The gift of dialogue was explored at the Focolare summer gathering in Liverpool last week which brought together over 700 people including a large Irish contingent. Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick was among the Irish delegation.
Addressing the summer gathering Bishop Leahy said that when Focolare started in 1943, Chiara Lubich could “hardly have imagined that the spirituality that was coming to life would one day be shared by Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews”.
Presenting the movement’s style of dialogue, Bishop Leahy focussed on key points: each person is a candidate for universal brotherhood and Jesus’ commandment of love. “Love is the characteristic method in its dialogues. Also because members of other religions share the Golden Rule in common in all religious texts,” he told a plenary session entitled ‘Hope for Dialogue’.
To dialogue “we need to enter into the skin of the other, see the world as the Jews, Buddist, Muslim would see it. To make yourself one demands we be poor in spirit, poor in the spirit in order to be rich in love”, he said quoting Chiara Lubich.
He went on: “By doing this we create a space of dialogue. Sharing insights we grow in unity, truth and love and respectfully proclaim our faith perspectives.”
Sharing a platform with Bishop Leahy were Dr JS Puri, a leader of the Sikh community in Ireland and Dr Mohammed Ali Shomali, who received a standing ovation at the end of his moving testimony.
The Iranian Professor who trains Shia clerics in Qum, Iran, met the spirituality of Focolare in 1997 through a Benedictine priest.
Dr Shomali said often religion is cited as a cause of problems between people. “The problem is that people love God but in a way that is not right.” Some have a “possessive love for God: ‘That is my God, not your God'”.
“The root [of this religion] is ignorance or ego. ‘I want to have a monopoly. I want God to justify my selfish work, to justify killing and injustice’.” This is not God, he said. “This is a human being projecting his ego as God.”
But truly loving God, said Dr Shomali: “You try to be possessed by God, to rise to be closer to God, to be a godly person. When we go towards God we are able to love everyone, wish good to everyone. We are people working and speaking according to the word of God.”
For fifteen years, Dr Shomali has been involved in Shia – Christian dialogue spending periods of time with Benedictines, Jesuits, at the Vatican and at the Focolare town of Loppiano. The six ’rounds of dialogue’ he instigated on topics like faith and reason, ethics, friendship, community have resulted in a series of publications.
Concluding his address, Dr Shomali said each person was like a ‘drop of water’. “What can a drop of water do? Even if you have one millions drop of waters you cannot do that much. But if these drops of water become united then you can have a nice lake. Our prayer is that lake will grow and we will have that ocean of unity.”
Speaking to ICN afterwards, Dr Shamali said that the Shia and Sunni Moslems in the UK needed to increase their efforts to “to appear together more and support each other more in public so people know there is no problem between the scholars and leaders.”
He warned young people against trusting people “just because they quote the Koran”. “We have to work with the youth to make them aware of the danger of trusting such people and the danger of going after people who speak beautifully but there is no real depth of spirituality of love for God.”
A man of God, said Dr Shamali, will always try to unite people “to build unity over unity – unity of husband and wife, unity of parents and children, unity of neighbours, unity of people of different faith but these people are very divisive even dividing the Moslem nation.”