People in England have not, in general, heard much about the Focolare movement, but anyone who knows me, knows that there are many friends, often priests or religious, who have come to Leyland to stay – sometimes for long periods – and they often learn that they, too, are involved in this “spirit”. Today, I want to share something that has really impressed me during this last week.

The elected President of the Focolare Movement is called Maria Emmaus Voce, who has been involved in the Focolare for a long time. In July 2008, Maria Voce was elected the new president of the Focolare, after the death of Chiara Lubich, in the March of that year. In January, 2009, she visited Fontem in the sub-Saharan forest of West Cameroon, to take part in the celebration of the ‘Cry-Die’, an ancestral African ceremony which marked the end of the period of mourning for Chiara Lubich. The event was characterized by a commitment to continue living Chiara’s legacy of love and unity. The ‘Cry-Die’ could be described as  nothing other than an explosion of joy, a hymn to life expressed through colourful dances and songs by the Bangwa, the tribe in Fontem, and neighbouring peoples, on the large open space in front of the royal palace of the Fon. For the Bangwa, Chiara is the ‘Mafua Ndem’, (‘Queen sent by God’). This title, conferred on her during her last visit to Fontem in 2000, placed her amongst the ancestors – pillars of African culture – perpetuating her memory and the peoples’ recourse to her. This is all because the presence of the Focolarini (followers of the Focolare) has changed everything for this remote people – for all time – and it was Chiara Lubich who decided to send them there, some years before.

Back in Italy, over Easter, Maria Emmaus Voce met up with young people aspiring to live the Focolare way of life. One of them asked her what gift, did she feel she had been given, by the Africans she had met a few weeks before, and what was the African contribution to us Europeans?

Pausing a moment, her reply was fascinating –  for me – and has made me think, and this I only heard about during the last week. She said she realised that the ‘African’ knows the greatest gift that a person has, is the gift of life. Everything they do, and have, is orientated towards this gift –  the people you are with, the things you do, the food you eat , etc., – it is all to celebrate and strengthen life. They may have very little by way of possessions – no electricity, no money, very little to eat, and they may feel the absence of these things – but it does not take away the sense of the value of life and everything is “for life”.

Like a ‘bolt from the blue’, this has changed things for me. I have begun to think what this means for me. The person I happen to be with is a person simply to share “life” with. The food I eat, the prayers I say, the community life I share, the visits I perform – all are for the same reason. It has changed my perspective on things – no need to try to impress, or be the centre of conversation; no need to win an argument, no need to keep my end up – rather just enjoy and live to the full, every moment of life. It is simple, but it has put a new perspective on the way I do things. It has changed my mind quite a bit, and I hope for the good. Who knows if I will keep up this outlook? But, for now, it puts a hope in our world, when so often, people seem to want to “manipulate” things to their own advantage.  I hope my outlook lasts!