The international Focolare Movement that promotes unity and universal kinship has a new president for the next six years -- Margaret Karram -- an Arab Catholic, born 1962 in Haifa, Israel.
Karram is an expert in interreligious dialogue and will be the third president of Focolare for a six-year term.
Focolare was founded by Italian teacher Chiara Lubich in 1943 and aims to build "a more united world in which people value and respect diversity.
"We are inspired by Jesus' prayer to the Father, 'May they all be one,'" (John's gospel. 17:21), says the movement on its website.
The election was held Jan. 31 and her appointment became effective Feb. 1 after it was confirmed by the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.
AMERICAN JEWISH UNIVERSITY
Karram received her degree in Jewish studies from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and held various roles in the Focolare movement in Los Angeles and Jerusalem.
"Margaret was 15 years old when she first learned about the Focolare Movement and the spirituality of Chiara Lubich; a spirituality of unity that she embraced in a place where racial and religious intolerance still exists," the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem wrote.
"Here I am! I am at your service. I am at the service of the Church, of the movement and humanity together with all of you," said Karram, on her election by two-thirds of the 359 representatives in the Focolare General Assembly.
The election on Jan. 31 has been approved by the Vatican's Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, in accordance with the Movement's Statutes, Catholic News Service reported.
The new president by Focolare's statutes will always be a woman.
The current assembly is occurring entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic after beginning on Jan. 24 and it will conclude on Feb. 7.
The participants in the assembly represent some of the different cultures, generations, vocations, members of different churches and religous faiths who are part of the Focolare Movement.
The interim World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Ioan Sauca sent a congratulatory message to Karram on her election.
CHRISTIAN, JEWISH, MUSLIM DIALOGUE
"Your commitment to promoting the dialogue between Christians, Jews, and Muslims as well as your engagement in a sustained dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians are inspiring assets for the worldwide Movement of Focolare and beyond.
"With your vast academic, ecumenical and interreligious experience I trust that you will become a bridge-builder and an ambassador of the central message and spirituality of the Focolare."
Karram speaks Arabic, Hebrew, Italian and English. She has worked with various commissions and organizations dedicated to promoting interreligious dialogue among followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Focolare said.
She worked at Italy's consulate general in Jerusalem for 14 years and since 2014 had served as councilor for Italy and Albania at the Focolare's international center; she was also co-responsible for dialogue between ecclesial movements and new Catholic communities.
She and Jewish scholar Yisca Harani received the Mount Zion Award for Reconciliation in 2013 for their work in fostering dialogue between different cultures and religions.
Karram received the St. Rita International Award in 2016 for promoting dialogue among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians.
She succeeds Maria Voce, who was in office for two six-year terms. According to the Focolare movement's statutes, the president should always be a woman and be chosen from among consecrated members who have perpetual vows.
Assembly members reelected Feb. 1 Spanish Father Jesus Moran Cepedano, 63, to a second term as co-president. The co-president must be a Focolarino priest and his primary role is to support and collaborate with the president.
The Focolare Movement operates in 180 nations and has over 140,440 members.
The word "Focolare" is Italian for "hearth" or "family fireside".
While Focolare is the common moniker given to this organization, its official name when approved in 1990 as an International Association of the Faithful of Pontifical Right, was "Work of Mary", according to Wikipedia.