By Eric Martin
Over the long weekend of September 27 – 30, Focolare Perth hosted a four day Mariapolis at Muresk Institute Northam, which proved to be the perfect surroundings to create this temporary ‘city’.
The Mariapolis is a retreat with a difference, open to believers and non-believers alike with the program – for adults, families, youth and children – including prayer, talks and shared life experiences, interlaced with walks, sports, games, music and creative workshops.
With participants coming from all ages and all walks of life, the Mariapolis is designed to be a miniature version of the heavenly kingdom of God, described by foundress Chiara Lubich as, ‘A city where people live together in a way that God can live among us.’
“As Mary was the first to give Jesus to the world, so like her we too want to give Jesus to the world through our mutual love,” Focolare representative and retreat organiser, Aida Barbosa, said.
The Mariapolis was created to enable like-mind people to join together in community, in order to practically live out their faith in accordance with the Gospels: members of Focolare are firm believers that the demand to love God is best expressed through the profound calling to love the person next to you.
During the four-day retreat with families and singles, young and old, priests, bishops, religious, lay men and women & youth, with those from all cultures and beliefs try to put into practice the law of love, ‘The Art of Loving’, by concretely trying to put the words of the Gospel into practise.
“The Mariapolis featured various sessions with inspiring talks of how to live the spirituality of unity, sharing with one another, daily Mass, playing games together, free time, separate youth programs, childcare and of course, sharing of delicious meals, we experienced that living like this God can live among us and we can then experience Heaven here on earth,” shared Karen Hayes, who attended the recent retreat in Northam.
“At the Mariapolis one discovers deeper the spirituality of unity, which helps people to discover themselves, their own relationship with God and through that, the need of their neighbour; the fact that they can reach God and love God through their neighbour,” she said.
“As we meet together and share our experiences we receive the strength and light to keep living out the Gospel in a very secular world.
“Personally I’ve found a sense of fellowship through belonging to the Focolare Movement: here I’ve experienced a family spirit and the support of living the Spirituality of Unity based on the Gospel which provides practical points to keep me focused on the Christian Journey and has helped me reach out to people of other Christian traditions and indeed other world religions and non-believers,” Karen explained.
“Personal highlights of the Mariapolis experience for me are the spiritual talks which are presented with all the modern techniques of the digital age that we live in – the programmes of the Mariapolis are always very balanced with spiritual input for adults, teenagers and children.
“These are combined with group discussions and fun activities: this year a star gazing activity was included for those who wished to go into the bush and participate,” she said.
Karen went on to elaborate that the Mariapolis promotes universal brotherhood and unity as and that people who attend can learn to live the Spirituality of unity within their own Religions.
“People of many different world religions are already part of the Focolare Movement,” she said.
“It encourages a sense of dialogue where we try to work together towards the realisation of Jesus last prayer, ‘That all may be one,’ (John 17) through reaching out in love to everyone.
“We also go beyond Christianity in an effort to focus on the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do to unto you”) which is very much a part of Christianity and an integral part of most of the great world religions.”
Chiara Lubich was a women moved by Jesus’ prayers that humanity would be as one, responding with God’s love in the face of the violence and atrocities of World War II, as she ran between air raid shelters in Trent, Northern Italy, 1943.
The Focolare Movement that she started is now a worldwide organisation with a mission to contribute to full communion with Christians of different churches; and to work towards realising the universal brother/sisterhood of all peoples, regardless of religious beliefs.