The Second Vatican Council
and the charism at the service of unity

di Michele Zanzucchi

The great season of the new ecclesial movements reaching its peak under the pontificate of John Paul II surely originated in the pre-council period. Then, it found its raison d’être in the Vatican assembly, especially in the enhancement of the catholic laity, the redefinition of the presence of the Church in the world (Lumen Gentium) and the centrality of the Word shared in communion (Dei Verbum). The post-council period skyrocketed the number and quality of such movements welcomed and promoted by Paul VI and then approved and supported by the Polish Pope. It is an example of unity and distinction, especially in the Church of the second half of the 20th century. The charisma of Chiara Lubich, charisma at the service of the unity of the Church and mankind, is the highest expression of that.

To show the significance of the charisma at the service of unity in the complex and sometimes feverish present, the meeting participated in the great movement of solidarity with the victims of the war in Ukraine and with all the men and women of peace who are active in Ukraine and Russia, in Europe and Asia, everywhere. The assessor Alessandro Martini pointed it out in a day when the city of Florence has hosted an international peace demonstration.

The Focolare Movement is the first and most widespread ecclesial movement of the council season. Therefore, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its founder- postponed twice due to the pandemic- the Sophia University Institute and Chiara Lubich Center organized an international meeting with an explanatory title: “The Second Vatican Council and Chiara Lubich’s charisma of unity: 1 / Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium”. Location: Florence. Date: 11 March 2022 at the Theological Faculty of Central Italy and 12 March at Palazzo Vecchio, in the hall Sala dei Cinquecento. The meeting was sponsored by the Municipality of Florence with the participation of the Italian Theological Association, the Theological Faculty of Central Italy, the Paolo VI Institute, the Giorgio La Pira International Student Center, Città Nuova, the Abbà School and clearly the Focolare Movement. The scientific committee is composed by Alessandro Clemenzia (Theological Faculty of Central Italy), Piero Coda (Sophia University Institute),  and for Chiara Lubich Center Florence Gillet, João Manoel Motta and Alba Sgariglia.

At the end of the Vatican assembly, in November 1965, Chiara Lubich summarized in a meaningful prayer maybe the most evident summary note of the Council, the Church that is created from the presence of Jesus among his Apostles: «Oh! Holy Spirit, make us become, through what you have already suggested in the Council, a living Church: this is our only desire from which everything else will follow». With this spirit, on one hand, the meeting aimed at understanding if and how the message of the Council found a fruitful place of interpretation and development in the experience of the charisma of unity. On the other hand, if and how the flourishing of ecclesial life promoted by the charisma of unity was enhanced by the new horizon of the second Vatican Council. In this first stage, the focus was on Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium in order to develop convergence profiles and contributions of the doctrine of the council and the inspiration of the charisma of unity around the crucial connection according to which the Church is born and grows as historical incarnation of the Word that «became flesh» (John 1:14) in the breath of the Spirit.

The program of the meeting was particularly intense, as often happens. This is because it was the result of a serious work of design and preparation. It was a river of words that little by little became increasingly meaningful for the plural contribution of scholars. During the first day, the meeting hosted the speeches by Piero Coda, former rector of the Sophia University Institute (“A chronological and kairological coincidence: a council and a charisma. For a theological discernment of the connection between Vatican II and the charisma of unity”), Paolo Siniscalco of the University La Sapienza in Rome (“Chiara Lubich at the time of Vatican II) and the theologian Severino Dianich (“The event of the Second Vatican Council; sacrament… of unity of mankind”). Coda explained that the charisma at the service of unity made a substantial contribution to the history of the Church achieving the communion based on Christ crucified, forsaken and risen. Siniscalco wisely and accurately recalled the different steps of Chiara Lubich’s existential adventure before, during and after the Second Vatican Council. Eventually, with his renowned clarity and frankness, Dianich gave an interpretation of the Second Vatican Council as cradle for a more secular and community interpretation of the Gospel.

Saturday 12 March, the meeting moved to a civil space after the first session that took place in an ecclesial environment. This was a way to reiterate the double operative value of the charisma at the service of unity. The meeting took place in the prestigious location of Palazzo Vecchio, in the hall Sala dei Cinquecento where the Focolare movement has been holding numerous if its meetings since 1964. Here, in 2000 Chiara Lubich received the honorary citizenships of Florence. The current president of the Focolare Movement, Margaret Karram delivered the opening address highlighting the importance of the base in Florence in the memory of Giorgio La Pira, the holy mayor, a man of peace and “living Church”. In his name, in 1974 together with cardinal Benelli, Chiara founded an International Student Giorgio La Pira indissolubly linking his name with Florence. Florence is then the city of peace with privileged links with the Middle East, the place Karram comes from. She is Palestinian with an Israeli passport. «We work to establish peace relationships, which is the most valuable commodity mankind can have», as the president of the Focolare Movement stated. Cardinal Giuseppe Betori was absent because of covid. He followed Karram’s lead and said in his message: «The experience of dialogue, at all levels, that characterized Chiara Lubich’s life was founded on an evangelical intuition about the relationship between inner reality and appearance where the relationship with the other was the casual and consequent extension of the intimate union with God».

Throughout the meeting at Palazzo Vecchio, talking about the Dei Verbum, Vincenzo Di Pilato (FTP) dealt with the topic with an eminently theological tone: “The alphabet to get to know Christ. The Word of God, permanent event of salvation in the Dei Verbum”. Florence Gillet, from the Chiara Lubich Center, talked about a topic dealing with both history and ecclesiology “The Word of God in Chiara Lubich: living presence of Christ that generates the Church”. Then a round table took place. The speakers were Giovanna Porrino (IUS) about “The Word in the life of the Church”, Declan O’Byrne (IUS), “The Word and the Spirit”, Angelo Maffeis (FTIS) about “The Word of God as principle of unity” and the Evangelical theologian Stefan Tobler (USBL) about “A mysticism of the Word as a path to ecumenism”.

In the same moment and with a common purpose, a demonstration for peace in Ukraine was taking place in Piazza Santa Croce. The third and last session of the meeting was dedicated to the Lumen Gentium, with the awaited speech by mons. Brendan Leahy (bishop of Limerick, Ireland) about “the Church and the Marian principle”. The following round table hosted Alessandro Clemenzia (FTIC / IUS), “the Church from Trinity”, Assunta Steccanlla (FTT/TV) “the messianic people”, Erio Castellucci, bishop of Modena-Nonantola, CEI vice president “Episcopal collegiality and synodality of the Church” and Cristiana Dobner (discalced Carmelite) “Charismas in the mission of the Church”. To conclude, the theologian Yvonne Dohna Schlobitten talked about “An icon of the ecclesiology of Vatican II”).

Despite the numerous war symbols portrayed in the large paintings hanging on its walls, the hall Sala dei Cinquecento heard La Pira, Bargellini and Lubich’s words of peace. On 11 e 12 March it hosted an event that showed the Church, and the civil society can be a testimony of communion and dialogue encouraging politics to pursue peace and its construction.

Alessandro Clemenzia of the scientific committee concluded the meeting. Even if Chiara Lubich was never explicitly mentioned in each stage of the meeting, “one can say that all the words that have been said were came from the experience of her charisma of unity and from a philosophical and theological reinterpretation stemming from her thinking and her work. There is a need for an ontology able to revise the relationship between Church and Trinity showing that what is human, humble, inadequate through grace becomes the place of the presence of God that continues taking action throughout history.