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Een kritische kijk op een religieuze sekte

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Gewijzigd: 2011-3-8      Bezoekers:


Wie niet leert van het verleden, blijft steeds dezelfde fouten herhalen









































































FOCOLARE: a sect?

Interview of Monique Goudsmit by Johan Detraux (SAS België)

 The book ‘BEVRIJD’ (transl. =‘Liberated’) by Monique Goudsmit (54) was recently published. Since the age of ten, Monique had been a member of the Focolare community in her city of birth, Eindhoven, Holland. She turned into the ideal Focolare youth. Her photo was even on the wall in the world center in Rome. Overall, Monique was a member of this Catholic ‘sect’ for 25 years. We would like to draw attention to her story and book.

How did you get caught up in the Focolare?

As a child of ten I came into contact with the Focolare, a movement started in Italy in 1943 by the recently deceased Chiara Lubich. The goal of the movement is to live closely according to the Gospel, as the first Christians did: in love for God and in mutual love with all neighbors. The objective is to realize this unity throughout the World.

My father had just died and our family, which consisted of my mother and four young children, was invited to a Focolare summer meeting – a meeting that lasted several days. Saddened by everything I had to go through in that period, I was receptive to the friendliness of the people in the Focolare and the way they smiled so sweetly at me. It was exactly what I needed. I was raised with a strong faith, and the realization of spirituality was already present very early on in my life.  

What I heard in the Focolare fascinated me. It seemed wonderful to be so united with each other and to recognize that you were a part of the greater whole. In Eindhoven, where I lived at the time, there was a Focolare community – Focolare being the Italian word for fireplace. After school I often went there, almost every day. Sometimes I stayed the night. I sought safety there.

Naturally, I often joined meetings and helped to organize activities for young people. In the evenings, in bed, I read Chiara’s meditation books and enjoyed them. I was enthusiastic and fanatically took part in trying to convince as many people as possible about our great Ideal of Unity. I was certain I had the calling to become a focolarina. I wanted to commit my life to God and as a disciple of Chiara I wanted to give up everything to help realize the words of Jesus, “May they all be one.”

When I was nineteen, I received approval from the center in Rome to enter. I was allowed to live in the Focolare of Amsterdam. I lived there until I was thirty-four. In 1988 I left the Movement.

How was life in the community?

Over a great many years, I lived as part of the Focolare community, usually living with five or six other women. Occasionally, the composition changed. Sometimes someone was sent to another Focolare house in another country and sometimes a new individual joined. Apart from ourselves, there were also male Focolares.
Most of us had a job outside the Focolare. I worked as a social worker and donated my entire salary to the community. Everyone did. The evenings were always filled with meeting for our own community, for the youth or for sympathizers from the area around our Focolare. We listened to talks given by Chiara or told of our own experiences of living in unity.

Meetings were often held in our house, although we also journeyed frequently throughout the country on our apostolic mission. Until late in the evenings we were busy and it wasn’t easy to find time for prayer and meditation (on the basis of the writings of Chiara), but also that was on our daily program. Moreover, the weekends were usually filled with gatherings or preparing for big events. On top of all this, household chores had to be squeezed in. There was never time for anything other than the Focolare. I had a chronic shortage of sleep.

What sectarian elements did you experience in the Focolare?

One of the key concepts in the Focolare is that of unity – the dream image of an ideal World. But this has to fit into a great spiritual hierarchy. If it was about life in the community or at a random gathering, there was always a capo, a ‘responsible’, with whom you had to “make unity”. This person had the grace to express what was the will of God. To object was unacceptable; no questions were asked.

Emotions, creativity or a personal idea, had to be kept inside in order to be one with the capo, because that was the way to be unified with Chiara, and she had the ‘charisma of unity’. It was as if we were united through the blood vessels of one big mystical body. We used the slogans given by Chiara. In that way we had our own terminology, often ungraspable to outsiders. On many occasions, I was told: “Monique must not exist, Monique has to die for the unity.”

Unity was seen as more important than your own conscience. I had given up everything for that holy goal I hoped to find fulfillment in. But I didn’t realize that the price was my most authentic self. The more I sank into the life of unity, the less I was able to form my own opinions and maintain a critical view. I was without identity.

