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Ekklesía Online


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The 60th anniversary of Centro Uno

Virtual two-day event
for Christian unity

Mervat Kelli and Heike Vesper

The Focolare Movement's commitment to Christian unity began without a pre-conceived development plan. The only norm was the life of the Gospel. Then, later, the need to know one another more deeply, in order to establish a true and sincere dialogue with brothers and sisters of other Churches and to heal the wounds of divisions was experienced. Thus, a search began for meeting spaces and structures in order to be formed in the acceptance of diversity and, above all, discover all that was shared in common and that united all of us in Jesus Christ.

The first steps of this journey were beginning when, on May 26, 1961, after meeting with Christians of the Lutheran Church in Germany, Chiara Lubich founded the "Centro Uno” Centre for Christian Unity. She envisioned a place of welcome in Rome that would serve as a focal point for the Focolare Movement’s work for ecumenical dialogue. Its first director was Italian ecumenist, Igino Giordani. Over the past six decades, the Centre’s readiness to follow God's plans in building bridges of evangelical love between Christians has attracted people from many cultures and Churches.

Two noteworthy events, fruits of those earliest initiatives, occurred in May of this year. The first was the annual, endowed ‘Patriarch Athenagoras - Chiara Lubich’ ecumenical seminar1,2,3 at the Sophia University Institute of Loppiano (Florence) with its focus on theological dialogue. The second was the "International Conference for Christian Unity"4,5, marking the Focolare’s contribution to the ecumenical journey and, in particular, a dialogue of the people and a dialogue of life which constitute the indispensable humus needed for theological dialogue.

Due to the pandemic, the conference was entirely online with IT and technical support from the Mariapolis Center of Castel Gandolfo (Italy) which permitted the last-minute request of simultaneous translation in 18 languages. Approximately 15,000+ people worldwide followed live or via uploaded sessions on YouTube. Program participants included noted personalities, bishops and a number of leaders from various Churches. The presence of young people was also not lacking.

In a world submerged in immense problems, from the pandemic to poverty, wars, disunity and natural disasters, the congress’ title, "Love one another as I have loved you"(Jn 15:12), gave cause for hope. Focolare president Margaret Karram’s opening words echoed this: "Spurred on by the desire to hear Jesus' invitation 'that all may be one', we want to 'know the gifts of others and learn from one another without pretending to be the ones teaching'."6 She invited participants to work creatively to be always more "a family, like crossed logs that, in their burning, produce a single flame".

The many shared experiences, alternating with prayer and songs, bore witness to this at a worldwide level, from the Philippines to Mexico, the Congo to Cuba and Lebanon, from Peru to Great Britain and Venezuela to Italy. In each, there was a common thread: By going towards others in a spirit of concrete and authentic love, relationships are built and new friendships are often transformed into consistent and concrete initiatives over time. These initiatives can involve local Episcopal Conferences and various regional Churches, as was the case in the Philippines and Hong Kong, as well as the result of a youth festival in Cuba marking the occasion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In Mexico, during the pandemic, there were monthly, online visits to various Churches where for many it was the first time of "entering" into the church of another. And often, it was not just a question of organizing common prayer, but of becoming bridges between various ecclesial realities and the facilitating of reconciliation, as participants from the Republic of the Congo shared.

Moments of spiritual and theological insight from Catholic, Romanian Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Syrian Orthodox and Pentecostal speakers and communities were also part of the program. While it is impossible to adequately speak about all the