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Irish Focolare group prepares for first European Mariapolis

By Susan Gately - 02 June, 2019

The Irish delegation attending the first European Mariapolis in Italy this summer will have a real international flavour.

The 50-strong group will include people from Italy, Spain, Peru, the Philippines and France.

Delegate Mary O’Sullivan said there was a lot of excitement about the event.

“There is so much cynicism now about a united Europe, that personally I can’t wait to be part of an event that lays a foundation for a Europe built on personal relationships and encounters with people from all over Europe. I have to become a ‘European person’,” Ms O’Sullivan told CatholicIreland.net.

Among the Irish participants are a Catholic priest, Fr Colm Rothery, and former Presbyterian moderator Rev Ken Newell, who with Dr Joan Back will speak at a forum on peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

The Mariapolis, entitled Aim High, is taking place in the Dolomites, where the first Mariapolis was held 70 years ago. At the time, Focolare founder Chiara Lubich withdrew to the valley to rest with some of her first companions, soon to be followed by many people. A Mariapolis (“city of Mary”), is a gathering where the citizens of a temporary “town” try to build a new type of human society based on the relationships in a family – fraternity and mutual respect, as they holiday together.

In May the international co-ordinating committee for Aim High met at Tonadico in the Dolomites. Committee member Villiam Karas described hosting the event as a huge and challenging undertaking. “But we truly believe the gain will be a testimony for the unity of all Europe,” Mr Karas said.

Challenges range from the translation infrastructure of six languages each week, to logistics issues like transport between the different venues associated with the meeting which are spread in a 30-km radius in the Dolomites. “These will undoubtedly be opportunities to put into practice the spirit of the Mariapolis, of mutual help, concern and service,” said Pilar Marin, another committee member.

A total of 2,500 people from 37 countries will attend the event, with each participant spending a week at the Primiero valley. The Irish group will participate in the second week, from 21st to 28th July.

In a recent interview, Focolare President Maria Voce presented the European Mariapolis as an alternative to the phenomenon of rising nationalism in Europe.

“First of all, it is a living together beyond our nationalities. It has no walls, no borders. It welcomes everyone, though we speak many different languages. But it’s not just that. The experience of unity that the European Mariapolis can give is stronger because it expresses a unity in which diversity is not only accepted but valued as an enrichment for all. In this diversity each person tries to bring out the best in the other, each person tries to help the other person express their self, their richness, their culture, which may appear strange to some – but each one is impelled to do this.

“And if we all do this, no one will feel the need to defend their identity because in unity it is recognised, valued and enriched,” Ms Voce said.

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