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Chiara Lubich: The charism of unity, the charism of Europe

16 marca 2004 | 14:10 | Ⓒ Ⓟ

Mr. President of the Republic of Poland.
Your Eminence, the Cardinal Primate.
Your Grace, the Archbishop.
Your Excellencies, the Bishops.
Dear representatives of the clergy and the laity.
Distinguished guests.

The topic I was entrusted reads: “The charism of unity, the charism of Europe.”
A combination that may surprise but is logical if Europe is seen from the point of view of its unity.
This analogy is not easy to explain, however, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, I shall take this challenge.
Europe in the past
Europe and its unity
First of all, one has to remember, at least roughly, how the history of our continent, as presented in school manuals, evolved.
Going back in time, we perceive the beginnings of Europe already in the Holy Roman Empire. Later on, throughout centuries, the perception of what Europe is becomes deeper and, simultaneously, its boundaries spread out: European consciousness sprouts in a small country of Greece, however, it expands and establishes its range from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains. It happens because of permeating influences of Christianity that instils religious values in the peoples of “geographical” Europe which, at a later stage, would shape the civic, social and political values thus building the Europe of culture. And all that takes place without prejudice to a separate identity of cities and national identities which had been gradually taking shape so far.
On that route, Europe more and more resembled itself. It was not a painless process, nevertheless.
It is sufficient to think of the dramatic mixing of the Greek culture with the so-called ‘barbaric’; of the phenomenon of evangelisation; of the influx of Judaism; of internal dilemmas of Christianity that stemmed from the difficulties with reconciling the idea of the lay authority with the religious one; of the eruption of nation states; of the break with the Eastern Christianity. It only remains to add the religious wars of the 17th century and secularisation.
In this manner, Europe emerges as a theatre of centuries-old struggle and, in the 20th century, as a starting point of two world wars.

The Pope’s point of view
But is it all that we can think about Europe?
The Holy Father, John Paul II, when commenting on excessively lay interpretations concluded: “Europe (…) has been extensively and deeply permeated with Christianity. It constitutes the central and decisive element in the complex history of the continent that consolidated on the grounds of classical heritage as well as varied ethno-cultural input whose streams have been intertwining for centuries.
(…)Growing into its history, the Christian faith has shaped European culture and (…) Christianity has become the religion of the Europeans. Its influence has remained perceivable even today despite the strong and popular phenomenon of secularisation.
The Church (…) as a guardian of the Gospel has promoted the values that won the European culture universal appreciation. That heritage cannot be squandered. On the contrary, the new Europe should be encouraged to grow by reviving the Christian roots that created it.”
Such is the reflection of the Holy Father on Europe.

God’s acts in history

Facing this situation, one conclusion should be drawn: if the Pope said so about Europe then he could do it because, in spite of all the dark sides of history that cannot be denied, God, the Lord of history, has been following it with his love, offering solutions, incentives, directions that made it grow. Perhaps we owe that also to the centuries-old burden of the cross endured by Europeans in a Christian-like way.
Because such was the case. If we take a closer look, we will see that Europe owes numerous gifts to the Church, not only via the representatives of her hierarchy but also via the representatives of the cult of the Virgin Mary and the charismatic side of the faith. Lord has given Europe numerous saints with their miraculous and exceptional charisms.
It is enough to think of the saints appointed patrons of Europe. Patrons, that is its founders, who were able to intervene in the key moments in history raising pillars and shaping the appearance of that we presently call Europe.
So at the turn of the 6th century, Benedict of Nursia establishes a network of spiritual, economic and cultural centres around which the spiritual and social renaissance of Europe takes.
Further on, one should add the activities of brothers Cyril and Methodius in the east who invented an alphabet for Slavic peoples in the 9th century by which including them deeper in the Church and social community and, simultaneously, saving their cultural identity. In this way, they apply in practice the Christian model based on the principle of unity and diversity that belongs to the DNA of Europe.
Subsequently, at the moment when Europe seemed to have lost its sense of spiritual unity, Brigid of Sweden and Catherine of Siena turn to the mighty of their times on behalf of the rule of love and remind them of the true goal of the service to the justice.
We also recollect Francesco of Assisi who, by means of his great evangelical revolution aimed at true values, has definitely influenced Europe. Similarly, Theresa of Avilla, Ignatius of Loyola, Francois of Sales …
Thanks to our contemporary Edith Stein we observe how sanctity descends to the depths of the hell of war traversing Europe including in her personal sacrifice a double faithfulness: to her nation ant to her faith. She dies as a Christian nun but she dies also because she is Jewish. In this way she lays the corner stone of the European home that can be erected by all religions.

