Geneva conference reflects on legacy of Chiara Lubich
A conference held by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Focolare movement founded by Chiara Lubich addressed the theme of “Peace and justice, fruits of unity” on the 10th anniversary of Lubich’s last visit to Geneva and the fifth year after her death.
The event brought 180 participants to the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva on 25 April, representing several local churches and ecumenical organizations.
The theme evoked reflections on the inspirational example of Chiara Lubich, who dedicated herself to the promotion of peace, church unity and inter-religious dialogue. She remained a friend of the WCC from 1967 until her death in 2008.
In the absence of WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, who was traveling in Africa, WCC deputy general secretary Georges Lemopoulos extended greetings and welcomed participants to the event.
He highlighted the significance of the conference, calling it a contribution toward preparations for the WCC’s upcoming 10th Assembly. The WCC assembly will address the theme “God of life, lead us to justice and peace” from 30 October to 8 November in Busan, Republic of Korea.
A message from Maria Voce, president of the Focolare Movement, was read at the event. In the message she expressed her “deep admiration for all those people, regardless of their religious affiliation, working for universal friendship centred on mutual love, which transforms our work together in our relations with one another.”
Dr Michel Vandeleene, theologian and editor of Lubich's writings, described the “thrust and distinctiveness of Lubich's inspirational approach.” He expressed admiration for her “passion for peace, justice and unity,” for which she was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 1996 and the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Human Rights Prize in 1998.
Reflections from the participants
In the panel discussion, several participants described the inspiration they had gained from Lubich’s example for their own commitment to peace in the world of politics.
With reference to countries passing through crises, Dr Martin Robra, programme director for the study of ecumenism in the 21st century, said, “In the ‘forsaken Jesus,’ a central element in Chiara Lubich’s thinking, I see a possibility of holding on to hope and solidarity in the midst of tragedies taking place today in the world, such as Syria.”
Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin, former director at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, also spoke at the occasion. She described the links between the new approach presented by Chiara Lubich, unity, and the two great concerns of the United Nations: universal recognition of human rights and protection of the individual.
“The Focolare Movement should encourage its members to become even more deeply involved in public life in implementing human rights. They can do this by demonstrating how practicing unity with those who are most forsaken encourages promotion and implementation of human rights,” added Ize-Charrin.
Ada Marra, a member of the Swiss Parliament, expressed her wish to maintain a dialogue with her colleagues, despite political differences. She stressed the importance of good personal relations, respecting differences of opinion and ideology, to “avoid judging people simply by what they say and attempting to put oneself in their position so that there may be unity in the forsaken Jesus.”
In the discussions, Dr Cornelio Sommaruga, former president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, recalled how the Geneva Spiritual Appeal, signed by a number of international and local personalities on United Nations Day 1999, had been influenced by appreciation for Lubich’s approach to inter-faith dialogue.
Prof. Ioan Sauca, director of the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, added that “Our friendship with Chiara Lubich yielded significant results. Among them, there can be mentioned several developments in the institute, such as increased unity between its members, partnership with teachers of other religions, and an openness to welcome participants from new religious movements, including Pentecostals.”
Other participants also shared similar reflections, saying that “following Chiara’s inspirational example must begin with relations between people, who are determined to work for deep social change, contributing to the creation of peace.”