University Institute to Foster Culture of Unity

Focolare President Describes Students Ready to Love

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By Chiara Santomiero

LOPPIANO, Italy, NOV. 26, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The charism that God inspired in the founder of the Focolare movement has sparked a university institute offering a master's in a "culture of unity."

Students have already arrived to Loppiano, the city founded by the Focolare Movement in the 1960s, and have begun preparations for the official opening ceremony of the Sophia University Institute on Dec. 1. Maria Emmaus Voce, president of Focolare, told ZENIT that the inspiration behind the institute originated in Chiara Lubich, the movement's founder.

Voce explained: "Chiara had an ardent desire to know the truth, and thought she would get to know it through studying philosophy. At a certain moment she felt within that Jesus was asking her to seek the truth not in books, but in following him, the Truth incarnate. So she made the choice to put her books away in the attic, and give up her dream of studying in order to follow him.

"She also felt Jesus saying to her, 'I will be your teacher,' promising to reveal his truth, and his knowledge, to her. And this is what happened through the gift of a charism, the charism of unity. From the profound conviction that the charism of unity contains the capacity to generate a doctrine capable of lighting up the various fields of knowledge, a university institute has been born today."

Human growth

The institute offers a master's degree in "Foundations and Perspectives of a Culture of Unity," with plans for a doctoral degree to follow.

The institute's president is Monsignor Piero Coda, professor of trinitarian theology at the Pontifical Lateran University and president of the Italian Theological Association.

A Focolare press statement from earlier this year explained that the institute is "an academic laboratory of formation, study and research with a strong relational structure in the light of the Gospel -- an innovative occasion for human and cultural growth."

The statement added that it brings together "study and experience within a community of life and thought, in which the relationship between persons is founded on the basis of the relationship between disciplines."

Voce affirmed that "those who enroll in this university institute are coming here already with a pre-condition, that of being disposed to love others, of being open to all persons regardless of what culture, religion, world and race they belong to.

"The students at Sophia have been and are open to an experience of life in which they find that not only can they be open to each other as persons, but also their own cultures can be open to each other," she told ZENIT. "They are also seeing that every discipline is profoundly linked to every other discipline and that wisdom is the foundation of everything, that is, God's vision of men and the human reality."

A contribution

Regarding Focolare's expectations for the institute, Voce continued: "We hope to form men and women who know how to unite teaching and life and will be able to make a contribution to unity -- to be men and women who build unity -- where society takes them, through their professional careers and social activities."

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, signed the pontifical decree erecting the institute in December 2007. He commended on that occasion "this important project, well-rooted in the academic tradition, but at the same time courageous and looking to the future."

The institute aims to establish ongoing dialogue between professors and students, to form leaders and academics who will build a new culture based on unity.

"We truly expect that these people," concluded Voce, "like catalysts in any social group, will be able, little by little, to build something that attracts people, a point around which cells of unity are built that expand further and further into society until 'all are one,' until the human family will be reconstituted in unity. This is Jesus' prayer to the Father, Chiara's dream, ours, and, therefore, my personal dream."

[Adapted by Genevieve Pollock]

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On the Net:

Sophia University Institute: iu-sophia.org