Lesley Ellison reports on a meeting in Rome where members of the Focolare, representing many different Christian Churches, were able to share their experiences of being a minority in a mainly Roman Catholic movement.
[New City Magazine – January 2024 page 10-11]
There is a very good question that I like to try out on friends, colleagues or any group I happen to be part of. The interesting thing about it is that people almost invariably come up with the same answer. The question is: What is the opposite of ‘me’? And of course, the obvious answer is ‘you’.
It’s obvious because most of us have lived our entire lives with people who are very different from ourselves, or we’ve lived in a family or within a group of people that is different from other groups. So we tend to think in terms of ‘my idea as opposed to your idea, my country as opposed to your country,’ and so on.
A time for deep listening
For quite a few years now, I have been part of a small group of men and women from a great variety of Churches who live in Focolare communities around the world. We are all very different from each other, in language, culture, history and Church but when we began to meet, we had two things in common: an unconditional love for the charism of unity that lies at the heart of the Focolare spirituality and the fact that we are not Roman Catholics. We live as a minority in a Movement that is predominantly Roman Catholic, and like many minority groups, we have experienced the sad, difficult and sometimes traumatic moments which can occur where there is little understanding or appreciation of the differences that might separate us.
After several meetings together, we began to recognise the need to invite our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters to be part of the journey we were undertaking, and over time we have been able to talk about these painful experiences and share our thoughts and feelings in an atmosphere of deep listening, deep unity and great mutual respect. A completely new kind of unity has grown among us which is quite extraordinary.
Us and ours
Although we are a very ecumenical group, ecumenism as such was not really on our agenda, we hardly ever mentioned it, and yet we were living it – in a new and different way. I think that living the charism of unity, we were discovering another answer to the question above. The opposite of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ is not ‘you’ and ‘yours’. It is ‘us’ and ‘ours’. We were experiencing an ecumenism that was no longer thinking or behaving in terms of ‘us and them’. There was no longer an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ because we found in the charism of unity that we were all ‘us’. It was an ecumenism of ‘us’. We hadn’t lost our identity as Anglican or Catholic or Orthodox or Lutheran, but we had found it enhanced and enriched because we were seeing it through the eyes of the others in the group.
Recently we realised that this experience we were living could not be kept exclusively for ourselves, but should be shared with the whole Focolare Movement and then beyond!
So a gathering was organised in Italy in October for representatives of the youth, volunteers, priests and families who are part of the Movement, where we were able to begin sharing the novelty of our experience.
This meeting has marked a new step for the whole Focolare Movement which will help to take us towards a diverse and often unreconciled world with a genuine, visible message of hope for the unity of the whole of humankind.
And now a glimpse of the meeting through the impressions of some of the people who took part:
It was a historic moment, we were living as the one Church, the Church of the future. It was something prophetic which gave us the certainty that one day, the time will come when we can experience with everyone what we are actually already living.
Carmen, Roman Catholic
I had the impression that we were living the ‘already’ – there is much still to be done, we are not yet there but we were in the ‘already’.
Irma, Roman Catholic
We realised that ‘the Church’ is always bigger than we imagine, bigger than the one we have grown up in. God is so much bigger.
If we put this meeting in the context of the world situation and all that is happening in the world, the unity we have experienced here emerges as something vital, this journey of unity that we are undertaking is a model for everyone.
Maria, Roman Catholic
I was surprised at how very, very different we were. Yet at the level of life we were united, we experienced unity.
I was impressed by the honest expression of discomfort and pain by a number of those participating in the meeting, because they are not recognised as full members of the Movement by the Roman Catholic Church. A focolarina who is a canon lawyer shared at length about the hard work that has been going on since 2011 around this issue. She was very clear about the difficulties, but also very positive about recent developments, in which an attitude of receptive ecumenism allows dialogue to develop, and with it, greater understanding and hope.
Anne, Roman Catholic
A couple of years ago, we had been asked to look forward to what we might experience as a Movement in 50 years’ time, and at that time, I had written that we would be speaking of ‘one Church’. After this meeting I can see that this is more of a possibility, more of a reality amongst us – not structurally but as a reality. I think this comes from the prophetic experience we lived and continue to live together, based on so much charity, based on Jesus forsaken. It was transformative. I saw it in the meeting, and I think it will continue to transform us. It will relate to the Movement not just in terms of understanding one another as coming from different Churches, but also understanding one another in the fullest sense. So it will relate to our governance, to all our relationships together. A lot to do, but a great glimpse of hope for the future!
Photos: ©CSC Audiovisivi