Chiara Lubich has been dead for ten years: in 1943 she founded the Focolare Movement, an ecumenical community. Since her death, the movement has been in a state of upheaval, says German Focolare spokeswoman Andrea Rosch.
CBA: On 18. In March 2008, the 88-year-old Italian died, one of the great spiritual figures of the 20th century. Century. Would Chiara Lubich be satisfied with the way the Focolare Movement is today??
Rosch: I think so. Because Chiara has always said that she wants to leave only one thing to the people who come after her: the Gospel. And the enthusiasm for the message of Jesus is unbroken among us, we continue to promote it, we continue to bear witness to it, we continue to connect people through it.
CBA: It sounds as if Lubich's death did not mean a break for the movement. The period immediately after the passing of a founding figure is generally considered to be the most difficult phase for a spiritual community. Didn't you have existential fear?
Rosch: The death was indeed a blow, but I was not afraid for the continuity of the movement. Because Chiara already pointed out during her lifetime that it is not her who is essential, but life with Jesus in our midst. That, she used to say, is what we should focus on, that each one of us is a bearer of the charism.
CBA: What does it mean?
Rosch: Every individual has received gifts and abilities through the Spirit of God. With this, he is able to provide another person with encounters with God, for example by approaching him in a friendly and appreciative way. It conveys the feeling of being accepted – for example, by offering the other person a cup of coffee even if he or she is much too late for an appointment.
CBA: To what extent was Lubich's death a turning point??
Rosch: In so far as our movement had been centralized until then. For the past ten years, this structure has been changing: more and more responsibility is being amed by our local or regional groups. This transformation is a process, one that is not always easy. For our leadership in Rome, that means handing off decisions to the field. On the other hand, many focolarians first had to get used to stepping out of the shadow of a leading figure and taking themselves to task.
CBA: Speaking of a leading figure, there has been criticism in the past of a cult-like personality around Lubich. There was also talk of too much dependence among members, as well as a discrepancy between the idea of the unity of all God's creatures and the separation of the sexes that was practiced. What do you answer?
Rosch: It hurts to be associated with the term sect. The criticism of the cult of personality is no longer tenable today, but was partly justified in the past. It existed in some places, although not in Germany for historical reasons. Chiara herself was never interested in it. There were also imbalances in our leadership. Some have confused responsibility with power. That is why we have created new structures over the past ten years. We no longer occupy our presidential office permanently, but only for a maximum of two six-year terms.
CBA: And the separation of the sexes?
Rosch: This only applies to the core communities whose members have chosen a consecrated celibate life. For them, life is less complicated that way. At all other meetings and events, such as youth camps, there is no longer any separation of the sexes. The fact that things used to be different certainly has something to do with the times in which they were made.
CBA: What challenges does your movement face today?
Rosch: At the last Focolare General Assembly in 2014, we set three goals for the future. First, "go out: We want to take greater care of people on the margins of society. Secondly, "together": We want to form active groups on site in order to be able to respond individually to local challenges – in South America, for example, to school education, and here in Germany, above all, to deeper ecumenism. And third, "well prepared." For example, we need to address how we deal with the fact that we are increasingly aging.
CBA: It almost sounds as if the focolare is coming to its end.
Rosch: No, no. But even if this were true, there was still hope: With Jesus, the essential thing happened at the end on the cross.
The interview was conducted by Christopher Beschnitt.