Universe Column for July 11th 2004
By David Alton
A petite octogenarian Italian lady held parliamentarians spell-bound as she talked to them about the high calling of politics. This was Chiara Lubich, one of the founders of the Focolare Movement, who had come toWestminster to talk about Liberty , Equality and Fraternity.
Liberty , she said had become confused with the relentless drive towards individualism and autonomy – and had become “the privilege of the strongest”; equality contaminated by collectivisation and the asphyxiation of State control. And, fraternity, the third of the three pillars, had largely been forgotten.
Chiara Lubich then explained how, among Italian politicians of all political persuasions, Focolare had promoted a Movement For Unity in Politics. Although she accepted that there would continue to be fundamental disagreements between individuals and between political parties, how the political debate is conducted could be deeply affected by the spirit of the protagonists. So, she said, this was not a new political party, but a spiritual impulse directed at everyone participating in political life.
I was struck by her phrase that “Politics is charity in action, not master but servant.” Certainly, in Britain politics used to be seen as a high calling and many adhered to the belief of “public service.” Today too much emphasis is placed on politics as a career and the importance of blind allegiance to narrow partisanship. Perhaps that is why groups like the BNP and UKIP have been gaining so many votes, as people decide not to vote for “any of the above.” Cynicism is king.
Chiara Lubich reminded her audience of the Dalai Lama’s remark that “we have forgotten the most basic of truths: that we are all one” and she said that only a return to fraternity could help us resolve our problems.
Her own story is a very moving one. Born in 1920 she became involved, as a teenager in Catholic Action. Her home in Trent , northern Italty, was destroyed during the bombings of World War Two and her fiancé was killed. In the rubble of her home and city she and a few friends began to pray and study the Bible – and to begin what she calls her “divine adventure.” Focolare – meaning a hearthside or family – had been born. Their Movement is in 182 countries. I first got to know them while I was an MP in Liverpool through their two houses in my constituency.
I have heard their charism linked to the story of a dying English poet who had come first to hate and then to love his Japanese captors in Burma : “I sought myself but myself couldn’t see; I sought my God but my God eluded me; I sought my brother and found all three. Myself, my God and all humanity.”
Chiara Lubich sums up this radical call to move from hatred to love by saying “In the pursuit of reciprocal love we must go beyond our established positions and, with real love, forge relationships with everyone. Reciprocal love demands that we take the initiative unconditionally and without expectations. It leads us to see others in the ways we see ourselves, and to let this be the guiding light of all our projects.”
This is what she means by the forgotten idea of fraternity – and it was a thought well planted in the soil at Westminster among the politicians of all parties, faiths and backgrounds who came to hear her.