'She who must be obeyed.'
(She, H. Rider Haggard, 1887)
In order to judge the true nature of the Focolare movement, it is essential to study and fully understand its internal language . But Focolare is an extremely secretive organisation. Not only are there 'two movements' - the internal and external movements - as former member Renata Patti has pointed out - but it also has two 'languages', two forms of communication: the language aimed at outsiders which is heavily doctored but designed to beguile church authorities, civil authorities, international institutions and the general public, and an internal language often using common words 'packed' with completely different and often complex meanings. So first of all you have to know this langauge and this is only possible if you are an internal member and have passed through a period of initiation, probably several years, to grasp the true meaning of the internal language. You have to hear 'Focolare words' in many different contexts to fully understand the force behind them. But even then, even as a member, you may not fully understand their purpose. This language was defined by the late Bruno Secondin, Professor of Spirituality at Rome's prestigious Gregorian University as an 'elaborated code', constructing Focolare's own universe. This code is a means of asserting power both over internal and, by reflection, external members.
|Classic 1950's album using a daring image of |
'doctoring' jazz music for stereo.
In the case of Focolare's 'doctoring' of its
structure and doctrines, the chilling
image is highly appropriate.
This langauge often uses common, very simple words, but the usage is entirely peculiar to the Focolare movement. The Focolare language is one of the major legacies left behind by the foundress, Chiara Lubich. But only known to a very restricted few.
Perhaps the simplest and most powerful words in this code are the words 'up' and 'down' - equally simple in Italian 'su' and 'giu' (and in Italian, they rhyme into the bargain). Yet their impact and power on members and former members is deadly.
'Up' means you accept everything about the movement: all its beliefs and mystical revelations, and that you 'believe in' Chiara Lubich the foundress and 'sibyl' of the movement, the 'seer' of all its beliefs and visions. Because, yes, you are expected to 'believe in' Chiara, just as you are expected to 'believe in' God. I remember being told by my first superior in the movement, 'It doesn't matter if you believe in God, as long as you believe in Chiara.' 'Up' therefore has a very specific, single sense. A sense which is overwhelming powerful to internal members. You must be 'up'.
'Down', on the other hand, has several different meanings. When it refers to people within the movement - usually internal members - the meaning can range from mild - such as being in a bad mood - to having questions or doubts about the movement, or its ideas, or, God forbid, about the foundress Chiara Lubich - who, in the Focolare context, is 'She who must be obeyed' to quote that pioneer of fanatsy English author H. Rider Haggard, author of She (1887), King Solomon's Mines (1885) etc.. The most extreme sense of the word 'down' for a member is someone who is refusing to colloborate or accept the dictates of the movement with blind obedience. I observed such members frequently, even within the first few years of my nine-year membership in the movement, both among the internal celibate focolarini and among the 'novices' at the Focolare training school at their ashram of Loppiano, in the Tuscan hills near Florence. I found such people puzzling at the time, as I was so totally mesmerised by the movement's lore.
Most significantly of all, the word is also used to describe all those who leave the movement. 'She or he has 'gone down'," it would be whispered. This is the meaning of 'down' its most absolute sense. Everyone who leaves the movement is 'down'. But what must be understood is the moral implications of the word 'down'. It can be linked to another term commonly used in the movement, freely borrowed from Saint Paul when he speaks of the 'new man' and the 'old man', referring to the redeemed self in contrast to the sinful self, i.e. the 'old man'. Interestingly, the term 'new man' is rarely used in the movement but the term 'old man' is very common, usually in the phrase 'S/he's got the "old man".' It means they are 'down', therefore sinful, or bad. Ultimately, though the extremes may vary, being down means to be evil. Down is the most powerful word in the movement's code because it represents a blanket rejection of the person to whom it is applied. It's not surprising that the majority of those who leave the movement are weighed down by a crippling sense of terror.
Sometimes the concept is spelled out more specifically. Focolare memebrs in Germany were instructed by Bruna Tomasi, one Lubich's original 'companions', that, 'No one in the movement may talk about [name of a former leader who had left the movement]: she is dead because she has betrayed God.' When Lubich herself was asked in an interview about why people leave the movement she replied, 'Those who leave us do so because they did not want to die: they did not want to deny themselves and take up the cross. Or because they are psychologically unfit for the life of the movement. Or because they have been overwhelmed by temptation.'
Not much wiggle room there. What possibility can there be for dialogue bwetween those who are 'up' - intoxicated with the spirit of the movement, blindly obedient, believing that Chiara Lubich was 'a pen in God's hand' and those who are 'down', having left the movement, having betrayed God?
For students of language, there is a fascinating case study here of how language can become a vehicle of power, how words can become active symbols, agents of magic and the supernatural.
A course on 'The theology of 'up' and 'down', at the movement's Sophia University at Loppiano employing the skills of the movement's academics such as Fabio Ciardi, Piero Coda and Luigino Bruni would make intriguing listening.
It could seem to outsiders with no inside knowledge of the movement - even fringe members - that this article is an excercise in sarcasm or satire but all those who are members or ex-members know that it is absolutely serious.