A man who knows how to listen and to make himself heard but, above all, a man who has the unity of the Church at heart. This is one of the most recurrent impressions of Pope Francis among the “bishop friends of the Focolare,” who gathered in Rome recently.
After two days (February 25-26) of internal meetings and round tables at Castel Gandolfo, which culminated with the conference on the subject of the “Synodality” of Pope Francis’ pontificate, organized by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the four-day Roman meeting culminated with an audience granted by the Holy Father.
Among the Italian prelates of the group, ZENIT met with Bishop Alfonso Badini Confalonieri of Susa, Turin, who received in a particular way the Holy Father’s message on Christian love that – in line with Chiara Lubich’s charism – brings about unity among Christians.
“I came to this meeting of Focolares in fact to live for a few days this life of communion between persons who love one another and who show it also with facts and with life, who have in common the joy of being Christians and brothers in Christ,” said Bishop Badini.
According to the Bishop of Susa, “there is a very great need in the present-day Church to feel that we are brothers and to live it in our daily life: it is what we did during these days and that, in the end, leaves joy of heart.”
For a Bishop, to belong to a specific Movement does not imply some form of privilege to its specific charism, given that “a Christian is everyone’s friend,” continued the prelate.
“Coming here, however, I realized that there is an ulterior step: being brothers, in fact by our Baptism and our life in Christ. This marries well with any commitment that one can have in the Church, including the episcopal,” he added.
The task of Bishops, therefore, is “to know and to have all the charisms of all the Movements loved. Therefore, pointed out Bishop Badini, “I don’t like being described as ‘Bishop of the Focolares’ but rather as one of the ‘Bishops friends of the Focolares,’ who feels the beauty of this charism.”
According to the Bishop of Susa, Pope Francis’ “method” lies in his “capacity to attract people’s attention to the central problems of people’s life and of that of the Christian”: an ability that the faithful of the Piedmont diocese have been able to pick up well, receiving a “big and positive impact” from the Holy Father’s address to them.
Commenting, finally, on the “novelty” of the coexistence of two Pontiffs – one reigning, the other praying – Bishop Badini stressed the “full unity” of Pope Francis with his predecessor Benedict XVI and the “providential” element of an epochal passage, which took place, however, without traumatic shocks and was lived with a certain serenity by the people of God who understand that “Providence can do great things.”
For his part, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Texas, appreciated very much the possibility of being able to meet with the Pontiff in a context of almost familiar intimacy, being able to observe and listen to him up close.
The Texan prelate, of Mexican origin, told ZENIT that he discovered in Pope Francis a “great witness,” a “man able to listen” and “profoundly touched by God.”
Archbishop Garcia-Diller praised this pontificate because “people listen to this Pope and pay attention to him. Catholics and non-Catholics listen to him and this is something wonderful.”
Also the fact that Pope Bergoglio draws a notable following “on the Internet, on blogs and on Twitter,” is a sign of a notable “possibility of change.”
The Archbishop of San Antonio reflected, moreover, on the challenge of being the pastor in a “decidedly bilingual and bicultural reality,” straddling the Anglo-Saxon and the Hispanic world. In a context such as this the priority is striking “of being united as Church and as people of God.”
The Holy Father reminded the Bishop friends of the Focolares of “the importance of unity and of communion.” A communion that “is inspired, animated and realized by the power of the Holy Spirit, because without the Holy Spirit we are unable to love one another, as Jesus loves us,” concluded Archbishop Garcia-Siller.
Arriving from Texas also was Bishop William Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi, who stressed the Pope’s exhortation to transmit the Gospel “with witness, unity and communion.” What is needed in fact are witnesses that confirm that “Jesus’ words are true and can be fulfilled.”
In this connection “communion is a way to have the ecumenical dialogue grow not only between Christians but also within the Catholic Church,” added Bishop Mulvey.
The testimony of an ecumenical path in the concreteness of daily challenges was offered by Bishop Anton Cosa of Chisinau. Moldavia, explained the prelate, is a country where “it’s not easy to live communion” and where, however, the coexistence of many Ukrainian and Rumanian Orthodox has brought to light the desire of the latter “to find a way of hope and unity” with the Catholic communities.
The Bishop of Chisinau then said he had found an “extraordinary answer” to his exhortation to pray for peace in Ukraine. “We are open towards brothers, we want to understand their problems to do what is best for all,” he added in conclusion.