[Editor’s Note: Bishop Michael Mulvey of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas, was born in Houston in 1949, and did his theological studies in Rome in the 1970s. He came to know the Focolare, a movement founded by Italian laywoman Chiara Lubich amid the rubble of the Second World War, with the founding idea of the unity of the human family.
Mulvey spent a sabbatical year with the Focolare in 1981, devoted 1995-97 to helping run a Focolare center for diocesan priests in Florence, and 1997-99 running a similar center in Hyde Park, New York. In this interview, Crux contributor Charles Camosy, Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University, speaks to Mulvey about the Focolare, which in Italian means “hearth,” and its contribution to the Church and the world today.]
You were deeply formed by the Focolare movement as a young person. Especially for those who aren’t familiar with the movement, can you say something about how it formed you into the Christian and bishop you are today?
The spirituality of the Focolare is rooted in several key elements of the Gospel, not the least of which is “Father, may all be one….” (John 17:21). When brought together, these became guiding principles for the spirituality of communion.
These evangelical principles came to light through living just one sentence of the Gospel each day, and sharing the experiences of the day. This simple evangelical method motivated Chiara Lubich and the original group to live as brothers and sisters.
Looking back on my experience of almost forty years, I see that this initial inspiration to live the Gospel in this simple manner has been a means of personal evangelization for me as a Christian, a priest and now a bishop.
Being rooted in the gospel each day has given life to my entire Christian experience.
Pope Francis recently visited the Focolare “Mariapolis” in Rome. What’s a Mariapolis, and why do you think Pope Francis decided to go there?
A Mariapolis is a gathering of people who want to live the New Commandment pure and simple. These gatherings are marked by the presence of Jesus who promised: “Wherever two or three are united in my name, I am in their midst” Matt. 18:20
This year the Mariapolis in Rome was held in conjunction with the Italian Earth Day. Obviously, the Year of Mercy was one motivating factor for the pope’s visit, as well as the theme of ecology.
I also believe the pope sees signs of hope in a people who want to contribute to a more united and peaceful world inspired by Jesus’ prayer “that all be one.”
His message expressed his hope and confidence when, after listening to some experiences of the participants, he said: “Hearing you speak, two images came to my mind: the desert and the forest. I thought: these people, all of you, take the desert to transform it into a forest. You go to where the desert is, to where there is no hope, and do things that make the desert turn into a forest …passing from a desert to a forest is quite a job that you do.”
“You transform deserts into forests!”
I’ve heard that you help train other priests (and bishops?) in the spirituality of unity. Why do you devote your limited time to this?
“What you have received as a gift, give as a gift” (Matt 10:8). I consider that my discovery of the spirituality of unity was a grace. The fact that it is a gift has motivated me to share what I have received.
The Focolare maintains centers of formation where people can spend time in a more intense experience of unity. I was asked by the movement to give a few years of my ministry for the purpose of helping seminarians and priests to grow and experience a life of communion. With the permission of my bishop, I agreed.
It was a privilege to assist in this formation for the good of the Church and humanity. In so doing, I received the hundredfold of the Gospel by coming to know priests and bishops from every continent. I gave, but I also received many brothers throughout the world.
Do you think the spirituality of unity can help a deeply-divided American Church resist polarization and acrimony? What specific ideas, tools, and practices do you think would be most important for this?
Absolutely! Our political discourse has lost its focus. Ideas and ideologies have overshadowed the centrality of the human person.
By not focusing on the dignity of the human person and the promotion of the common good, these ideologies and ideas have taken center stage making charitable or even civil discourse collapse. I believe this has led us to the present polarization and division.
A spirit of unity inherently demands dialogue rooted in the dignity of each person created in God’s image and likeness. A cardinal principle of the spirituality is, “Whatever you do to the least.…”
We’re closing out a primary election season that got ugly, and the general election isn’t looking much better. Is the spirituality of unity just for Christians, or is it something with legs in a secular context as well?
Igino Giordani was a person Chiara Lubich considered a co-founder. He was a husband and father, journalist and Member of Parliament as well as a pioneer of the ecumenism.
Based on his writings and experience among politicians, much has been done in the Focolare Movement to bring the spirit of unity and dialogue into the public square and into houses of government. Chiara Lubich herself was called to speak in the Houses of Parliament in Italy and Slovakia as well as at UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the United Nations, and today the Focolare maintains an NGO presence at the U.N.
The principles of human dignity, dialogue and the understanding that each person is a child of God not only contains the element of truth, but can lead to action for the common good.
If we in the United States can move beyond the entanglement of personal and party ideologies and move toward openness towards one another, there is hope of fostering a world of peace, harmony and justice.
Through the spirituality of unity, we can contribute to what Pope Paul VI and others since have called “a civilization of love.”