Thomas MASTERS and Amy UELMEN. Focolare. Living a Spirituality of Unity in the United States. Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 2011, pp. 224. $16.95 pb. ISBN 978-56548-374-3. 
Reviewed by Ana Lourdes SUAREZ, University of El Salvador, Saavedra 15, C1083ACA , Buenos Aires, Argentina

The book is written by two American Focolare members. From their inside familiarity and personal experience, Thomas Masters and Amy Uelmen present the Focolare spirituality, structure, and main activities. The book is intended for an American audience. Its aim is to help readers appreciate the Focolare Movement in the United States, and to demonstrate that the Focolare´s spirituality is both suitable for the American culture, and a gift to their people. The book is an effort to describe the particular contribution that the Focolare makes to the United States, even though in its 50 years in North America it has not spread out and grown as much as it did in some European and Latin American countries.

After an introductory section defining the subject and its importance, Masters and Uelmen divide their book into three parts, one on "Origins and Brief History of the Focolare Movement”, a second on "Living a Spirituality of Unity in the United States", and a third on "The Focolare Spirituality and Contemporary Culture in the United States". In all three parts every theme presented is supported by testimonies. These personal narratives are mainly from American Focolare members and have been extracted from testimonies reported at Focolare monthly magazine, Living City. By recurring to these narratives the authors are making the point that according to them, the movement is best understood through the example of those whose lives have been touched and framed within the spirituality of unity.

Part one provides background on the Movement´s founder, Chiara Lubich, its origin in Italy during World War II, and a sketch of Focolare´s history and development. The authors narrate uncritically, as any inside member would do, the “official story” of the origins; the one presented in the Focolare press. After rooting the birth of the spirituality of unity in Lubich´s life, the authors present its main points as it appears in the 2008 version of the General Statutes approved by the Catholic Church, its seven aspects of life, and the instruments developed by Lubich for spiritual growth and communication. With great simplicity and clarity the authors present in Part II the structures that sustain its members in their commitments, the various vocational paths that its members follow, and the shape it gives to their social and cultural projects. The presentation highlights the broadness of the Focolare structure. Through its eighteen branches and six mass movements the FM is meant to embrace all possible stages of life, interests, cultural, social and political realities. It also stresses Christian and interfaith dialogue.

In the last part of the book Masters and Uelman lay out arguments to demonstrate how the Focolare´s ideas, structures and ways of communicating have addressed cultural themes in the US. The authors argue that the two founding stories, that of the Focolare and that of the US, contain intriguingly similar statements of principles. The authors identify four core quests to realize values in American culture: the search for happiness, for freedom, for community, for common good. Through the lived experience of individuals and communities in the FM throughout the US, the authors tend to demonstrate that the cultural tensions implicit in each quest can both be overcome, and find their best expression through the spirituality of unity. The authors argue that the fact that “many” people in the US have found that the Focolare spirituality is relevant and helpful for their personal lives suggests that the Focolare has to a significant degree adapted itself to the North American context.

The main evidence for the strong arguments and hypothesis presented in the book is the testimony of people touched by the Focolare spirituality. Can simple narratives chosen for their usefulness in presenting the authors themes be enough evidence? The book does not present figures. How many American people are actually committed members in each of the 18 branches of the movement? How was the flow of these figures since the Focolare arrived in US fifty years ago? How many people committed and afterwards decide to quit? Why did they quit? What would their narratives be after quitting? Do the present structure and activities reflect actual commitment? Do their organization and institutionalized practices reflect and favor the spirituality of unity? These are some questions that the authors do not address and that I believe are relevant in order to deal with their hypothesis.

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