Paris, 17th December 1996
In the context of Christian Unity Week 2016, here is an extract from a talk by Chiara Lubich on the specific contribution the Focolare Movement makes to Ecumenical Dialogue. It’s full of encouragement and hope.
Annie: In June 1997, a major ecumenical meeting will be held in Graz (Austria). The theme will be: “Reconciliation, gift of God, source of new life.” I see this as a step towards the unity of Christians. As a member of the Reformed Church and a volunteer in the Movement, I would like to ask you, Chiara, how do you see our specific contribution to the unity of the Churches today? Thank you.
Chiara: Look, this is really a very beautiful question and the answer became crystal clear while I was in London, where I met not only Catholics, but Lutherans, members of the United Reformed Church, Anglicans, Methodists and many others who are part of our Movement. We had a meeting like this one, even bigger, and they all belonged to the Movement.
It was really wonderful because we analyzed the ecumenical situation together and we understood that as long as our Churches are not renewed, unity will not be achieved. Our Churches must be renewed. They must become beautiful.
I have the impression that even some Churches that are very close to one another - because I have much experience in this field - that are very close and could take a small step in order to be united, do not do so. Why not? Because our Churches are not yet what they should be.
Now wonderful efforts are being made in ecumenism, for example, there is the dialogue of charity, where the most important Church leaders meet one another, they exchange gifts; we too bring our small gifts to these representatives of the various Churches, etc.: it’s the dialogue of charity.
There is also prayer in common, which is important, very important and we must increase it.
Then there is also the dialogue of truth, in which many theologians work with great dedication, etc., sometimes with a bit of disappointment, but then they often begin again.
These are the existing dialogues.
While we were there, in London, there were specific problems concerning to ecumenism - especially about the ordination of women... which the Catholic Church absolutely does not accept, whereas women have been ordained there, 1,500 I think - for this reason things were difficult. But the Lord didn’t want to disappoint us, or stop us in our tracks. In fact, it had slowed down there, also among our people; ecumenism had diminished. While we were there, an idea came - a wonderful idea: I saw before me this people, this Christian people made up of Catholics, United Reformed, Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists, and many others. I saw our Christian Churches in other words, and I saw that they were compact, one reality, one soul, one heart; and everyone loved one another.
… Because this charism has really bound us, it has fused us into one. We are one heart and one soul. Naturally, we won’t always be able to go to Communion, receive the Eucharist, because not everyone accepts what we accept. That is alright. We can overcome this with a bit of love for Jesus forsaken, but in the meantime, let’s put together what we have in common, which is a great deal. We have the Old and New Testaments, we have the Councils, we have Baptism, for example, we have many things, the commandments too.
I remember there was a bottle on the table which was almost full, a bit like this glass, almost full. Everyone says “Oh, it is so empty!” meaning, we don’t have this, we don’t have that, we don’t have that other.
I would say: “Oh, how full it is!” Then I said: we have the commandments, the Old Testament, the New Testament; our own Ideal is increasingly accepted. We have Jesus in the midst, Jesus forsaken, living the Word - this is all contained in that fullness. Why don’t we live all this fullness together, instead of contemplating the emptiness and scowling at one another?
So then I told them about something that made an impression on me. During the Council of Florence there was a tremendous effort to unite the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and they succeeded in resolving the problem of the “filioque” too. They managed to find a solution. A great celebration was held in Florence with torchlight processions through the city, and the bishops on both sides were happy and content because they had reached the goal of uniting these two Churches.
Some time passed and each Church stayed as they were: the Catholics with the Catholics.... Why? Because the people were not prepared, the people were divided. On one side they said: the others are wrong... they’re heretics; on the other side they said: those others are wrong, they’re heretics, we excommunicated them; and the other side said, we excommunicated them; they’re heretics.
And so the people divided in this way were actually living an absurdity, because the truth is that we have all kinds of things in common with the Orthodox, we are very much the same: they have the apostolic succession, they have the sacraments....
During our meeting, I found myself in front of a people who, although belonging to many Churches, were deeply united, one soul. What was of interest to the Catholics was of interest to the others, too; it was really something splendid.
So then I said: but there is another kind of ecumenism here, a fourth way... not only the way of charity, not only the way of prayer, not only theological dialogue. There is another dialogue here: the dialogue of life, what we are doing, what we do by spreading our Ideal in our Churches, bringing many people to an awareness of what we have in common and of living it together
To tell you the truth, it was almost like a bomb that exploded there, because they were so happy with the discovery of another way of doing ecumenism; so not only those other possibilities but also this ecumenism of life. It was fantastic, marvelous.
Naturally, we informed all our church leaders about this - Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, etc. - we informed them all, and everyone was delighted with this discovery: the fact that there is a Christian people, and that this Christian people is going ahead.
What is it that brings them together? A charism which God has sent not only for the Catholic Church but for all the Churches, and not only for the Churches, but also for non-Christians. He sent it. We must make it our own, live it as best we can, along with the difficulties there might be, but which are small, nothing compared to the great things that we have in common and with which we are going ahead with joy and happiness.
Just the other day I spoke with a Church leader who told me: “What we do in working out these theological declarations is something very good, but then it is the dialogue of life that matters, that is important. We must bring it ahead.”
So I saw that the idea of the dialogue of life is making headway.