Focolare - New Generation seeks God

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • November 2, 2006
FocolareLogoTORONTO - Miso soup, sushi and a pad thai noodle dish is an average lunch menu for a household of four first-generation Canadians and one international student.   
At first glance it may be difficult to see what brings these Asian and European-born women together under one roof,  but as the conversation progresses between mouthfuls of sushi rolls, it's clear they share in common their love for Jesus Christ and a desire to live a spirit of unity. 

"It's a new kind of revolution. A revolution of love. It's kind of a vocation, a radical choice and commitment," said Mitsue Kudo, a 26-year-old graphic designer.

"We try to bring unity where ever we are," adds Crystal D'Silva, 19, an international student from Mumbai, India, studying molecular biology at the University of Toronto.

The women belong to the New Generation (GEN), a chapter within the international Focolare Movement for people aged 18 to 30. 

At 23, Chiara Lubich founded Focolare in 1943 in Trent, Italy, during the Second World War. In an aggressive air bomb attack  Chiara sought shelter with with other young people and turned to the Scripture passage "May they all be one, Father," (John 17:21).

And so the movement began with unity among all as its primary goal. Today Focolare is present in 182 countries and reaches more than a million people.

In English Canada Toronto boasts the most active membership; five out of 11 GEN female members live together in an apartment and three out of five male GEN members live in community.  

The women support one another by living in community, going to Mass together and meditating weekly on a sentence from Scripture. Sandra Ferreira, 33, a consecrated Focolare member, facilitates these meetings. 

"More than friends, we try to build a family," said Wonhee Cho, a 26-year-old originally from Korea, who studies animation at Seneca College in Toronto.

"We're united — when we go through difficult times we help each other," adds Kudo.

She and her 19-year-old sister Marie were born in Japan to a Japanese father and Korean mother who met at a Mariopolis retreat.

Focolare has 35 "little cities" called Mariopolis worldwide. Hyde Park, New York is the only one in North America. They are permanent self-sustaining communities with homes and businesses that try to live out the charism of unity. Most Focolare members live in a Mariopolis community for a period of time, including a few of these GEN women.

All these women discovered Focolare through their parents, except D'Silva.

"It was the complete acceptance of the other that drew me to the movement," said D'Silva.

In India, many of D'Silva's friends were Hindu and she didn't know how to overcome certain religious barriers. Focolare helped her explain her faith to her friends. 

"They were touched by the fact you can love them beyond your own community."

"There is so much disunity between countries, religions.... I think the charism of unity is needed today, it's what's most important," said Cho.

It's "not only unity among ourselves, who think similarly, but it's so diverse, even with people who don't have a religion," said Mitsue Kudo.

The Kudo sisters fasted to show respect for Muslims on the last day of Ramadan, a month-long daytime fast in the Islamic tradition. 

"We felt like it's a small sacrifice. I felt so united with the Muslim people," said Mitsue Kudo.

Focolare membership is open to faiths. In other countries it's not uncommon for a Japanese Buddhist or a Hindu in India to be members. GEN celebrates 40 years in Canada, but with the exception of one Christian Orthodox member, it doesn't have a strong interfaith dimension yet.

"It's still growing," said Sandra Ivanovic, 26, a Serbian-born Canadian studying sociology at the University of Toronto. 

Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue isn't easy. Opening up without compromising their own beliefs is a delicate balance and the women said they have had arguments over their faith.  

"I have to listen, not just force my opinion — it has to be out of love," said Cho. "Many of my friends are anti-religion types. I just don't push my ideas. I love them the way they are.

"Sometimes they make fun jokingly of the faith, but it remains in them. Even though I'm different, they respect me."

Ivanovic adds: "It's not that we are less faithful because we open up to other faiths."

"Jesus' prayer at the Garden of Olives was that all people be one, not all Jewish people or Catholic people.

Our goal is "to live in peace, but it's more than that, it's not that we are tolerant of one another, but that we love one another."

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