is not enough. We also need competence and professionalism.
However, the most important thing is not to deny the charism, otherwise we fall into dynamics which do not reflect the Gospel, and actually cause failure because relationships collapse. Ultimately, this is the current challenge.

Maria Voce: The greatest commitment, here, is precisely to rebuild relationships, mutual trust, unity. In practice, to return to the ‘abc’ of our ideal of unity.

How are you living this year of preparation for the Assembly?

Maria Voce: We must aim for radicality, mutual love, to keep alive the presence of Jesus among us – for strong relationships of unity with all. And even before that, to deepen our relationship with God through prayer. This should be a year of meditation, of prayer, of deepening the charism of unity. The more the Movement grows in this relationship with God and in trinitarian relationships, the more it will have the grace to elect the right president and the right counsellors.

What would you suggest to the next President and Co-President?

Maria Voce: I would say to her: ‘don’t worry, you will have the grace. You don’t have to do what Chiara did, nor what I did, but what you think is right. Listening to the Holy Spirit, trusting in unity with the Co-President and councillors. Trusting in the grace that everyone has, whatever their experience.’

Jesús Morán: I would advise the co-president first of all to aim for unity with the President. More: to love her. Then, to trust in the grace that goes with the role, more than oneself.

Maria Voce, how was your relationship with the Popes?

Maria Voce: I met Benedict XVI after a trip to China. Before going I asked him if I could bring his blessing to the Chinese people, so I felt the need to tell him how it had gone. I had the impression of a person who emptied himself, who understood in depth even what I couldn’t express. A person with exceptional intelligence and ability, both sharp and mild at the same time.
Pope Francis, joked with me from the first moment we met. I would say that there is a strong fraternal relationship. On more than one occasion I understood that he felt supported by the Focolare Movement. There is a relationship of closeness, I feel when I go to see him that I want to give him joy, to tell him that we are there for him.

What gifts do the Movement give to the Church?

Maria Voce: A great contribution that we give are our ‘life experiences’. Today, there is no meeting (even in society) where experiences of life are not shared. This is the result of focusing, not only on the love of God, but also on the love of one’s neighbour. Fifty years ago the life of the Church was directed towards personal asceticism, while today it looks more to its neighbour, to those in need.

Jesús Morán: On the ecclesial level the first key to evangelization is ‘witness’, on the civil level we speak of ‘good practice’. Another contribution we have made, at the ecclesial level, is the ‘Marian principle’, which involves both the role of the laity in the Church and the role of women. Chiara was a great woman of the Church in the 20th century, but the configuration of the Movement today, with equality between men and women, is also a notable contribution.
The Focolare Movement is also recognized for its capacity for ‘dialogue’ with other charisms in the ecumenical, interreligious and cultural spheres with non-believers. We are very much at the beginning, but these principles are now the heritage of the Church and of society. It is the culture of unity… It depends on us.

Maria Voce: It depends on us, but we feel that the charism has a prophetic charge capable of involving many others, even outside the Movement. Therefore, we cannot complete this cultural revolution alone, and others cannot do it without us, because Chiara’s charism lives in the Focolare, the Work of Mary.

We are approaching the centenary of Chiara’s birth. What are your hopes for this event?

Maria Voce: I hope that the people who will participate in the various events will encounter not a great person from the past, but a living reality in the people of the Movement. The important thing is that, through Chiara’s charism, they meet God.

Jesús Morán: We hope that it will be a moment of self-awareness and a moment of new beginnings also for the members of the Movement. We need to take up the charism again with more impetus to be at the service of society and the Church. We need to find new ways to present it, especially to young people. I believe that art, in this sense, can be incredibly effective

Maria Voce: To know Chiara means to enter into her relationship with God. She was always in conversation with God. When she asked me: ‘Maria, what have you done today?’, she meant: ‘What has the charism inside you done today?’. Everyone should rediscover their relationship with Chiara in this way. In the past we have been accused of excessive personality worship, so perhaps now, at times, we fall into the opposite extreme. However, Chiara’s words are alive and dynamic today and need to be heard as new!

view the complete article in PDF format, 1st and 2nd parts:

[New City Magazine – January 2020, page 8-9]

[New City Magazine – February 2020, page 14-16]

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