Alternating in an authentic spirit of service

July 23, 2021 - 12:00am -- Living City

Alternating in an authentic spirit of service

Focolare welcomes a Vatican decree encouraging leadership rotation for movements

By Susanne Janssen

Approved by Pope Francis on June 3, a decree promulgated by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life aims to limit the terms of those who serve in the governing bodies of international ecclesial movements and associations. A term should now have a maximum duration of five years, with a one-time possibility to reelect, limiting the overall term in office to 10 consecutive years (while allowing dispensations for founders). 

When asked if this decree came as a surprise, Focolare President Margaret Karram said: “We were not expecting it right now, but the content did not surprise us. For years, the Focolare Movement has been undergoing a process favoring rotation in governing bodies, both at the international center and in the countries where we are present, seeking to establish term limits. The decree showed, once again, the Church as a mother.” 

A detailed explanatory note helps to understand the spirit of the decree, which seeks to foster greater ecclesial communion, a broader synodality, an authentic spirit of service and increased missionary enthusiasm. Furthermore, its goal is to help protect against both the abuse of power, as well as cults of personality. 

Karram emphasized how the Catholic Church often guides and assists ecclesial movements in finding organizational forms that allow the movements to remain faithful, not only to their own charism and mission, but to the church’s broader calling in today’s world. For this reason, the Focolare fully welcomes both the spirit and the regulations of the decree.

This newest regulation shows that the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life has engaged in an in-depth reflection and discernment. Yet Karram does not feel this reflects any particular Vatican concerns about ecclesial movements in general. 

“The dicastery certainly pays particular attention to ecclesial movements … The decree itself underlines the ‘blossoming’ of these associations and recognizes the fact that they have brought ‘to the Church and to the contemporary world an abundance of grace and apostolic fruit.’ 

“It is not the Church’s intention to curb the charismatic impulse of the movements, their innovative strength, or their missionary impact. The decree offers structural elements aimed to help reduce risks, by limiting the time one person can hold a position of governance.”

Does the decree favor healthy, generational change? Are term limits for those in executive positions enough to ensure synodal governing, where everyone has a voice, and reduce the chance of abuse of power? 

Karram deems it of great importance to aim at real, lasting and fruitful cultural change. 

“I think we should first ask ourselves what the purpose of governing an association like ours is,” she said. “The main purpose of our government — as I think it is for every ecclesial movement — is to ensure the movement goes forward in developing the genuine spirit of its own charism, following the purposes for which the Holy Spirit brought it to life.” 

This purpose, says Karram, needs to be continuously updated, improved and renewed, requiring above all, a conversion of hearts to the Gospel and to one’s own charismatic roots. A generational change in governing bodies, through frequent turnover in leadership positions, could help in avoiding a centralization of functions, as well as expressions of self-absorption, which can easily cause serious violations of dignity and personal freedom. 

But for the Focolare president, rotating positions alone does not guarantee fair management of power. “We need other elements, which we have been implementing and continuously improving for several years, such as a path of spiritual and human development to sound leadership, a style of governance that highlights collective discernment, as well as new forms of support and synodal approaches in the selection of candidates for leadership positions.”

In three years, certain positions voted upon during the General Assembly of the Focolare in February 2021 will come up for reelection, and according to the president, citing the terms of the decree, the current term duration needs to be changed from 6 to 5 years. Karram offered assurance that “we want to achieve this not only for central and international bodies, but also on a larger scale, in the leadership of the regional centers.”

She continued, “It is particularly close to my heart to live an experience of synodality in the government of the Focolare. This means conducting everything with a spirit of listening and bringing back interpersonal relationships of fraternal love, truth and charity.” 

Karram also noted the conclusion of an online meeting with zonal delegates from all over the world. “In listening to them, all the vivacity and creativity of the ‘people of Chiara Lubich’ emerged. They want to take care of the different forms of disunity and heal the wounds of humanity which surround them. 

“It is not necessary that the international center always give directives or guide the path of the Focolare. The important thing is that the center guarantees the unity of the entire movement.”

With material from Città Nuova, Italy

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