Sanctity is at the roots of Europe: and it means not only the Europe that the history created for us but also the Europe we construct today to which attest some of the fathers of the united Europe: Robert Schuman, Alcide De Gasperi and impeccable Adenauer. For the former two the canonisation process has already begun, which testifies to the full sanctity incorporating religious and civic virtues required in the profession of a politician.

European states unite today
At present we see how the European states unite in line with the sign of the times that proclaims every form of unity. This European phenomenon of a kind requires special attention because of new challenges. The political, economic Europe, the Europe of common currency cannot lack the complement: “the Europe of the spirit” which is the dream of the Pope expressed during his last pilgrimage to Spain.
It has to be that way because without a living and strong soul it is not and will not be possible to maintain the unity of Europe.

The evil of Europe
Above all we need the soul.
The bishops of our continent have analysed the current situation of Europe during two special synods and I took part in one of them.
As nobody and nothing could perceive it better than the eye and the heart of the priests of the European Christians, the clergy discussed about what is missing from the Europe of today. The contemporary evil was subjected to analysis, however the good was not omitted.
Many bishops pointed to a significant loss of memory and Christian heritage and, as a result, situating man in the centre of reality instead of God; from this condition ensues the widespread individualism, sense of loneliness, the disappearance of solidarity, extinction of vocations of priesthood, religious vocations and, the key point, the increase of the general ethical indifference with its contemptible consequences. One of them is the emergence of the culture contradictory to the Gospel.

At the same time, it is possible to observe how the means to counteract manifestations of evil can and are found. For some time already, by the institution of the Church and in deep communion with her, various new spiritual units have been flourishing having the common good, and especially the good of Europe, as their objective.

Church movements
It refers to dozens of church movements and new communities created in the first decades of the 20th century which, in form of numerous networks, unite nations, cultures and differences: as a sign that, beginning with our continent, the world could become a common fatherland of nations. In principle, within those organisations, it already is such a fatherland even if only at an experimental stage for the time being.
The movements deserve great respect as they have not resulted from man’s design but constitute the fruit of the charisms of the Holy Spirit who knows the problems of our planet better than any man or woman in this world and desires to co-operate at their resolution.
These movements are capable of driving the Christian folk, frequently secularised due to contacts with the world, to the evangelical radicalism, which is always in force to give the earth a new image.
Established and composed mainly of laymen, these movements are a carrier of honest and deep interest in human life. It radiates over to the sphere of civic values and offers particular political and economic solutions.
These movements, of which each follows its own charism, focus on the realisation of love in many different ways.

One of such centres is the Focolari movement dispersed almost all over the world. As it derived from the gift of the Holy Spirit, from the charism of unity, it instils that unity everywhere in our times.
That is why the Focolari movement is related to the idea of unity that is of interest to us here.
The secret of its success lies in the new idea of leadership taken over by innumerable people who, taking their inspiration mainly from Christian values – not omitting and even stressing similar values present in other religions and cultures – try to bring unity, brotherhood and peace to this world.
I mean here the ‘spirituality of unity’ concerning both individuals and communities.
This idea can be better understood if its development in time is known.

It is the year 1943. The Second World War is in progress. Trident in the north of Italy is going through tremendous bombings.
A few girls, including myself, see how objects and people that gave sense to their lives disappear among the rubble; a house still to be furnished is destroyed; establishing a family becomes unreal when the fiancé does not return from the front line; the studies are forgotten as the war makes it impossible to attend the university …
The lesson God offers them in these conditions is clear: all is fleeting. “Futility of futilities! All is futile!” (See Koh 1,2).
God, at the same time, instils a question in their hearts: “Is there a value to which we could wholly devote ourselves and which will not be shattered by any bomb?”
And a ready answer: “Yes, there is: God is such a value,” God who is Love.

