By Deb Warrier
It takes a rare individual to inspire 5 million people to embrace the ideal of spiritual unity.
Yet Chiara Lubich did just that by establishing the Focolare movement. It had humble beginnings in 1943 in Trent, Italy where a young Chiara and her friends chose to live lives focused on the Gospel. Since then the lay movement has bridged gaps between individuals, groups, movements, associations, Catholics, Christians of different churches, priests, religious, and followers of other religions as well as people of good will with no religious affiliation.
Focolare means “hearth” or “family fireside.” The imagery created by the definition is a warm and inviting one. Chiara’s death on the 14th of March this year far from signifying the end of the movement according to members Brian and Denise Mills.
“Chiara was the founder of the Focolare and had the charism of unity given to her from God. The charism and statutes remain. Her spirit goes on in all of us,” said Brian.
Brian and Denise have been married for 48 years. They have six children all of whom are married and seventeen grandchildren. They have been with the Focolare movement since 1973. Recently they spoke to The Record regarding the movement which for them has become a way of life.
Central to the spirituality of the movement is the awareness that Jesus is in our midst. In Matthew’s Gospel he recounts Jesus’ words to the apostles, “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20). The acknowledgment of the silent “Witness” is a constant reminder to act as He would. This openness to God and each other when there is conflict leads to what Brian referred to as the “third solution” that promotes unity. According to Brian and Denise being a part of the Focolare movement has enabled them to practise reciprocal love, albeit with human limitations.
Christ’s example of total love for the other was demonstrated by His willingness to suffer and die for us. Living by that example is the challenge. “When I wake up in the morning I say the Divine Offering and promise the Lord everything. Sometimes I get as far as the door and I’ve already fallen down! The grace of the present moment is that we can always start again immediately,” Denise said.
The couple explained that the movement is Gospel focused and has a Marian
devotion. Members receive a monthly leaflet called, “Word of Life” which is a
a reflection on a passage taken from the Gospel. There is a commitment to mutual and constant charity and the desire to be a continuation of Mary’s presence on earth. Having love for Jesus and seeing Him in others leads the Focolare to seek detachment from everything around them and themselves. They believe that this is necessary to obtain unity on a supernatural level.
Pope John Paul II spoke of a New Evangelization that began with evangelizing ourselves and announcing that humanity is loved by God. The Focolare believe they have responded to that call by what they refer to as the Spirituality of Communion which is expressed in the ‘Art of Christian Loving.’ This requires: seeing Jesus in every person, loving others without exception, being the first to love, making ourselves one with others, loving our enemies, reciprocating love, loving to the point of self denial and sacrifice by loving Jesus Crucified and Forsaken in one’s own suffering. They also evangelize by announcing the Word in such ways as: monthly leaflets, a monthly world wide telephone link-up, meetings, congresses and some 170 Mariapolises which are held every summer in various nations, and in 20 permanent towns in every continent of the world.
“Mariapolis means the City of Mary and is the annual gathering of Focolare members,” said Brian. His wife continued, “The people come for a few days and live together. Everyone can come to a Mariapolis. They will experience the presence of Jesus in their midst.” The emphasis is on living the Gospel together and creating a relaxed family environment. There are talks, drama, music, witnessing and prayer. Denise added that if participants were experiencing problems in their own lives before they came, they were able to start again with lessons learnt from the Mariapolis.
The couple spoke of men and women who consecrated their lives to God through the movement. Men who made this decision are referred to as Focolarini (singular: focolarino) and women are referred to as Focolarine (singular: focolarina). They follow the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. They commit themselves with private vows. These men live communally as do the women.
There is no expectation that members will make that lifestyle choice. Those that do are called to that vocation, concurred Brian and Denise. Single young members are referred to as the ‘Gen’ short for ‘generazione nuova.’ This means in English ‘new generation’ as it is renewed by the life of the Gospel. The Focolare movement has no initiation process or eligibility requirements. Those wanting to join need only get in touch with their local Men’s or Women’s Focolare. In Perth the local Men’s Focolare is in Bayswater and the contact number is: 6278 3425. The Women’s Focolare is in Nollamara and the contact number is: 9349 4052.
The Catholic Church gave statutes of the Focolare movement approval firstly in 1964 and more recently in 1990. In 1998 Pope John Paul II gathered 300, 000 representatives of 60 Ecclesial Movements and New Communities at the Vatican for their 1st World Congress. The Focolare movement was present amongst those acknowledged for their contribution to this dialogue and cooperation within the Catholic Church.
Focolare is a nickname that stuck for the movement whose actual name is The Work of Mary. The Focolare believe that a Marian devotion is highly compatible with the divine model of unity, the Forsakened and Crucified Christ. Through our own suffering we come to know Him and like Mary we can then be a conduit to others. This perspective can be summarized even more succinctly using Denise’s words. She said, “We have to be what Mary was – bringing people to Jesus through our lives.”