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Corona and the Message of Love
July 02, 2020. Maria Voce and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

By Alon Goshen-Gottstein, specialist in interreligious dialogue

Following the introduction of the “Coronaspection” series, that brings together 40 religious leaders worldwide to reflect on the spiritual challenges brought about by COVID-19, including “the view from Rome”, featuring both Pope Francis and Rabbi Ricardo Di Segni, we would like to profile a further important Christian contribution, also Italian, and to relate it to an important Muslim contribution

Maria Voce is President of the Focolare movement. This lay Catholic movement has a worldwide presence and draws its initial inspiration from the recognition of God’s love as the antidote to civil life crumbling in times of war. At its core is a vision of unity and brotherhood of humanity. It is interesting to relate her message to that of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a noted Sufi author, and activist, who in his own way also seeks to realize a vision of unity across society and between religions. In both contributions, we can recognize the workings of a fundamental common principle in their respective spiritual lives – love.

For Maria Voce, we may consider love as the core driver of her work and that of her organization. Her decisions during COVID-19 crisis are informed by the principle of love, in light of which she sought to relate to people impacted by her decisions. Love is also the spiritual force by means of which one can deal with one of the main challenges posed by the COVID situation. The interviews with leaders posed the question of how to cope with fear and panic. Relying on the teachings of the Foundress of Focolare, Chiara Lubich, Voce returns to the fundamental teaching that only love casts out fear. Love is modeled as a mother’s love. The mother’s love for her children provides her with the courage to undertake exceptional feats, even if fear remains in her heart. Lockdown during COVID is seen through the lens of love. Living in close quarters and the ensuing challenges are opportunities and invitations to practice love. Love should be creative. Let love suggest not hundreds but a thousand ways we can be there for others, whether they are nearby or far away, also by using all the technical means available to us. Problems may arise in the future, even when this pandemic is over. These are encountered with the belief that there is Someone who brings history forward for our good. This Someone is God who is Love, who loves everyone and who therefore cannot fail to bring good out of all these situations. Clearly, the Christian view of God as love provides the foundation for the centrality of love as her core message and as the fundamental principle for coping with challenges, whether occasioned by COVID-19 or otherwise. Love is also the foundation of hope. Her view is fundamentally optimistic. This optimism comes from faith in God’s love. God loves creation, his creatures, all people and God is Love. This, then, becomes the basis for a view of life that is one of hope. While we remain in the world we must live out of love, so that we can leave the world a message of love that will continue into eternity.

If love is the central message for Maria Voce, it is also one of the important messages voiced by Imam Abdul Rauf. Rauf’s message revolves around an attempt to obtain a God’s-eye view of reality, what he calls a theocentric perspective. This goes to the core of defining self-identity. We need to find the truly stable part of self-identity, which is the divine image and the divine breath in us. In reality, we are all one. The drive for unity that informs the Focolare’s quest is here affirmed as grounded in Islam’s most important principle, more important than any specific observance – the unity of God. This in turn leads Abdul Rauf to love. Quoting Jesus, Imam Abdul Rauf quotes the two great commandments – the love of God and love of the neighbor. Loving God and loving others is dependent on loving ourselves. The greatest love of all is God’s love of himself, and he created us as an expression of his self-love. You love God by loving the other, and loving creation. Coronavirus is testing our capacity to love each other. When you love God you also love solitude, itself one of the consequences of Coronavirus. One, therefore, advances along two paths – love of God in solitude and love of the other, in action and good deeds. Like Voce, Abdul Rauf considers the work of health professionals as an expression of love. Whether in solitude and contemplation or in action and service, the community as a whole manifests one integrated vision of love in its dual interrelated manifestations, love of God and love of the other.