A Worldwide Relay; Fan Recalls Von Galen

Focolare Group Does Its Part in Rome

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By Catherine Smibert

ROME, OCT. 13, 2005 (Zenit.org).- With peace banners in hand, along with balls, skipping ropes, musical instruments, ribbons and bicycles, the 1,000 youth parading toward St. Peter’s Square last Sunday created quite a spectacle.

The group was part of Run4Unity, a program involving 10- to 17-year-olds and designed to build a more fraternal world.

It was a worldwide marathon, which launched World Unity Week and began at 11 a.m. local time in the Pacific island of New Caledonia. The relay continued to pass throughout more than 250 cities, from Oceania, to Asia, Africa, the Middle East and onto Europe and the Americas.

Apart from the international flavor, it was not your typical sporting event as there was only one trophy to be shared — peace.

Coordinated by the Generation 3/Youth for Unity, a group of the Focolare Movement aimed at promoting peace through dialogue, each country participated by running their own races, and «passing the baton» via Web links and telephone calls.

The zones in which the youth carried out their pursuits were carefully chosen. They traversed areas that held particular significance in the history of both tragic events and reconciliation. Some included the Western Wall of Jerusalem, the pyramids of Egypt and, of course, St. Peter’s Square.

Many groups made efforts to stop at the headquarters of local and international institutions to present a variety of concrete proposals for peace. They also raised money for the education of their poorer peers.

Under the motto «Let Our Cities Live Again,» the day emphasized the world as a playing field where every member exercises the values of sportsmanship.

The director of the Rome organizing committee, Tiziana Nicastro, told me: «They played through their respective lands to ask that universal brotherhood become a reality as soon as possible. It’s the kind of brotherhood witnessed when practicing sport and emphasizing fair play, respect and the difficulty but value of being happy for someone else’s victory … they are all skills to live by.»

The idea for the event came about when Focolare founder Chiara Lubich called on youth after their 2002 Youth for Unity event in the Colosseum to «cover the world with a rainbow to bring about universal fraternity.»

Lubich reminded participants that, sports can become a common element that «generates closeness and peace among peoples and nations.» She added that the «losers learned the value of their suffering and defeat, because the Son of God himself has given value to these.»

But, as the world is rather large, covering it in a rainbow proved a distinct logistical challenge — one overcome by clever use of communicative technology.

Liz Taite, who organized the London troupe, explained: «We were able to access material and see stunning scenes that had been put on the net from other countries after completing their one-hour slot while we were still sleeping; we then showed them to the young people prior to receiving our telephone call from Paris to say that they were passing the baton onto us.»

One scene that moved participants was that of Benedict XVI speaking of the initiative at his Angelus address.

«Hearing the Holy Father’s important message was very inspiring,» Nicastro insisted. «It was highly appropriate for the kids involved as it mirrors our Christian objective to look to Jesus as a model by which to construct fraternity in the world.»

Taite added: «To hear the words of Pope Benedict just confirmed our commitment to continue to get to know our brothers and sisters of different creeds while following the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do to you so as to work together for the common good of humanity.»

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A Lion’s Human Side

I had a chance to speak with many of the pilgrims visiting Rome for the beatification of German Cardinal Clemens August von Galen (1878-1946). But with one of the most interesting fans of this blessed, I was only able to meet by phone.

She is 93-year-old Ingrid Thurmann, a Protestant linguistics professor who served the bishop of Muenster as an interpreter and translator on his national and international visits after World War II.

After the «long, dreadful war,» Thurmann recalled, «I am so thankful for the job I did; that gave me the opportunity to meet him.» She fondly remembered «the memories of our time working together.»

Though outspoken in many ways — he was nicknamed the «Lion» for his attacks on Nazism — Bishop von Galen also showed a certain reserve, his colleague said.

«From my knowledge of von Galen’s family, I understood how difficult it was for a child with 12 sisters and brothers — he was left often in the background, I believe,» Thurmann said. «The result was that he wasn’t much of a talker. Yet he had his opinion on everything.

«When I looked at his lips when he said something, one knew exactly if he was agreeing with the subject brought up or whether he did not.»

Thurmann, who lived and studied in Muenster for some years, reckons that she «learned more about my environment and about the faith of my Catholic companions than I had ever before through his words and even just his way of being.»

«I remember when we traveled miles in the little Volkswagen car, we didn’t speak much, but he always made you feel that he understood you,» Thurmann said. «This is an important element for a bishop, that he may understand the simple people as well.»

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Pilgrims’ Progress

The Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (Roman Pilgrimage Work, or ORP) is also known as the Vatican travel agency. It offers a variety of pilgrimage trips under various themes and devotions.

Now, it is launching travel options under the theme «Pilgrimage: A Route Toward Unity.»

This complements its current work of promoting and organizing pilgrimages and other initiatives of Christian mercy at the shrines of Lourdes, Fatima, Santiago de Compostela, Czestochowa and the Holy Land.

In a press conference Tuesday in their Vicariate of Rome offices, ORP directors presented their new pilgrimages, which include journeys to towns in Italy, to Eastern Europe and even to Islamic nations.

«Our existences in today’s world tend to be schizophrenic and egotistical, so we want to especially create spaces and moments to allow for occasions of feelings of respect and awe in the presence of God and our fellow man,» said Monsignor Andreatta Liberio, chairman of the event and delegated administrator for ORP.

The ORP team believes that pilgrimages can offer a road to unity and a chance for even non-practicing tourists to experience something deeper.

The general director of ORP, Father Caesar Atuire, explained that the group’s unifying mission is vital as more open dialogue naturally occurs when people go on pilgrimage.

«A pilgrimage is one of the most recognized expressions of faith by many world religions — a common starting point in recognizing we are all under one God,» he said. «When a person comes out of their everyday existence they let down their usual barriers and become more likely to open themselves up beyond their own traditions and prejudices.»

But, how can the new selection of Italian cities, like Lanciano and Ortona, encourage such unity?

Father Atuire explained: «Lanciano is very famous for its Eucharistic miracle, and we have witnessed the importance of returning to such manifestations around the Blessed Sacrament in this year dedicated to the Eucharist, and to be able to reflect on it as well as its role for the unity of the Church.»

Pilgrimages don’t have to be encounters at big sanctuaries or apparition sites, say ORP officials. Sometimes there is a hidden grace waiting at out-of-the-way pilgrim sit

Monsignor Liberio showed this in his presentation of a new series of visits to Eastern Europe.

«We have been planning initiatives toward former countries of the Soviet Union to encourage contact with our Christian brothers and sisters of these nations who, for many years, were unable to really express their faith freely,» said the delegated administrator of ORP.

Other potential itineraries include Islamic countries, which «are in close contact with Italy, etc., and many times there is a difficulty in communication with these groups,» said Monsignor Liberio. His outline of potential itineraries included Iran, Syria, some African countries, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

They also see the wisdom in showing pilgrims places such as the Sudan in order so they might «see the reality and pray for it.»

Nonbelievers can also gain from an ORP journey, contended Monsignor Liberio. «People are always searching, even non-Christians,» he said. «Thus the tourist or anyone who makes space and time in their schedules can experience this step toward the discovery of the soul and beyond.»

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Catherine Smibert can be reached at catherine@zenit.org.

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