In the early 1940s, as both Allied and Nazi bombers were pounding Trent, Italy, twentysomething Chiara Lubich and her friends were pondering Scripture in the city's air raid shelters.

The Focolare Movement grew out of their sense of calling to live out the Gospel together, beginning with Jesus' prayer to the Father, “May they all be one” (John 17:21). Today more than five million people in182 countries participate in this movement whose special charism, John Paul II has said, is love.

Focolare spirituality emphasizes love of God and neighbor, practical application of Scripture to daily life, the pursuit of unity through the cross in imitation of “Jesus forsaken,” and devotion to Mary as mother of unity and model of love for humanity. (The movement's official name is Work of Mary. “Focolare” is Italian for hearth, or fireside.)

Focolare is especially known for its promotion of dialogue — rooted in Christian principles and the Golden Rule of “do unto others” (see Luke 6:31) — among Christians of different denominations, believers of other faiths, and also people of good will who have no religious convictions. By Vatican request, the movement maintains a presence in the World Conference on Religion and Peace, an organization headquartered at the United Nations.

Families, singles, children and young people, priests and bishops, men and women from various religious orders and congregations — many types of people make up Focolare's branches. They participate in a wide array of activities including social programs, publishing houses, model towns, “Mariapolis” conferences, and renewal movements.

At the heart of this activity are those members who give a special witness to unity by living together in small communities. Some are married couples who pursue the Focolare ideal in the context of family life. Many are single people who take private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and live in allmen or all-women households.

The first Vatican approval of Focolare statutes came in 1962. In 1990, the Pontifical Council for the Laity recognized the movement as a “private, universal association of faithful of pontifical right.”

Louise Perotta