Last year I heard an interesting statement by Job Cohen, mayor of Amsterdam: “We humans are all alike and we are all unlike each other. The beauty is to bring these differences together.” In the Focolare I never experienced unity as a common humanity, but as a common submission to one doctrine, to one person.

To keep the growing movement in hand there was a system of total control. I have experienced how everything, right down to the smallest detail, was reported to the responsible. Everything was accounted for, everything shared. There was no freedom of personal thought. Even the most intimate thoughts were being ‘brought to the unity’. There was no privacy whatsoever.

At bigger gatherings, so-called ‘guardian angels’ were appointed to spend time with people who were there for the first time or to keep an eye on ‘difficult people’. In the evenings, we had to report who had said what. On a regular basis everything was reported to the center in Rome. I never felt even the smallest opportunity for a spontaneous action of my own, because by doing so, I would have put myself outside the unity.

Can you tell some more regarding the book you have written about your life in the Focolare?

I am now 54 years of age and I have written a book about my life, about the road I have travelled since I was born, about becoming aware, about growth and about exploring my strength - my healing story. Although it is now more than 20 years since I left the Focolare, looking back and working on my book, I increasingly realized how the sect had had an invasive impact on my life – this is a most prominent chapter in my book, among several others.

Raised in the transit between the age of Fish and the age of Aquarius, my book – and my personal progression – is very much about cutting loose from gurus and leaders; about increasingly finding my autonomy and freedom. It is about growing above the childish belief in which the ‘mother’ dictates and I obey like a child, and more towards an adult spirituality. It is about finding a deep personal connection with the Source of Life – one in which no Movement or leader can sit in-between.

Of course, I still get inspiration from wise, interesting people, a good book or film, or simply through the things that life brings me. However, it is just like getting petrol – sometimes I need fuel to move on, but the owner of the petrol station no longer tells me which road to travel. Now, I make my own choices. It is my car and I am behind my own steering wheel.

Naturally, taking life into your own hands is not easy after there has been so much ‘thought’ on your behalf for more than 20 years. The process of growth has been painful. My development had been halted for such a long time, so I had to catch up with learning. I have had to consider all the following questions: ‘Who am I?’ ‘What are my limits and how do I respect the limits of other people?’ ‘How do I relate to sexuality?’ ‘How can I, as an adult woman in the world, have an open heart for others and still be faithful to myself?’

A big part of my book describes the pitfalls I encountered. After fifteen years of falling down and standing up again, with intensive therapies and the support of friends I have made along the way I can now say: “I did it!” I have become who I am, a human being among many others. I have come so far that I can now mean something to others with comparable experiences, without falling down myself. I stand strong and I am happy to help others with problems in the field of sects.

Finally, what would you like to tell readers about this article?

In my past, including the Focolare period, I saw no good or evil. There was no ‘blame’. I now ask myself, “Why did I let the things I am not proud of happen and why did I so fanatically follow the people of the Focolare at that time?” Nobody forced me, I did it myself. It happened the way it happened because I, first as a child and later as an adolescent, was unable to act differently or to see how I could do things in another way.

In my book I describe my truth, how I have experienced things. Apart from positive experiences I also have negative memories of certain people and happenings. But what I can also see is that the people of the Focolare are caught in their own ‘system’. They have no bad intentions but, probably, they are not able to do things differently. From this thought my book is no accusation or criticism of the Focolare. Every human being has his or her own path to walk. I want to look with mildness on others – and on myself.

Monique Goudsmit

BEVRIJD – Over identiteitsverlies en de lange weg naar heelwording
Monique Goudsmit   ISBN 978-94-90075-10-1   (Euro 19,75)

          Over identiteitsverlies en de lange weg naar heelwording
Author: Monique Goudsmit (ps)
ISBN: 978-94-90075-10-1      Editor Calbona – Rotterdam NL
Price: € 19,75  (color illustrations)
To be purchased through: Johannes Boekhandel, Alfons Smetsplein 10 Leuven
                            Littera, Ezelstraat 5 Brugge
                            To be ordered in every bookstore. 



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