Rieti, June 4, 1996
The experience of the Focolare Movement in interreligious dialogue. Taken from Chiara Lubich’s talk on the occasion of the “Civilization of Love” Prize.
Your Excellencies, Mr. Mayor, Religious and Civil Authorities, Ladies, Gentlemen, friends,
Thank you, first of all, for the award you have given me. I was especially pleased because it is called the “Civilization of Love” Prize. These words immediately strike a note of harmony between the international Forum and the Focolare Movement which I represent here, along with others - as we heard - and which is simply one of the instruments in the Church which spread the love of Christ everywhere.
Here dialogue is part of life and especially interreligious dialogue.
Is it an impossible undertaking?
No, on the contrary, it is an obligatory and timely endeavor.
Today, in fact, the world and humankind is going towards a lofty and necessary objective: bringing together all people into one family, achieving universal brotherhood.
Despite the tensions of the modern world (those between North and South, for example), despite the conflicts in various parts of the globe and the phenomena of racism, fundamentalism and other evils of our day, the world seems to be moving towards unity.
This can be seen in the way that the Spirit of God, in the Christian world, is urging the churches towards unification after centuries of indifference or hostility. It can be seen in the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church, which opened an era of dialogue not only with other Churches, but with other religions and all people of good will. It can be seen in the World Council of Churches and the growth of other bodies and movements with ecumenical aims. This drive towards unity is expressed by the World Conference on Religion and Peace and other institutions which bring together members of different religions, perhaps for specific goals, like peace. The drive towards unity has been expressed even by social ideologies, which although now surpassed, once aimed at resolving the problems of the world in a global manner.
The fact that the world is moving towards unity is also expressed by the existence of international and European bodies and organizations.
Yes, the world is tending towards unity.
And having become aware of this tension towards unity, we want it to develop with renewed faith and concrete actions.
Dialogue, then, to dialogue.
Allow me to express an idea at the end of this afternoon, which is the fruit of our experience.
How can we achieve dialogue so that its pure intentions will not be misunderstood and so that it will reach the goal of giving people, as many people as possible, an attitude of reciprocal understanding, mutual help and solidarity; giving them a brotherly attitude towards all neighbors, whoever they may be, of every nation, culture, race, and language?
First of all, it seems to me that it is necessary to know our neighbors.
It has been written: “To know the religion of the other person implies living in the skin of the other person, seeing the world as the other sees it, penetrating the meaning that the other finds in being Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist.” 1
But how do we “enter into another person’s skin?”
Only love can do something like this, but it has to be true love.
And we know what true love is. Jesus showed it with His life. He was God and He became man. And as a man He allowed Himself to be crucified for each one of us: He became sin in order to redeem us sinners.
Therefore, love means - and the experiences we heard bear witness to this - “making ourselves one” with the other person.
This was affirmed by St Paul, who made himself all things to all, weak with the weak, suffering with those who suffered (cf. 1 Cor 9:22). He made himself the other, the others.
This kind of love, to the point of making ourselves one with the other person, enables us to understand him or her. And this is essential for dialogue.
By making ourselves one with the other person, he or she becomes open, and reveals, manifests, explains and shares something of his or her being a Jew, a Muslim, or a Buddhist.... We see in a marvelous way something of their immense and unexpected resources.
But dialogue is mutual giving and we too as Christians must know how to give, at the right moment (that is, when it is desired), something of our faith.
But... there is a but!
Our experience tells us that even the witness of our believing is fully understood only if based on a witness of life.
Jesus began by doing and then He taught.
We must do the same: we cannot proclaim the Gospel if we are not, at least in some way, the living Gospel.
And the idea, the word that sums up the Gospel is what Jesus said in His Testament: “May they be one” (Jn 17:11). So the word “unity” which, according to Pope Paul VI, is the summary of the Gospel.
Consequently, in order to be true Christians, we must “be one” among ourselves.
And “one” through mutual love.
Then by this, and only by this, they will know that we are disciples of Christ and understand His words.
A Buddhist monk recently told me: “Our people don’t understand Christianity because they read about it in books. Here (he was in Loppiano, the little town of the Focolare where people seek to live the Gospel), he said, I understood it.” And he understood that God exists, that religion is love, that the Crucifix, which is so disliked by the Buddhists, is nothing but an expression of love.
It is through the witness of life that dialogue takes off and flies ahead.
Why? Because by loving, it is easier for us to have the light of the Spirit, which guides us in discerning the truths contained in the other person’s religion.
While it is true that God chose a people in ancient times, it is also true that He has not forgotten the other peoples and has sown truths in them.
Almost all religions, for example, know the so-called golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you (Mt 7:12).
Likewise, many religions take into consideration the importance of following the will of a Supreme Being.
Many of the commandments of the Law are present in other religions: do not kill, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not allow yourself to be overcome by desire....
So there is much to live and to live together, in order to give new importance, strength and vigor to truths and moral laws.
It is by living truths or shared laws together and by communicating our experiences of this life, through dialogue, that we will increasingly strengthen our friendship with one another. And with it, decisions and acts of solidarity, peace and justice towards ourselves and towards others.
In addition, Jews, Christians and Muslim have nothing less than faith in the same God in common. And, even though there are different emphases, we realize that He is our Father.
It is a duty, therefore, for us to do all we can to behave as His children and as brothers and sisters to one another!
Again, thank you to Your Excellency and to all the organizers of this international Forum, for this time spent with you!
I am well aware that all of us in our own field are working towards common goals. Please accept the assurance of my prayers and those of the Focolare Movement for the progress of the “Civilization of Love,” just as I ask your prayers for our Movement.
1F. Whaling, Christian Theology and World religions: A Global Approach, London, 1986, pp. 130-131.