More than 30 bishops from different Christian traditions (Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox) met at the Focolare Movement’s Centre for Unity, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, on September 6.
Inspired by the Focolare’s spirituality of unity, this was the 30th annual meeting of the inter-denominational group which this year was convened by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop Emeritus of Prague.
The theme, “The Word of God and its transforming power”, was addressed through talks, reflection and dialogue.
Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham gave one of the keynote addresses, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who welcomed the bishops to Lambeth Palace.
Later that day, the ecumenical group joined Archbishop Vincent Nichols for Vespers and attended the 5.30pm Mass at Westminster Cathedral.
Later, Bishop Robin Smith, Bishop Emeritus of Hertford, described the moment when he received a blessing from Archbishop Nichols as a “moment of paradise”.
On Friday September 9 an open day was held which welcomed an additional 25 Church leaders from England and Scotland and included a key input from Maria Voce, who took over as Focolare’s president from the founder in 2008.
She is well versed in ecumenical matters having opened the Focolare community in Istanbul in the late 1970s where she lived for several years, establishing strong ecumenical bonds with the Orthodox Church.
Referring in her talk to the experience of the first Focolare group during the Second World War when it read the gospels in a dark air-raid shelter by candlelight, she spoke of the “darkness” of today’s world which is in urgent need to see the Gospel lived out.
Quoting the founder Chiara Lubich, she said: “If by some absurd hypothesis all the Gospels on earth were destroyed, we would like to live in such a way that people could to some extent re-write the Gospel by seeing our behaviour.”
Archbishop Mario Conti paid tribute to the way in which Focolare influences and enriches the life of the Church. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor spoke of “green shoots everywhere”, among these, he said, was the Focolare Movement which with its spirit of communion indicates a way forward.