Strasbourg, 22 September 1998

On occasion of the UN World Day of Social Justice, we offer an excerpt of Chiara’s talk to the Council of Europe. 

Mrs. Leni Fischer, President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr. Giorgos Papandreou, Director of the Committee of Ministers, Mr. Daniel Tarschys, Secretary General, Your Excellencies, Ladies, Gentlemen, Friends,

I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to the Council of Europe for conferring the prestigious 1998 European Human Rights Prize also to me.

The Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers, with a joint decision, wished to give this recognition to me in order to award, I believe, the Focolare Movement, whose foundress I am, and whose ideal has inspired the action of millions of women and men of every age, language, profession, nation and race, members of various religions and the most diverse convictions, thus acknowledging the Movement’s concrete contribution “towards the promotion and defense of human rights.”

In fact, the first article of “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (this year marks its 50th anniversary), affirms: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They ... should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” 

 All human beings should live as brothers and sisters. It is this above all that the Focolare Movement seeks to achieve. It is here, in a special way, that it crosses paths with the aims of the Council of Europe. 

In fact, its main purpose is to work so that universal brotherhood may become a reality in the world. And it has been doing so for more than fifty years, even though - and this is its characteristic - more than proclaiming human rights and “pledging to achieve the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights...,” it seeks to animate in as many men and women as possible a way of life which quite spontaneously leads to the respect of the human person and his or her rights. 

The concrete works in favor of human rights - more than a thousand of them have come to life within the Movement - are nothing other than an expression of this love for the human person.

This new style of life finds its principles in that code which is the foundation of European culture: the Gospel of Christ. It drew from the Gospel its spirit, whose main principles should be known in order to understand the Focolare Movement’s impact on the world (present today in 182 nations) and its effectiveness in bringing the human family together in unity. 

Here I would like to refer to at least two of its key points. 

The first was impressed on my heart and on the hearts of my first companions in 1944, in Trent (Italy) during the Second World War. While we were in a cellar, where we had gone to shelter ourselves from the bombings, we happened to open the Gospel at Jesus’ solemn prayer to the Father before he died. “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you” (Jn. 17:21). We felt certain that we had been born for that page of the Gospel; almost as if it was the magna charta of the new Movement. 

Therefore, we would have to live for a very high ideal: to bring about unity among all people, considered as brothers and sisters, thereby contributing towards building universal brotherhood and making the world more united.

The second key idea became clear when we learned more about the suffering of Christ on the cross. Covered with wounds, he even cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34; Mt. 27:46), thus experiencing the separation from his Father.

Profoundly touched by this, we decided to follow him for the rest of our lives; in practice, to love him in those who would resemble him the most. And isn’t he, who suffered so terribly, the most significant emblem of those who do not seem to have any rights, indeed, of those whose rights have been drastically denied? Betrayed, accused by corrupt witnesses, he was considered not guilty by the authority, and yet condemned to torture and death; raised onto the wood of the cross outside of the city walls, he was excluded from the civil community and from the chosen people. He has always been the star that has guided our steps. 

Moreover, Jesus, who experienced within himself the most tremendous division because of the abandonment of the Father, entrusted himself to the Father (“Into your hands I commend my spirit” Lk. 23:46); he has always been for the Movement the model and key for recomposing every type of disunity, for healing every division. 

Thus our love for him contributed to uniting individuals and portions of society, in every nation, thus fostering the unity of the human family. Perhaps it is for our work towards these goals that the Focolare Movement is receiving a recognition today.

We thank God and all of you, Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, friends. 

My special thanks to those who promoted this award with care and love.

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