The international Focolare Movement recently met in Rome to celebrate the legacy of their founder and conduct interfaith dialogues. Lawrence Chong, a Singapore representative, shares his experience.
In a family-like atmosphere, more than 250 members of different faiths from 30 nations gathered from March 17 to 19 at Castel Gandolfo near Rome to celebrate the legacy of Chiara Lubich.
As the founder of the Focolare Movement, Ms Lubich had contributed in building unity among people of different religions.
It was the first interreligious conference organised by the Focolare. Prior to this, the Focolare conducted bilateral symposiums with Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims to deepen the already strong friendships formed since the 1980s.
The programme featured numerous testimonials, experiences of mutual love, the spiritual fruits that came out of such encounters. A senior Buddhist monk from Thailand shared how he gained a new understanding about Christianity through an act of love.
Once he was staying with the community of the Focolare in Florence during winter. He had left his pair of dirty sandals outside during the night but the very next morning he found them cleaned.
He was surprised and wondered why anyone would do that. Then he learned from his hosts that for Christians, because God loved them so much that He was willing to die for them, it is this love that inspire them to love others in extraordinary ways. He was so impressed, he returned home and brought other monks to get to know more about the Focolare community in Thailand.
At different sessions, there were videos showing the first encounters, capturing the moments of friendship between the Focolare members. It was like a walk down memory lane and some were clearly moved to see those images. There were also deeply reflective exchanges of spiritual thoughts from many participants.
Because of the atmosphere of trust, everyone felt very comfortable to be distinct in their beliefs while remaining open to listen to the other.
At this meeting, because of the atmosphere of love, there is this great desire to let others speak, the willingness to listen and to build a great relationship. Dr Vinu Aram, a Hindu leader in the interfaith world shared that “everyone felt comfortable to share what is in their hearts because they felt at home”.
A Jewish leader from the United States commented, “The Focolarini should congratulate yourselves, you have managed to gather Jews from different traditions and kept the peace among us.”
When an Imam from Spain needed translation to share with an Italian Catholic, a Jewish Rabbi from Argentina – gifted in languages – jumped in to help. Or when Catholic media wanted to ask a question about the proceedings of the conference, an Iranian professor – a Shia Muslim who teaches at the Pontifical Gregorian University – fluent in Italian was able to sum up beautifully, including the thoughts of others in a succinct and spiritual way.
Right now in Singapore, there is a great amount of friendship between leaders of different faiths and those who are deeply involved. But it is time to go beyond and build sustained friendships between communities, like between a parish and a mosque.
When a spirit of trust is built then it will be easier to have dialogue. Through deeper relationships, it then pushes people to have deeper spiritual sharings.
Through the years, I have learned more about the Church’s teachings on dialogue because the friends that you meet from other faiths make an effort to share about theirs too. So to keep the dialogue going, we have to be constantly ready with our gifts which is our identity and experience as a Christian.
The conclusion of the conference took place in the Pontifical Urbaniana University with more than 500 leaders and personalities in attendance to mark the 6th anni-versary of Chiara’s passing. Different religious personalities such as Rabbi David Rosen, Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee spoke.
The writer is an interreligious representative of the Focolare since 2005, at Religions for Peace, a global interfaith organisation.
The Focolare in Singapore
The Focolare is a lay Catholic movement founded in 1943 in Trent, Italy by Chiara Lubich, who consecrated her life to God and subsequently inspired many young people to do the same.
The charism of the Focolare Movement, officially known in the Church as Opera di Maria (The Work of Mary) is unity.
Today the Movement is present in 194 nations, with more than two million adherents from different vocations – from children and young people to families, priests and the Religious.
The Focolare Movement in Singapore was established in 1991 and has about 100 active members under the zone comprising Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
The group organises activities for young people and families, and annual Mariapolis gatherings are held in June in Johor Bahru. There are also monthly meetings based on the Word of Life, or a phrase from the Gospel.