ROME — With broad smiles, laughter and applause, the diverse family Chiara Lubich dreamed of gathered last evening to celebrate her life and legacy.
Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement, died in 2008, but the friendships she formed with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others continue. Marking the sixth anniversary of her death, 200 Focolare members and representatives of other religions held a four-day meeting south of Rome. The gathering ended with a public remembrance of Lubich’s commitment to the unity of the human family at Rome’s Pontifical Urbanian University.
Waichiro Izumita, director of youth programs for the Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist group, said the founder of his movement, the late Nikkyo Niwano, used to say that he believed that before he and Lubich were born, “it was already in God’s plan that we would meet. Before I met the Focolare members, I thought I was the only person in the world crazy enough to try to tackle the problem of universal peace.” But with Lubich he found “there is another crazy person giving her whole self for peace.”
Maria Voce, who succeeded Lubich as president of the Focolare movement, said knowing how to begin a dialogue was one of Lubich’s special gifts. She knew how to listen. “That was her way of concretely living the Gospel message of loving the way we want to be loved.”
Amer Al Hafi, deputy director of Jordan’s Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, told the gathering, “Chiara helped me understand the Quran better,” because she helped him see that “love is the essence of God.”
Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said that while Lubich was intelligent and thoughtful, she knew that interreligious relations, like faith itself, involved much more than book learning. The key to her relationships, he said, was her recognition that “love is at the heart of all religions.”
Cardinal Francis Arinze, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said Lubich’s life and her knack for interreligious relations “is a reason to thank God.”
“Humanity must continually seek better ways to meet one another, understand each other, work together and promote harmony and unity,” he said. “Two or three people can create chaos and start a war, but peace requires the efforts of all of us.”