In a world that is continuously marked by conflicts, “please, sow unity by bringing the Gospel,” Pope Francis told the global leaders of the Focolare movement in a meeting at the Vatican on December 7, 2023. The Focolare movement focuses on spiritual and social renewal and on promoting unity, peace, and global fraternity. The leaders met the Pope as the movement is celebrating its 80th anniversary, after being founded in 1943 during the Second World War.
“After two millennia of Christianity, […] the longing for unity continues to assume the form, in many parts of the world, of an agonizing cry that demands a response,” the Pope said. “In these eighty years, […] you have been an active instrument of a great flowering of works, of initiatives, of projects and above all of ‘rebirths,’ of conversions, of vocations, of lives given to Christ and to our brothers and sisters.”
Mary accompanies you
The Focolare movement, officially known as the Work of Mary, was founded on December 7, 1943, in Trento, a city in Northern Italy, by Servant of God Chiara Lubich. The movement comprises small groups of people — or “focolari,” the Italian word for “hearth” — who dedicate their lives to serving God. Some members take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and live together.
A famous member of the Focolare is Blessed Chiara Badano, who left this world on October 7, 1990, just short of her 19th birthday. She departed to meet Jesus with the words, “Goodbye. Be happy because I’m happy.”
In his speech to the members of the movement, Pope Francis in fact brought them back to the origins of their foundation and charism.
“On the very eve of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Mary’s ‘yes’ became Chiara’s ‘yes,’ generating a wave of spirituality that spread throughout the world, to tell everyone that it is beautiful to live the Gospel with one simple word: unity,” the Pontiff highlighted, referring to the movement’s founder.
Pope Francis emphasized the continuing importance that Mary has in Focolare’s mission. “You are the Opera di Maria; she has accompanied you throughout these eighty years and you know well that she will never stop doing so,” the Pontiff said. “May the Virgin of Nazareth therefore be the source of your consolation and your strength, so that you may be apostles of unity in the service of the Church and of humanity.”
According to their website, the Focolare are present in 182 nations with around 2 million involved in their initiatives and activities. The current President, a Haifa-born Palestinian, Margaret Karram, was named a member of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life on November 25, 2023.
A difficult period
The Pope also remembered that when he met the participants of the movement in 2021, as they were in Rome for their general assembly, he told them to live their “charism with dynamic fidelity,” to welcome “moments of crisis as opportunities to mature” and to embody “spirituality with consistency and realism.”
At the time, the Focolare movement was going through a difficult period, as accusations had emerged in 2020 of sexual abuse committed by a French member of the movement, Jean Michel Merlin. The movement hired an independent agency to investigate these cases and they released a report in March 2022. Another report on all abuse cases within the movement was released in 2023, stating there have been some 60 sexual abuse cases within the movement between 1969 and 2022.
Without referencing this situation, the Pope invited the movement’s members to have “vigilance,” saying it was “appropriate” in this time of Advent. “The snare of spiritual worldliness is always lurking,” he said. “Let us remember that inconsistency between what we say we are and what we truly are is the worst anti-witness. Inconsistency. Please, take care. And the remedy is always to return to the Gospel, the root of our faith and our history.”
The Pope’s tips for the future
This time, the Pope had three new suggestions for the leaders to continue living their spirituality and promoting unity: “ecclesial maturity, fidelity to the charism, and commitment to peace.”
First, in order to foster “ecclesial maturity” the Pope encouraged the “focolarini” to “work so that the dream of a fully synodal and missionary Church may be increasingly realized.”
“Spread around them a climate of mutual listening and family warmth, in which we respect and care for one another, with particular attention to those who are weaker and those most in need of support,” he added.
The Pontiff then reminded the members about the importance of “fidelity to the charism.” “Please, sow unity by bringing the Gospel, without ever losing sight of the work of incarnation that God continues to wish to accomplish in us and around us through his Spirit, so that Jesus may be good news for everyone, no one excluded, and ‘that all may be one’ (Jn 17:21),” he said, referencing the Gospel verse at the basis of the movement.
Lastly, he told them to continue in their “commitment to peace, so important today.”
“Today, unfortunately, the world is still riven by many conflicts, and continues to need artisans of fraternity and peace between men and between nations,” he said.
“Being love and spreading it: this is the main purpose. And we know that only from love is the fruit of peace born. Therefore, I ask you to be witnesses and builders of the peace that Christ achieved with his cross, defeating enmity.”