This fresh manifestation of God-Love makes the girls brim over with joy. This truth penetrates them so deeply that they can confirm: “We believe in love.”
And from that moment on they feel sheltered by His love.
They believed His existence even before but He seemed distanced and inaccessible.
Now everything changes. God, who is Love, is closer to them, His presence is manifest in all situations in their lives, whether joyous or sad; He knows everything about them.
They decide to make Him the sense of their existence.
To choose God who is Love for the life’s ideal is the first principle of that ‘spiritual unity.’
However, they already have a task to perform:
“If God who is Love becomes our new ideal then how should we act to be able to say that He is really everything to us?
That is obvious: We have to love Him.”

They run hastily to shelters among the hooting sirens, they cannot take anything with them except a small book: the Gospel.
It is in that book – they are sure – that they found directions on how to love God.
They open it. And that is a miracle: the words that had already been heard many times elucidate under the influence of the charism as if some sort of fire shed light on them. They read them anew and some force immediately urges them to act.

They read for example: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as much as thyself.” (see Mt 19,19). Where is that neighbour?
Right next to them, in the person of that old lady who always gets to the shelter with much difficulty, lagging behind others. It is necessary to offer her help and support.

The Gospel assures: “Ask and it will be given you” (See Mt 7,7; 11,9).
They ask on behalf of the poor and every time their house fills with all sorts of God’s gifts brought for the needy.

“Give, and it shall be given unto you.” (See Lk 6,38), they continue reading. So they give. Is there only one apple at home? They give it to a poor man who asks for it. And there appears a whole bag in the morning and, when that is given away also, a whole suitcase.
Jesus had made a promise and keeps His word. The words of the Gospel are fulfilled so the Gospel is true.
To live by the Gospel, word by word and especially to live by the evangelical love constitutes the second principle of their spirituality.
The conclusion that the Gospel carries the truth lends them wings for the just started journey. They pass on to others everything that happens everyday. And they understand that Jesus lives also today.
To such a degree that many of them want to follow Him.

Meanwhile, the war continues and it is possible to lose one’s life anytime.
“Is there – they would ask themselves in those moments – such a word that Jesus is most fond of?” They wish to recall it right before death.
In the Gospel they read: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (…) These things I command you, that ye love one another.” (See Jn 15,12-13-17)
They live consistently by the new commandment. What is more, they express it in an agreement they consider a milestone of the Movement. They tell each other: “I am ready to die for you;” “I for you.” All for one.
And from that moment on their lives change: a new peace, new joy, new force pervades them.
What has happened? The words of Jesus are fulfilled between them: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (See Mt 18,20) He stood among them Himself.
To live by mutual love that leads to the presence of Jesus among brothers such is the third principle.
Naturally, they do not always manage to live that way. Sometimes even small shortcomings obscure the radiance of unity.
But they do not give up.
They know that Jesus suffered most when on the cross He suffered His Father’s rejection, when He shouted: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (See Mt 27,46)
Touched by His pain they feel encouraged to adopt Jesus in His loneliness for their model of life.
From that moment onwards they discover His image everywhere: in the dryness of their soul, in the darkness, in doubts; in lonely, forsaken and disappointed fellow men; in a variety of family conflicts; in the divisions between generations or between communities of our Church; in the breaks between Churches; in the lack of dialogue between religions or between believers and unreligious people.
And all that pain, every break and division do not terrify them. On the contrary, they love the presence of forsaken Christ hidden in them. Also, similarly to Jesus who, despite being forsaken, gave himself again into His Father’s hands (“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” ) they find a key to solving various situations.
To love crucified and forsaken Jesus is the fourth principle.

In the mutual love that Jesus incites between Christians, the unity proclaimed by Him in the prayer is realised: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee (…)” (See Jn 17,21) They perfect it by taking daily the Eucharist, the ties of unity.
The unity is the fifth principle.

To the previous ideals of “spirituality of unity” there should be added the Virgin Mary, loved and imitated as the Mother of unity; the Holy Spirit that unites the members of the mystical Body; the Church perceived and experienced as a communion.

The unity brings about results. “that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe.” (See Jn 17,21)
And the world believed. The spreading of the Movement on the entire planet attests to it.

