President, The Focolare Movement
Maria Voce was elected president of the Movement on July 7, 2008, by the General Assembly of the Focolare. She is the first focolarina to succeed the founder, Chiara Lubich, who died on March 14 of that same year. She was born in Ajello Calabro, Cosenza, Italy, on July 16, 1937, the first of seven children. Her father was a doctor; her mother, a housewife.
During her last year of law school in Rome (1959), she met a group of focolarini at the university and was fascinated by their Gospel witness. Upon completion of her studies, she became the first woman lawyer in her city’s court system. Later, she studied Theology and Canon Law.
In 1963, she felt the unexpected and “overwhelming” call of God to follow in the way of Chiara Lubich, and she immediately responded. She gave up her promising career and went to attend the school of formation for focolarine in Grottaferrata, Rome. Chiara gave her the name Emmaus, and this is how she continues to be known in the Movement. This name recalls the story of the two disciples who walked with Jesus following his Resurrection, and it recalls what is at the heart of the Focolare’s charism: Jesus makes himself present “where two or more are united” in His name.
From 1964 to 1972, she was in Sicily, in the Focolare Centres of Syracuse and Catania. From 1972 to 1978, she belonged to Chiara Lubich’s personal secretariat and, for the following 10 years, she lived in the Focolare Centre of Istanbul where she established ecumenical and interreligious relationships, especially with then Patriarch of Constantinople, Demetrius I; with numerous metropolitans including the current Patriarch Bartholemew I; and with representatives of various churches.
As a law expert, from 1995 she was a member of the Abba School, the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies chaired by Chiara Lubich. And from 2000, she was also co-responsible for the international commission, “Communion and Law,” a network of academics and professionals involved in law. From 2002 until their approval in 2007, she worked directly with Chiara Lubich in updating the General Statutes of the Movement.
In October 2008, she participated and spoke at the Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” On November 24, 2009, Benedict XVI appointed her as a Consultor for the Pontifical Council for the Laity.