Last April 21, the Focolare Movement promoted a conference entitled “Giving Hope Together: Christians and Muslims on the March with the Charism of Unity”. The event was well attended. Focolare president, Maria Voce, opened the afternoon session with a personal welcome: “For 52 years we’ve been walking a path together, Christians and Muslims.
We began in 1966 when a Focolare community was opened in Tlemcen, Algeria. Through Chiara Lubich, whose ideal was ‘that all may be one’ – unity obviously resounded more strongly as a gift, also outside Christian environments. Basically, it meant living and sharing her so-called ‘art of loving.’
Among those attending the conference was His Excellency Bishop Miguel Ayuso, Secretary
of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. “In today’s world,” he noted, “which is going through a deep transformation towards an ever-more multi-cultural and multi-religious society, the Focolare Movement has for a long time been engaged in promoting dialogue among believers so that the religious pluralism of the human race will never be a cause of divisions and wars, but will rather contribute to building brotherhood and peace throughout the world.”
The Imam of Florence, Elizir Izzeddin, President of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy, with whose members the Focolare Movement has shared a long, deep and fruitful collaboration, also spoke. “We’re all brothers and sisters. It’s not our goal to start a single religion, but to build bridges. With our dialogue we can encounter that hope that goes beyond the fears that have been generated by international terrorism. We work together to move beyond our fears.”
Among the testimonies given, was that of the Austrian Focolare community with Syrian refugees. Hedy Lipburger recounted:
“Hundreds of refugees arrived in Lower Austria in 2015. They couldn’t be ignored, so we went to help them.” Syrian refugee, Mohammad Kamel Alshhada, went on to say: “I had to leave my country, there was no other choice because, otherwise, I would have had to follow ISIS in teaching their ideas, because I’m a teacher.
During the first three months in Austrian refugee camps, I was depressed and without hope, for we couldn’t talk with local people. Then, for the first time, several people from the Focolare spoke to us and took an interest in us. We felt accepted and appreciated, as if someone had taken our hand and helped us, step after step, to begin a new life.”
In the end came the testimony of strong unity between Mohammad Shomali, Director of the Islamic Center of England, and Piero Coda, president of Sophia University Institute of Loppiano, who began “Wings of Unity,” a series of seminars for young Christians and Muslims that delve into the two faiths and into processes of dialogue and peace. Shomali affirmed: “If we sincerely ask God to guide us so that we can understand one another better, God will guide us.
We have to ask God to talk to us together. In 2016, Piero Coda embraced this idea of mine at Loppiano and said we should come up with a name for this project which was clearly from God. Thus the name “Wings of Unity” popped up. Piero Coda continued: “I sensed that God had a clear project for this. So I proposed a pact to Shomali: “Do we want to ask God to take our heart in his own hands, our mind? He welcomed the idea with joy.”