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This week The Pilot begins an occasional series on some of the new movements and ecclesial communities that have arisen in the Church. The Holy Father has said these groups are the response of the Spirit to the need for a deep renewal of the life of every baptized person “at the dawn of the new millennium.” The series aims to serve as an introduction to these groups that may be unfamiliar to our readers.
By Meghan Dorney
In the midst of World War II, Chiara Lubich found herself asking “is there an ideal worth living for that cannot be destroyed by war, fighting, and bombs?” She found her answer in God and thus the Focolare Movement of unity began.
Only 23 at the time, Lubich saw that God was love and realized that there was a meaning to the war. She decided to put God first in her life and shared this discovery with her friends.
"How can we love God and put Him first?" they asked themselves and each other. They looked to the Gospels for the answer and were struck by the passages in the Bible in which Jesus spoke of "loving your neighbor as yourself" and "whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me."
The Focolare Movement started out very simply, with Lubich and her friends trying to love one another. They visited refugees, the sick, the wounded, and the poorest people in the city of Trent, Italy, where they lived. When they were forced into air raid shelters for protection from the bombs, they read the Gospels.
"In the bomb shelters, by candle-light, they started reading the Gospels and the words seemed completely new to them although they had some knowledge about the Gospels and Christian life," explained Maria Ferreira, director of the Focolare Movement in the Archdiocese of Boston. "So, little by little, it seemed that Jesus Himself was teaching them how to put into practice each word of the Gospel."
The group of girls who comprised the original movement came across the passage of Scripture in which Jesus prayed for unity saying, “Father, may they all be one.” At that moment the girls felt that they had found their lives’ purpose — to help bring unity to the world.
As they attempted to live this ideal in their daily lives, others began to follow this spirituality of unity and, two months later, over 500 people in Trent — men, women, and children of every social class — joined them.
"What we mean by unity is not a huge tremendous thing, but we mean to try to live like the life of the Trinity here on earth. Therefore, all that is mine is yours, as Jesus says to the Father, which means that we're ready to give everything," said Mary DeRosia, a member of the Focolare Movement. "How we do it is different depending upon what role we have in the movement, but basically the idea is to be empty in front of the other person -- to love them completely, losing yourself."
After the war ended, and with the approval of the local bishop, the Focolare Movement spread to other parts of Italy, then to Europe and to almost every country in the world. The group now has approximately 5 million members worldwide.
In 1961, the Focolare Movement first came to the U.S., starting in New York and then spreading to other cities. In the late 1960s, Cardinal Richard Cushing invited the movement to come to Boston and a number of people began living the spirit of unity here.
During that same time period, members of different Christian denominations began to practice the principles of the Focolare Movement, with over 350 denominations participating today. Ten years later, the movement spread to believers of different faiths, among them Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, and to those of no religious conviction.
"Since the 1970s, [Lubich] had that understanding that this is not just for the Christian world," said Ferreira. "Unity is also for the whole of humanity."
Ferreira explained that the movement grows through personal contact with someone who has begun to live life in the spirit of unity and love. She herself became acquainted with the movement through a classmate when she was 15 years old.
"Basically, it is a lifestyle that speaks for itself, so usually the first contact is at work, at school, or through a relative," Ferreira said.
The Focolare Movement also touches people’s lives through monthly “Word of Life” meetings, in which members meet in a home and receive a passage from the Gospels that they try to put into practice for the month. The same passage, which is taken from one of the Sunday Gospels of that month, is put into practice by everyone involved in the movement.
"They share their experience of living that sentence -- trying to live that phrase of the Gospel concretely in their daily lives," she said. "That's really a way to get the Gospel to become always more part of our lives ... they struggle and they start over again."
Summer gatherings, lasting three to five days, are also a way for members of the Focolare Movement to come together with family and friends. Conventions for the youth are held every five years in Rome, uniting between 16,000 and 20,000 young people trying to live the Focolare lifestyle.
Ferreira is the contact person for the Focolare Movement in New England, which is comprised of roughly 2,000 participants. Together with several other women, she lives in a Focolare center in Newton. Such centers, made up of small communities of lay people, exist all over the world.
Focolare founder Lubich, who is 83, lives in Rome and is still very active in the movement, giving numerous speeches and receiving awards and recognition for her work in promoting unity. She was awarded the Templeton Prize for progress in religion in 1977 and the 1996 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Prize for peace.
Focolare, which means “hearth” in Italian is also know by its formal name the “Work of Mary.” The Holy See first approved the movement in 1962 with its successive developments approved in 1990.
For more information on the Focolare Movement visit: www.focolare.org/en/.