VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Religious movements within the Catholic Church must advocate for peace and unity in the world at large and within their communities, Pope Francis said.
“After two millennia of Christianity, indeed the yearning for unity continues to take the form of an agonizing cry in so many parts of the world that demands an answer,” he told members of the Focolare movement at the Vatican during a meeting to mark 80 years since its founding.
The religious movement, officially known as “the Work of Mary,” was founded in Italy in 1943 and currently has some 110,000 members, including Christians from various denominations, members of other religions and those with no particular religious belief. Close to 7,000 members live in small communities and take vows of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The movement’s goal is to “promote brotherhood and to achieve a more united world in which people respect and value diversity,” according to its website.
The pope recalled the movement’s founder, Chiara Lubich, who he said felt the need for unity during the Second World War and “decided to give her whole life so that the testament of Jesus could be fulfilled.”
“Today, unfortunately, the world is still torn by many conflicts and continues to need artisans of peace between people and nations,” the pope said. “Think about how, from the end of the Second World War to now, wars have not ended, and we are not conscious of the drama of war.”
Pope Francis shared that when he visited a military cemetery in northern Italy to mark 100 years since World War I, “I cried, I cried. What destruction!”
And, he said, while visiting the Rome War Cemetery Nov. 2 he noted the ages of the fallen soldiers: “22, 24, 18, 30 — all broken lives because of war, and war has not ended.”
“In war everyone loses, everyone. Only arms manufacturers gain. And if wars were not made for a year, world hunger could be ended,” he said. “This is terrible, we must think about this drama.”
Pope Francis urged the movement to apply its desire for unity within its own structures as well, urging members to realize the dream of a “fully synodal and missionary church.”
“Begin with your communities, fostering in them a style of participation and co-responsibility even at the governmental level,” he said.
The pope told them to create an environment of mutual listening in their communities in which special attention is given to the weakest and those most in need.
He also asked them to be watchful during this Advent, since “the pitfall of spiritual worldliness is always lurking.”
“Let us remember that incoherence between what we say we are and what we really are is the worst counter-testimony,” he said. “The remedy is always to return to the Gospel, the root of our faith and of your history: to the Gospel of humility, selfless service, simplicity.”
Pope Francis said he was glad the “Focolarini,” as the always-smiling members of the movement are called, are featured in a funny account of the four things God does not know: “He doesn’t know how many congregations of nuns there are, what Jesuits are thinking, how much money Salesians have and what the Focolarini are laughing about!”