Tell us about your family?
I was born in Haifa, Israel, the daughter of Palestinian parents. I met the Focolare Movement when I was 14 years old and it attracted me so much that I have been involved with it ever since.
Have there been any significant moments in your life?
One of many happened when I was five years old. Our home was in the city of Haifa, in the Galilee region, in an all-Jewish neighbourhood. When I went outside to play, there were Jewish children who would often insult us. One time they insulted us so much that I came home crying because I felt so hurt and angry, and I thought I would never be able to play with them again. My mum said: ‘Now dry your tears, then go outside and call these children and invite them to our house.’ I remember it as if it were today. I had to get over my ego, my anger, to go and tell those children to come to my house. When they arrived, my mother was making Arabic bread and she gave some to each of them to take home.
This made their parents, especially the mothers, aware of my mother and our family. They were amazed at this small gesture and came to say thank you. Therefore for me it was a significant event in my life, because it taught me that not only words are important but that a small gesture of love towards my neighbour, even if they are different from me, or an enemy, can overcome fear and build peace.
So you learned to dialogue through life starting from when you were a child?
Exactly, since I was a child, because my city was a place where three religions coexisted, and we lived together in peace. When I was at school in my town, we were all Arabs, half Christian of various rites and half Muslim. Therefore, from the time I was 6-18, I grew up next to Muslims. This was not a dialogue based on study, it was a dialogue of daily life. It had a real impact on my life.
Is there a phrase from the Gospel that has guided you throughout your life?
‘To those who love me I will manifest myself’ (cf Jn 14: 21). I have experienced this many times when I didn’t know what to do, and I felt that, if I loved I would know what to do. This has always been a guide in my life.
How did you feel when you saw your election as President approaching?
When I saw that my name was coming up – I have to be honest – I was trembling. I had a lot of emotions and also the ‘fear of God’, especially in the face of such a complex beautiful Movement, so diverse and so international.
However, along with this emotion, I felt an inner strength that I’m sure came from the Holy Spirit, because I’d invoked him all day – and not only me. I knew that all over the world people were praying for the Assembly and for these elections.
I said ‘Here I am’ because I felt that first of all it was a call from God. I responded to his call to be like Mary, a servant of the Movement, a servant for everyone – not to govern such a great Movement, because it is not a human invention. It is not an organisation but a charism which contains the most varied people, young and old, throughout the world. Not only Catholics but also various Churches, religions… and so I said that I wanted to be the servant of everyone and to be able to learn from everyone. I asked God to be his instrument.
What do you think this election might mean for your country and how this news was received by Palestinians and Israelis?
I think with great joy, also with great pride, because many have written to me: representatives of the Churches, the Patriarch. Many Jews congratulated me and told me: ‘Courage, we are with you, because we know you and we support you.’
What are your hopes and fears in taking on this responsibility?
My hope is that in the Movement we will be able to live ‘being a family’, that is, to put into practice the heritage of Chiara Lubich. We need to have relationships like brothers and sisters, not letting anyone pass by us without having experienced the warmth of the family. Even if someone leaves the Movement, may they feel loved. I hope there will be a spirit of charity, humility, that loves the other person beyond mistakes, beyond everything, a true love that expects nothing and which forgives.
The new generations place great importance on care of the environment. What will the Focolare Movement do about this theme that was also discussed during the Assembly?
Youth feel very strongly about the environment and we must support them in this desire. There will certainly be a concrete commitment to the care of creation and to continuing the projects that the young people are carrying out with ‘Dare to Care’. I foresee that concrete actions will be taken on at a global level, not only local, and will impact on the way we live.
The current pandemic has changed the world and has changed all of us. What is the response of the Focolare Movement to what we are experiencing?
The Movement has begun to react to the challenge of the pandemic, first of all with a communion of material goods, and by sharing the skills we have to support others.
Our organisations such as AMU and AFN are supporting many projects triggered by the pandemic. I hope we can do much more, because the pandemic has changed our lives economically, health-wise and, most importantly, I think it will teach us how to be close to people. Perhaps we learned that already, but we have to learn it more and more, because being close to people is the most important thing we can do: to be close to the people who are suffering, whether it’s because of the pandemic, poverty and many other problems caused by this disease or by the death of so many people.
How can the ideals of the Focolare Movement be made more attractive to young people?
What comes to mind is Chiara Lubich’s meditation ‘The attractiveness of modern times’: to penetrate the highest contemplation, but to remain mixed in with the crowd, person to person, to share their joys and sorrows, whatever our neighbours need. In order to bring light to humanity, we also need to be contemplative in some way. If we want to be attractive, if we want to set an example, I think we must know how to kneel.
Photo: © CSC Audiovisivi