Saturday, February 7, 2009

A letter from Rene

My name is René and I came into contact with the Focolare in 1979 in Australia. I was then 17 years of age and living with my family. My father was searching at that time for some form of meaningful Christian community to belong to.

I met a handful of focolarini and attended a few mini-Mariapoli days. Some of the gen 2 boys were renting a house (the "Gen House") and I used to travel up on some weekends to visit and stay overnight.After completing secondary school in 1980 I visited my relatives in Ireland, and also stayed for some weeks in Loppiano. When I returned to Australia, I lived for 2 years in Brisbane and did not have any contact with Focolare. I became involved with and lived in a "Catholic Worker" community (inspired by the lives of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York).In 1983 I lived in a "Gen House" until August 1986.

During those years I also attended some Mariapoli in Manila. I then stayed for a few months in Rome at the international Gen House near Grottaferrata within the domain of the focolarino "Opus". I proceeded to live in the Gen School at Loppiano for a further 6 months and on my way home, I stopped off to experience life with the Gen and focolarini of Manila and Tagaytay for 3 months in mid 1987.Within a year of returning from these intense experiences, I expressed a desire to become a focolarino. I lived together in a rented house together with a few other "esterni" for a few years. In late 1990 I moved into a focolarini household for a few months before returning to Loppiano again in January 1991.Together with other prospective focolarini who were not able to speak Italian,

I spent 12 months learning the language before entering the first year of "The School" of focolarini in 1991/2. I completed the second year in Montet in 1992/3 but was experiencing depressive symptoms and was asked to stay another year. Over the course 1993/4 I was offered the opportunity of talking with psychiatrist Dr Paul Schmidt, a focolarino in Zurich. I found the life at Montet so stifling that in September 1994 I asked for a ticket to return to Australia.I stayed in focolare for a month until

I found myself an apartment and employment. I lived alone. I was estranged from both my family and the focolare community. After about a year I suffered a major depressive episode and stopped working for a year.Ten years ago, in August 1996, at the age of 35, I began to go out with a woman, who I married in December 2000. I now have 4 step-children. Last year, the two boys (25 and 21 years old) and the eldest girl (23 y.o.) moved out of home. Our youngest girl is 16 years old.I am finding life "on the outside" to be challenging and rewarding as I struggle with mental illness. After a few years of marriage and some limited capacity in a role as step-parent, stress at work contributed to further episodes of major depressive disorder and over another year out of work.

I have just started to return to work a few months ago in the field of "Personal Support" (a program of assistance to people experiencing long-term unemployment). For 10 years, up until a few months ago, I had avoided any kind of work directly associated with caring for others.Having read Gordon's book, I am also eager to find and talk with others who have undergone such intense experiences and to put together some of the pieces of the puzzle which remains in my mind, heart, spirit and body.

May these lines bring a blessing to your reading of them in some way

Friday, January 23, 2009

Jesus wept.. by Gordon

Jesus Wept…According to an article that appeared in a special edition of the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire (19 March 2008) to mark the death of Chiara Lubich, ‘They [the focolarini] decided, “No tears in Rome [at Chiara’s funeral] because she is not dead. She lives for ever in all of us.” '

Rather than giving a witness to the millions who followed the live broadcast on Italian television or the internet feed - which was presumably what the Focolare old guard intended - this stoical approach lent an eerie atmosphere of uncertainty to the proceedings. A friend of mine who has had no contact with focolare but is familiar with its ethos, had the impression that the members were so used to being told what to feel and how to react that in these unprecedented circumstances they simply didn’t know what the appropriate response should be.

In reality, they had been instructed exactly how to behave and it was this very fact that gave to the event its strange, unengaged quality.As an ex-member who still feels affection for members of the movement and certainly for Chiara, despite my many criticisms of the organisation, I was moved to tears by the funeral and found it odd that those who profess themselves to be her most devoted followers remained dry-eyed.

Only Oreste Basso, one of the first focolarini and the ’Copresident’ of Focolare, broke down when he approached the altar to thank the distinguished guests on behalf of the movement, but then old men are notoriously prone to tears and he struggled successfully to regain his composure. Chiara’s first companions Eli Folonari and Graziella de Luca, on the other hand, had a jolly chat outside the basilica at the end of the funeral as though they had just concluded a successful Day Meeting.Chiara Lubich’s funeral shone a very public spotlight on one of the Focolare Movement’s most serious shortcomings: the detachment from feelings encouraged in members.

In this case, it was so strong that the spontaneous reaction most human beings would experience in such circumstances was absent. Sister Madeleine, founder of the Little Sisters of Jesus, once said that in order to be Christian, it is necessary to be human first; but that is rather difficult in the Focolare Movement in which ‘human’ is a negative term. Psychologists would say that the detachment from ones emotions that the movement promotes is pathological and dangerous. Indeed, it could well be the principal reason for the prevalence of depression and mental illness to be found in Focolare from the top down. Now that the founder is dead, current and former members of the movement would benefit greatly from a probing and truthful investigation into this aspect. The genuine gospel message is certainly not a recipe for mental illness .

If it is truly God’s Word, it should be just the opposite. I remember attending the funeral of a child at Loppiano, the daughter of married focolarini, who had died after suffering terribly from a painful congenital illness. The atmosphere was one of manic rejoicing and not even the parents or siblings let slip any indications of sadness or mourning.I wondered then, and I have wondered down the years, why no one pointed out that this is the Focolare approach and certainly not that of the gospel. Jesus was very much in touch with his emotions and did not shrink from showing them in public. In particular, he wept over Lazarus’ death, even though he must have known he had the power to raise him up. This is surely the good, human reaction to the loss of a loved one. And here is the nub of the problem. What exactly is the nature of the love that Focolare preaches if it is so disembodied, so disincarnate, that it feels no reaction to the loss of someone one claims to have loved to the point of being ready to lay down ones life for them?

In life, as in death, the reaction to the loss of close friends is remarkably cold - as in the case of members who leave the movement for example. Can real love be compatible with such a lack of feeling? I have long been troubled that the gospel virtue of compassion was never mentioned in Focolare teachings. Yet we read that Jesus had compassion on the multitude and that he wept over the fate of Jerusalem. He even compared himself to a mother hen gathering her chicks: a more tender and emotion-filled image would be hard to find. Yet how can the focolarini be expected to ‘feel’ or ‘suffer’ with others if they mistrust feelings so much.

I remember how, shortly after leaving Focolare, I was moved by a television programme or a film which made me weep for the first time in nearly ten years. My emotions had been released from their prison. How can we obey Jesus’ command to ‘Weep with those who weep’ if we are unable to weep ourselves? Rather than follow the stoical line of the movement, I prefer to follow the path that Jesus indicated: ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.' Gordon Urquhart

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Welcome to the weblog for ex-members of the Focolare movement.This is the place on the web for people who are past members of the Focolare and also for people who want to know more about the inside of the Focolare that is mostly hidden behind a very different outside facade.
The people who work and write for this weblog are all ex-members who have been in the movement for a long time. We give support and information in order to help people to understand better how Focolare works and we also provide a forum for the opinions of visitors to the site.