In the early 1950s, when Chiara Lubich and her friends went up to the Dolomites, mountains of Trent, for their summer rest, little did they know that they were setting a tradition that would be repeated, at different times, in varied ways, and in diverse places all over the globe.
Rest, just like work, can be a precious opportunity to experience the newness that the Gospel brings: universal brotherhood. The method is quite simple, too simple perhaps for the sophisticated, but enchanting for those who, in their hearts, remain like little children. “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.” A simple rule, the “golden rule,” which even those who do not know Jesus Christ acknowledge and can practice.
Very soon, Chiara and the first group were joined by men and women of different ages, social backgrounds and nationalities, who were attracted by this experience and wanted to share it with them. Professionals, laborers, employees, politicians, children and the elderly all felt like they were one family building together a city, with only one law: Evangelical Love. They called this temporary city Mariapolis, or the city of Mary.
The Mariapolis has become a regular appointment for members and friends of the Focolare Movement in the 186 nations where it is present. Originally a kind of summer vacation in the mountains, now its present format varies from nation to nation, from region to region, as it becomes inculturated in the reality of the local community.
This year, the Mariapolis in Cebu took place at the EcoTech Center of the Department of Education, Cebu City, from April 1-3. The number of participants was record-breaking as it increased every day until they were almost 800. Everyone present felt the great family atmosphere created. They also celebrated the 50th anniversary celebration of the Focolare in Asia.
Many were the participants from various Christian denominations and from the youth sector. The theme highlighted “Unity as a gift, as a commitment and as a goal,” a theme which the participants or Mariapolites welcomed with great enthusiasm as they had witnessed it lived within and among the Focolare communities. Different experiences shared on stage further strengthened the reality of unity.
In Davao, instead, the Mariapolis was held from April 15-17, at the St Francis Xavier Regional Major Seminary (REMASE), on a hilltop in Davao City. Around 200 to 250 people were expected but the final number reached 400. Planned as an extension of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Focolare in Asia, the theme also centered on unity, with an historical photo exhibit that showed the life of the Focolare in Asia in these 50 years. Around 70% of those who came were young people.
Notwithstanding the scorching heat and the load shedding of electricity through two hours of daily brownouts, life in the Mariapolis continued with ever greater intensity and not a trace of discomfort was visible among the participants, to judge from their smiling faces. In fact, even teenagers and children did their part by joining in various workshops, with the teen group particularly involved in the workshop on social media. The pioneers of the Mindanao community were also presented to all.
The Mariapolis was like a living garden where the beauty of each participant could be compared to a flower that complemented the others.
In Luzon, the Mariapolis took the form of a Family Camp where, from April 29- May 1, entire families came together for a weekend in the restful atmosphere of Mariapolis Peace, in Tagaytay City, around the rim of an extinct volcano overlooking Taal Lake, with a full view of the awesome Taal volcano island.
Games and contests entertained the some 600 young and mature people, with alternative activities for those who could not readily spend hours under the blazing sun or end up in a mudslide.
Senior citizens enjoyed dancing to the tune of “Pearly Shells In The Ocean”! But there were enlightening workshops too, where one learned for example, that in life, not only IQ (intelligence quotient) counts, but also that EQ (emotional quotient) is even more important at times! Who said that entertainment and spiritual growth are incompatible? The general feeling was that one big family encompassing all the families and individuals who came together was formed.
Acts of love became spontaneous and a daily appointment explained more in-depth what loving means for those who wanted to live like Christ. It was a challenge to learn that true love means loving without expecting anything in return, without waiting for others to make the first move, or that it means loving everyone, including your enemies, and not stopping even when it is difficult! Every day's climax came with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
The two days and a half passed by quickly. Everybody wanted more but their consolation was that the Mariapolis could be lived and recreated in any place, any time, even in one’s daily life, by loving all those who come along one’s path - family, friends, and even those persons who are difficult to love!
In the Mariapolis in Rome this year, Pope Francis himself paid participants a surprise visit. After hearing the experiences shared by some participants, the Pope remarked: “You transform deserts into forests.” The Mariapolites go to those places where there is a desert, where there is no hope, and do things that would allow this desert to become a forest, where there is life.
Indeed, Pope Francis had hit the nail on the head. Where there is a Mariapolis, there is life. Where people believe in the ideal of unity, where people love one another like brothers and sisters, there is life. This is what the Mariapolis offers to quench the thirst of this parched earth: the lives and love of its participants that can make life blossom wherever they are.
Nilda Castro and Robert Samson