This afternooon’s celebration in the Cathedral of Frascati marks a great feast. Following the celebration of Vespers, Bishop Raffaello Martinelli will open the process of the Cause of Beatification of Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, who died at the age of 88 on March 14, 2008. Emotions are running high among members of the Movement since the announcement of her cause’s opening by Lubich’s successor and current president, Maria Voce.
On the eve of the ceremony, ZENIT spoke to Voce about this simple, elementary school teacher, who has been described as one of the “shining stars” of the 20th century and has shared the esteem of four Popes and of political and religious leaders around the world.
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ZENIT: “Chiara Lubich: soon to be Beatified …” What comes to your mind when you hear this?
Voce: A great joy, multiplied by the echo that is happening throughout the world. Chiara always dreamed of the day in which the possibility would spread of a “holiness of the people.” She was convinced that one becomes a saint by doing the will of God and that this is possible for every person who comes on this earth. Therefore, her desire was not so much for herself to become a saint, but her passion was that many people should start on this path of holiness. She looked towards a “holiness together,” to a “collective sanctity.” She spent herself for this. The man of today, in fact, seems at times no longer able to find God on his own, perhaps because He no longer wants to be encountered by man on his own but by a people, in a collective dimension. After all, it is the horizon of holiness indicated by Vatican II to the modern world. For all this, along with joy, our sentiment is one of gratitude to the Church, which wishes to show the beauty of a life such as Chiara’s.
ZENIT: It was you who announced the news to the Movement’s members. I imagine that it was received with great joy, a reaction that you obviously expected, right?
Voce: As I said, the joy of all is great. As the Focolare Movement, a year ago, we realized the moment had arrived to present to the Church the formal request for the opening of the Cause of Beatification. The reasons were very many. Among them, the expectations and opinion of many, Catholics and Christians of different Churches, people of other religions and those without a particular faith, who held that with this act, Chiara would “come out’ so to speak from the Focolare Movement to become the “patrimony” of all, indistinctly. It’s true that those who knew her personally (and I speak of Authorities of the Church, of Presidents and Founders of other Movements) regarded this as a particular moment of grace. At the same time all those of us who share her spirituality feel the responsibility to a renewed commitment and to be a living witness.
ZENIT: A great friend of Saint John Paul II, esteemed by Benedict XVI, what relation do you think Chiara Lubich have had with Pope Francis if she were still alive? A Pope that, among other things, insists on the appreciation of woman’s role in the Church …
Voce: It would have been a relation of profound understanding and, I believe I can say, of mutual joy and consolation. Pope Francis talks about the encounter with mankind and this is the nucleus of the spirituality that Chiara generated. Francis has understood her profoundly as in the audience with the participants in the General Assembly of the Focolares, at the end of last September, he wished to recall Chiara Lubich “as an extraordinary witness” of the charism of unity “that the Father wishes to give to the Church and to the world,” recalling how “inspired she was by God in response to the signs of the times.”
She once wrote: “See the great attraction of modern times: to penetrate in the loftiest contemplation and to remain mixed among all, man beside man …” It would please Pope [Francis] — who compares the Church not so much with a sphere but with a polyhedron, — to know that almost all the foundations made by Chiara happened on the peripheries. Thus, for instance, the Economy of Communion founded by her in Brazil, or the new prospects opened to ecumenism with her meetings with Patriarch Athenagoras at Istanbul, or the inculturation of the focolarina’ matured at Fontem, in the heart of Africa. Thus, foundations of the periphery, but then made universal by a heart that had a charism of unity.
ZENIT: Seven years after her death, how is it possible to still maintain the founder’s charism among the members of the Movement alive?
Voce: Chiara gave us in legacy the testimony of a life entirely given to God and spent in love for Him and for the brothers and sisters. This places us all in the effort to do the same. Chiara left a spirituality that has involved thousands of people in the whole world, different in age and vocation, of the most varied faiths, also non-religious. She left a work, the Focolare Movement, known also as Mary’s Work, built on this spirituality, with the fundamental lines designed in her statutes so that it would remain inserted in the Church and continue to make its contribution in the course of the centuries for the good of humanity. In these almost seven years since her death, we have sought to maintain ourselves faithful to Chiara’s ideals, with the commitment to do what she herself would do if she found herself facing today’s challenges – therefore, a creative fidelity. Well, from my trips around the world, I have brought back the impression of the great vitality of the charism, because of the commitment and radicalism of so many people to realize Jesus’ will in the most varied ways. Therefore, we can look at the future with hope because of the many signs that will bear fruit.
ZENIT: The paths that the Focolare Movement has always followed are intereligious dialogue and peace – two aspects that in today’s world seem to be failing.How are you, the Focolare Movement, working in these areas?
Voce: We are committed in many areas and in different countries. I think, however, that in this field Chiara, with the ideals she transmitted to us, still has much to say to respond to the challenges and the wave of violence that seems to have invaded the world. I am referring in particular to the spirituality that must nourish the commitment to build true and profound relations between the civilizations, between ethnic groups, between religions. This is also the thinking of the President of the Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Federation of the Asian Episcopal Conferences, Monsignor Felix Machado, who stated: “Asia rejoices over the opening of the Cause of Beatification of Chiara Lubich. It is a step that will give great impetus to the interreligious dialogue.”
ZENIT: A point blank question: is it possible to speak of that “fraternity between peoples that Chiara proposed, in the face of the cases of terrorism and extremism that happened in France and that happen every day in Syria, Iraq and Nigeria?
Voce: Permit me to turn the question around: is it possible to live without dialogue, without aiming at fraternity in a world so globalized and interdependent? It is clear that either there is dialogue or we fight one another to the point of mutual destruction. Instead, openness to the other and dialogue create life and lead to life, because they base every action on recognizing one another as brothers and children of God. I was able to see this in the trips carried out in tragic contexts of the Middle East, of Africa and of Asia. A courageous commitment to dialogue lived by children in schools, by families, by many persons in work environments, in front of a friend and in front of one who presents himself as enemy. It is the “culture of encounter” of which the Holy Father speaks that spurs one to respect the other as brother. I believe that only in this way can terrorism be validly opposed, a plant that we have allowed to grow too much and which is proper of the culture of suspicion, of confrontation and of mistrust.