Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 4, 2005
Focolare unites in God's love
Universal brotherhood movement embraces 5 million people in 182 nations
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
In the midst of the destruction and hopelessness of the Second World War, a group of young women gathered around Chiara Lubich, a 23-year-old teacher and devout Catholic from northern Italy.
The group was bound together by the women's faith and their experience that God is love. That experience radically changed the women's lives leading them to live as persons whose actions and thoughts would be based on the Gospel.
Their goal became one of striving towards the fulfillment of Jesus' prayer to the Father: "May they all be one" (John 17:21).
That's how the Focolare Movement was born in Trent, Italy, in 1943. Today, this movement, which promotes the ideals of unity and universal brotherhood, is active in 182 nations, including Canada, and reaches over five million people.
About a million people in Italy alone belong to the movement.
In Alberta, there are more than 100 members, 65 of whom gathered at Kamp Kiwanis Centre June 23-26 to deepen their faith and learn how to better live their lives according to the Gospel.
The annual gathering, one of four in Canada this summer, is called Mariapolis in honour of Mary the Mother of God, who is seen as a model of how to live as Christians in the world today.
Beyond the global village: building the global family was the central theme of the Mariapolis, which featured talks, documentary videos, sharing of life experiences, reflections on spirituality, daily Mass and entertainment.
The gathering strengthened the commitment of participants to put into practice Jesus' commandment "Love one another as I have loved you," which is at the heart of the Focolare spirituality, said Edmonton's Paul Flaman, who emceed parts of the event. "The practice of this commandment brings about a real conversion and if we fail (to live by it), we are encouraged to start to love again."
Gospel in action
Flaman, a lay theologian and professor at St. Joseph's University College, facilitates a 13-member Focolare group in Edmonton and attended the Mariapolis along with 10 other Edmonton members.
His wife Maggie and their three children are also part of the group, which comes together once a month to examine ways of renewing society in their workplace or environment.
He described Focolare, whose name comes from the Italian word for fire, as one of several movements or types of spirituality that have done much in this century for lay men and women to deepen and enrich their Christian lives.
"It's mainly a spirituality whose focus is on basically putting the Gospel into practice," he said. "It tries to promote union with God first of all, union among the members and in our families."
On the vigil of Pentecost 1998, during a meeting of ecclesial movements and new communities with Pope John Paul II, Lubich agreed with the pope that love is the "inspiring spark" of all that is done under the name of Focolare.
"(Love) is the driving force of our movement," she told the pope. "In fact, the Focolare Movement is called to bring an invasion of love into the world."
There are many ways to belong to the movement, ranging from a more committed lifestyle in small communities to collaboration in its various activities. The movement is made up of persons of all ages, races and walks of life. It is ecumenical and inter-faith. Members of the world's religions as well as persons of no religious affiliation also participate in the life of the movement to varying degrees.
That's a result of the movement having initiated significant dialogues with people of other faiths over the years, including Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.
Focolare has a number of movements within itself. One is made up of politicians who, in spite of being from different parties, try to work together to respond to the needs of people, Flaman explained.
This movement, called Movement for Unity in Politics, is present in over 40 countries.
There are also business people within Focolare trying to promote what is known as the economy of communion. These people are creating a "culture of giving" within their business and beyond, noted Flaman.
This movement now encompasses close to 800 businesses in the world, most of which give a third of their profits to respond to the needs of the poor.
Over the years, Focolare has sent volunteer teams to all parts of the world where there is a need. The movement currently has over 1,000 social welfare projects active worldwide.
A team of doctors and nurses from Focolare played a crucial role in helping eradicate malaria and sleeping sickness from an African tribe a few years ago, noted Flaman. He said despite the fact team members didn't preach, most of the members of the African tribe ended up becoming Christians and embracing the Focolare spirituality.
Flaman joined the Focolare movement in Edmonton in 1979 after visiting a Focolare town of 600 people called Loppiano near Florence, Italy, while he was studying theology in Rome.
"I was stunned by the happiness of the people there and I also felt really loved by them," he recalled. "I noted no tension among the people. They are all committed to doing God's will."
Nearly 800 people live in Loppiano today and more than half of them are people from other countries who are doing formation.
"In this town, they really try to put into practice the social teaching of the Church," he said.
Currently 33 little towns like Loppiano around the world are striving to be an example of a society renewed by the Gospel message of unity.
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