Here are a few words on the “spirituality of the unity” verified by the experience of 60 years.
Already here, it is possible to find means for fighting the manifestations of evil of the contemporary Europe mentioned above. For example, can’t the choice of God as the ideal requiring the “spirituality of unity” correct the above-mentioned error of situating man in the centre?
And won’t the mutual love be sufficient to counteract individualism, sense of loneliness, disappearance of solidarity?
Doesn’t the resolution to live by the Gospel, word by word, help restore proper place to moral values?
Won’t the emerging culture contradicting the Gospel be able to feel dominated by the newly flourishing culture that has already started germinating among Christians who have experienced love and radiate wisdom in all aspects of humanity?

Spirituality of communion
During the great Jubilee of the year 2000, John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Novo millennio ineunte, suggests to all Catholics at different levels of commitment, the ‘spirituality of communion’ in order to make the whole Church ‘the home and the school of communion.’
Soon after, mainly in the beautiful letters to ‘Cardinals and Bishops – Friends of the Focolari Movement’, it is possible to observe an unusual similarity between the ‘spirituality of communion’ and the ‘spirituality of unity’ that may even lead to conclusion that the same is meant by both.

Actually, in the letter of February 14, 2001, the Pope writes:
“Thus lived the ‘spirituality of unity’ and ‘communion’ that characterizes your Movement … .”

That is why the topic of my speech could be rephrased in the following way: ‘Spirituality of the unity, spirituality of Europe.’

In another letter, of February 13, 2003, the Pope demonstrates how the ‘spirituality of communion’ can be enriched with the principles of our spirituality:
can be divided into various elements that take their roots in the Gospel and turn out to be enriched by the input to the whole Christian community brought by the Focolari Movement committed to the testimony of the ‘spirituality of unity’. Among many other virtues of this activity, I would like to take this opportunity and point to the idea of unity as a ‘testament’ left by Jesus for the disciples (see Jn 17), the secret of crucified and abandoned Christ as a way to achieve that unity, the celebration of Eucharist as the ties of the communion, the activity of the Holy Spirit that animates the mystical Body of Christ and unites its members, the presence of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of unity who leads us all to Christ.”

Therefore, it is easy to understand the joy that came upon us when the Novo millennio ineunte was published. Our spirituality, so far limited to members of one Movement, became useful, if not needed, to the whole Church.

Ecumenical spirituality
But that was not all. The Pope perceives our spirituality as appropriate also to other Churches. He even called it: ‘ecumenical spirituality.’ This definition also appeared in the ecumenical congress in Graz, Austria, which was attended by 10,000 people.
The relevancy of this definition is also supported by the fact that it was successfully carried out in our Movement by Christians from 350 churches who belong to it.

And the others? What about the faithful of other religions and those who do not identify with any religion but remain people of good will?
In what way can this idea be useful also to them? The dialogues existing in the Focolari Movement offer an answer.

The dialogues
There are four dialogues in progress focusing on the unity and communion that the Movement animates: the one present in every Christian Church; the ecumenical dialogue between various Churches which helps restore unity within one Church and certainly has a positive influence on the political unity of Europe; the dialogue with people of other religions: Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. This dialogue is feasible owing to the so-called ‘golden rule’ present in the Holy Books of the largest religions of the world, which states the following: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (See Lk 6,31) The golden rule invites all to love. In this manner, if we love as Christians, and if the followers of other religions love also then it is the mutual love from which there flourish brotherhood and a certain community with them, too.
Finally, the dialogue with our brothers from other cultures who, though not followers of any religion, have the urge to love impressed in the DNA of their souls. Such are the four dialogues indispensable also in the Europe of today because of the influx of immigrants and the intense exchange related to globalisation.

Mr. President of the Republic of Poland.
Your Eminence, the Cardinal Primate.
Your Grace, the Archbishop.
Your Excellencies, the bishops.
Dear representatives of the clergy and the laity.
Distinguished guests.

Thank you for your attention.

May God and Mary, the Queen of Poland bestow upon all Poles the grace of participation in the European unity while giving in to the ‘spirituality of communion’ just like the Holy Father, also a Pole, wishes for it.

Chiara Lubich

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