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Somewhere Over the Rainbow

September 27, 2015
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There’s this great scene early in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy unsuccessfully tries to relate to her family about an incident involving her dog Toto. After she’s brushed off with the admonishment “find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble” Dorothy muses to her dog Toto, "'Some place where there isn't any trouble?' Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It's not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It's far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain..."
Dreams of a place where there isn’t any trouble; a place where peace and universal brotherhood reigns seem like the stuff of songs and fairy tales.
Open hearts. Open minds. If you are different than me, why don’t we talk? Why do we always throw rocks at that which separates us? At that in which we are differing? Why don’t we hold hands in that which we have in common? Motivate ourselves to speak about what we have in common, and then we can talk about the differences we have.  Pope Francis, Address to Youth in Havana
And maybe it even sounds a little cheesy, but in the Tuscan hills of Italy there’s a town that suggests that perhaps it's not.
I caught up with Donata Ling, a young woman who has visited this special place and asked her to share some her experiences. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada, Donata is continues to promote peace through her work in interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
Donata Ling (third from left) in Egypt, after studying at Hebrew U, with friends.
Ok, you’re rep for the Youth For A United World project, what’s that about?
It’s an international political project launched by young people from around the world who want to live in a more united world. The Project has gained a lot of international recognition from UNESCO in Paris, UNDESA in New York and YOUTH IN ACTION, the youth program of the European Commission. The Project works to create a new way of thinking and living in a world; as it encourages people to care for one another as they would their own sister or brother.
During your third year of university you went to Loppiano, Italy, why Loppiano?
I’ve been part of the Focolare Movement since childhood. My parents had been involved in Hong Kong, before I was born. It seemed as though my involvement in Focolare was very much their choice not mine.  So I decided to experience the community for myself, to determine whether this was the life I wanted.
Initially I imagined I’d go after I’d finished university but, I remember when one of the spiritual directors asked me to consider taking a year off to go to Loppiano, which meant that I wouldn’t graduate with the rest of my friends and interrupting my university degree midway. This choice, seemed to be insignificant compared to the opportunity of experiencing what so many people in the Focolare Movement had already experienced. I felt God was calling me to do this. And, it was undeniably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
Donata (centre in back row) with a mix of youth from various countries, such as the Philippines, Italy, Brazil and India in Loppiano, Italy.
Tell me a little about how you came to commit yourself to working for unity and how your faith played a role?
I always knew that the Focolare Movement worked for a more united world, but I didn’t believe it was possible; it just seemed like a Utopian dream. But when I was living in Loppiano, Italy, I experienced a diverse community of people from different cultures and religions that really cared for one another. I was convinced that advancing greater unity in the world was the most pressing need of our time. It was in Loppiano that I made a commitment to live in unity with others. And so on April 27th, 2011 along with everyone present at the School of Formation for Young Women in Loppiano we made a commitment to remain faithful to Jesus in whatever He may call us to do. Every year, on this date we remind ourselves of that promise to God.
Donata Ling, (centre in front row) at home in Bethlehem with the Focolare Movement.
Your experience in Loppiano lead you to study in Israel, why? What made that experience significant to you?
In Loppiano, I had the chance to meet someone from Jerusalem who shared her story with me. She told me that what should be a 10 minute commute is more like 2 hours for her because her university is in Palestine and she lived in Jerusalem.’
I had met so many other people who shared challenges of poverty, civil war and injustices, however for some reason this story really impacted me. I had never met someone who had faced political barriers so completely out of one’s control.
This is called social friendship: to seek the common good. Social enmity destroys... And today we see that the world is destroying itself with war because people are incapable of sitting down and talking...We are killing social friendship. And that’s what I ask of you today: be capable of creating social friendship.
Pope Francis, Address to Youth in Havana
At the same time, someone else shared with me that Saint John Paul II had said that if the situation in Israel-Palestine could be resolved peacefully, then it would be possible for the whole world.
This really resonated with me because I was committed to building peace and unity in the world... Several months later during a retreat, I shared with another friend that I was interested in going to the Middle East to learn more because my friend’s experiences had touched me in such a profound way.  
So I took the opportunity to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for the summer of 2013. I went there to try and understand more about the situation and ended up leaving even more confused. 
I have come to realize that living for unity requires a daily struggle to live out the  principle of the Golden Rule “Treat others as you would like to be treated”. The answer to building peace and unity is the same there as it is anywhere, because the Golden Rule is universal. Also, I was strengthened to know that Jesus himself prayed for unity. I am now His body, being His hands and feet, which reaches out to others, especially those who are vastly different in cultural and religious perspectives.
Donata (centre in front) with friends from around the world in Loppiano, Italy.
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Donata's commitment to unity seen in light of the Pope's recent calls to dialogue, social friendship and to practice the Golden Rule suggests that that place somewhere beyond the rainbow may not be the stuff of fairy tales after all.
Learn more about the Focolare Movement here.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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