Joan Patricia Back reports on an international meeting for Christian Unity in May 2021, promoted by the Focolare Movement, on the 60th anniversary of its international ecumenical Centre ‘Centro Uno’.

[New City Magazine – July 2021 pages 14-15]

‘If Christian unity in mutual love has always been necessary, today it is more urgent than ever.’ These words of Pope Francis at this year’s Pentecost vigil recall the heart of the ecumenical movement. Years ago Focolare founder Chiara Lubich said, ‘It would be necessary for Christendom to be invaded by a torrent of love.’ The World Council of Churches is preparing its General Assembly next year on the theme ‘Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.’ How can we not see the action of the Holy Spirit in guiding 21st century Christians on the road to unity?

The Focolare Movement took this path 60 years ago, when Chiara, on the day of the foundation of ‘Centro Uno’ for Christian unity on 26th May 1961, said, referring to the disunity among Christians: ‘God’s will is mutual love. So to heal this rupture it is necessary to love one another.’ The current president of Focolare, Margaret Karram, invited participants at the two-day meeting ‘to love the other’s Church as their own’.

From all over the globe, those who took part in this international meeting for Christian unity held online on 28th – 29th May, were able to see that this has always been Focolare’s characteristic and during these two days the fruits of such engagement were shared. The theme that brought together Christians from many Churches was ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15: 12).

The two key elements of ecumenism

Participants from over 13,000 listening points on the first day and 8,500 on the second, through 20 languages, heard reflections, experiences, songs and took part in a prayer service. The programme followed two ‘tracks’ of this one ecumenical path: ‘dialogue is life’ and the ‘sharing of spiritual gifts’. Two ‘tracks’ empowered by two fundamental points of the spirituality of unity: the presence of Jesus in the midst of Christians united in his love (cf Mt. 18: 20) and love carried to the extreme in Jesus’ cry on the cross (cf Mk 15: 34).

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, highlighted these two elements referring to them as ‘two poles of the charism of unity’: unity and Jesus forsaken as the contribution of Chiara Lubich’s ecumenical spirituality to increase unity among Christians. He confided that he had ‘received much inspiration for my present task’ from her. He conveyed the greetings of Pope Francis who ‘hopes that the reflection on dialogue and the exchange of spiritual gifts, as well as the sharing of the experience of communion lived in these years, will be an encouragement to realise daily Jesus’ prayer to the Father ‘That all may be one’.

These ‘two poles’ were highlighted by other theologians. Catholic professor Piero Coda echoed Chiara’s words referring to the presence of Jesus in the midst:

‘And then it will be he, in the light and power of the Spirit, who will guide us on the path of unity’.

‘Jesus in the midst’ is an expression coined by Chiara that Prof Mervat Kelly of the Syrian Orthodox Church recalled ‘has never been heard before’ even though various Church Fathers have spoken of it. The Evangelical theologian Stefan Tobler pointed out that ‘the Focolare Movement, wanting to support the journey of the Churches, can lead back to an experience that is the foundation, the nourishment of every ecumenical journey.’

The dialogue of life

These and other points of Focolare’s ecumenical spirituality were heard from the mouth of Chiara Lubich herself through a video where she explains the specific of the Focolare contribution to Church unity – which, as she always pointed out, does not exclude other types of contributions, but rather undergirds them all – the ‘dialogue of life’. This video ‘Walking together’ is also a historical documentary that captures 60 years of Focolare’s ecumenical engagement.

Live experiences from Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Congo, USA, Lebanon, Romania, Great Britain1, Ireland, Italy and the project ‘Together for Europe’ validated the ‘dialogue of life’ as a viable way to live unity while walking together.

Receptive ecumenism

The second day was devoted to the theme of exchanging gifts, very topical as it relates to one of the frontiers of today’s ecumenical movement called ‘receptive ecumenism’: the discovery of the gifts that each Church can give and receive in order to build unity among them.

‘I would like us to try together to dream a possible path between the members of the Focolare Movement and those who belong to the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement, identifying some essential elements to put it into action.’

These words come from Mgr Juan Usma Gómez of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, an expert in dialogue with the Charismatic-Pentecostal reality.

Two testimonies from Pentecostal leaders enriched this session, Pastor Giovanni Traettino, founder of the Evangelical Church of Reconciliation in Italy and Pastor Joe Tosini, founder of the John 17 Movement in the United States, with whom this ‘new story’ is already underway. While experiences from Italy where Pentecostals and Focolare members are engaged together in a project of solidarity in their city validated the fruitfulness of the ‘dialogue of life’.

Jesús Moran, co-president of the Focolare Movement speaking of reciprocal love (cf Jn 13: 35) as the strong and credible witness Christians can give to the world today, concluded ‘We only want to give priority to that which has priority, and that is the experience of God which underpins all logic, all preaching about God. It seems to me that in these days we have had this experience, once again, as an immense gift from God.’ And it is precisely from this experience of God-Love that the Movement was born almost 80 years ago.

As Rev Ioan Sauca, acting secretary general of the World Council of Churches, pointed out, love ‘is at the heart of the spirituality of unity of which Chiara has always spoken; that we are all embraced by the love of God in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.’

The evocative image, in the greeting of Margaret Karram, president of the Focolare Movement, was of crossed pieces of wood emanating a single flame. She exhorted us saying ‘May the Holy Spirit burst forth from our mutual love and bring as soon as possible, the miracle of full unity.’ The concluding ecumenical prayer sealed this commitment.

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