COMMUNION AND LAW
“In the crisis of civilization, of a real cultural night, which we are experiencing and which involves every sector of human life, we are losing the meaning and value of relationships. Will the law learn to rediscover its function as a useful tool for building just relationships between men and society and meet the need for justice present in the human heart?”
The origins, the proposal, the challenges
Today’s world, in the multitude of cultures, which are, however, fragmented and conflicting, challenges and asks us for a renewed reflection. It seems that to give voice to the need for a more authentic understanding also of the law itself, as an instrument capable of creating a coexistence which is as peaceful as possible. Born from this spark and the commitment of many, “Communion and Law” is an international network of jurists, students, and practitioners of the most diverse fields of law in the world.
The first steps were taken in the early 1990s in Rome—and almost simultaneously in other Italian cities and other countries. Among the first was Argentina—when small groups of legal practitioners began to meet together regularly to exchange experiences about their work. They were lawyers and judges who spontaneously met to have moments of discussion and sharing, to keep on improving the practice of their profession.
Seeing each other was a stimulus. It increased the awareness of the efforts made, as well as of the opposition and failures faced. Together, choices were enlightened; determination and commitment were reinforced.
The result was a “style” of working, in, and for justice.
The first monthly meetings began, characterized by uninhibited and intense participation of people engaged in the legal field. The meetings became a venue where they could share their experiences, rediscover the positive in their professions, and once again find the enthusiasm to live it for the goals of justice.
The choice of the name: Communion and Law
The selection of “Communion and Law” grew out of the experience of many, meaning that communion, as a lifestyle, precedes the law, or at least, everyone can contribute towards generating it.
The law, moreover, can be an instrument to promote it. It stimulates the quest for justice that is present in each one and helps to achieve it. It regulates relationship, entering into it to build it rightly, before curing what is wrong with it. It teaches us how to live, cautions us of some behaviors that create division, rifts. In the gravity of the penalty provided, it also gives us a particular criterion for measuring the degree of their impact on the community’s life. Above all, within each law, relational reciprocity calls each one back to the duties towards the other person who has rights.
Communion, in its turn, wants to point to a work method: that of reciprocal listening and dialogue. Knowledge, reflections, problems, experiences, and initiatives are shared at an international level, and comparisons, observations, and suggestions, proposals for collaboration are born. After all, experience has taught us that lasting progress is not made alone, but together, in a shared quest for answers to the many challenges.
1st Challenge: the diversity between traditions and legal culture,
between regulatory systems, civil law, and common law. If today, globalization appears to even out and homologate, break down borders between states and yet not unite. The global scenario cannot be entrusted solely to the solutions inherent to Governance. It asks for a path that winds through legal systems and culture, principles, and rules.
Moreover, the law intervenes to regulate the relationships at various levels in the Community. They are the multiple expressions of life, which puts us side by side. Therefore, [we need] to start again from the relationality, essence, and nature of law, which regulates the relationships between people, between them and the external world, within and among institutions, as its subject, beyond any formalism and “beyond” any abstraction.
But the same word, “communion,” also becomes an objective: to work so that concrete human relations that take place under the sign of the law become an occasion for mutual communion; help the parties involved to get to know each other and recognize each other in their respective dignity and respective needs; allow us to open ourselves to discussion and collaboration, going beyond roles and oppositions that divergent interests can generate, and which the law abstractly reflects.
The law, so to speak, defines the script, but the “acting” makes the characters concrete, with a face and a story, and this can be done in many different ways. Experience has convinced us that such “acting,” when it is open to the other and his or her problems, allows the legal relationship to obtain better and more constructive outcomes for everyone, even in situations of conflict.
The law, in turn, in contact with the facts comes to life: the legal experience enters in the ordinariness of relations, in social life, and the intersection of conduct. It seems to be a space in which we can offer a reversal of the tendency: from clashing to meeting, from conflict to reconciliation. While communion is generated as a way that can allow us to overcome that incommunicability for which “in the singular, men ignore each other; in the plural, they fight with each other.”
History, so significant for law and legal thought, can also write new pages. Over time, when freedom and equality were claimed as inalienable rights of individual persons, especially after the dramatic global conflicts in the 1900s, a renewed call for fraternity emerged, revived in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948, art. 1). And yet, the same appears to be a value that has been lost or replaced by solidarity.
2nd Challenge: fraternity as a paradigm
What, then, is the contribution of law today?
The question challenges jurists from various countries who meet together in the 2005 International Congress, entitled, “Relationships in Law: Is There a Place for Fraternity?” The theme posed a new challenge for Communion and Law: that of proving fraternity as a possible paradigm, to attain forms of social cohesion without impeding freedom and equality of individuals. In the present-day culture, the law seems to lose its function of being an expression of the unity of a people (or of peoples), to become more and more law of single individuals, separated and isolated. Therefore, a law incapable of reconciling individual freedoms in the coexistence of sharing and inclusion.
If the same legal thought has produced abuses and exclusion in history, we live in a time in which law, born for all, is asked a measure beyond individual protection alone, to become an effective instrument of coexistence, to contribute towards opening ways of communion in the life of every community, in which the subjects do not only see their identities protected, but also fully realized.
The story of a people is a story of life, everyday stories that have names and faces of people, albeit unknown to most. They are the many to which every norm is applied to its rules. And yet, today, the people, in their multiplicity which ‘hides’ among many the face of the least and the excluded, are perhaps the forgotten subject. It is in real life; every time silence falls on personal human dramas, or before “wars” carried out in the feuds or the battles that do not make the news, because they are already part of everyday life. Let’s think of the countries of Africa, far from our sight, but also of the many victims of several fundamental human rights violations, innocent victims starting from those deprived of life.
Here is a further horizon for law, which coincides with the quest for justice for many, and the common good for all.
Can the law be an instrument? Is there space for an agreement?
“The problem of agreement – explained the jurist Carnelutti – is the problem of the universe, that is, of ‘uni in the diverse.’” Thus, the chord, which in music requires at least two voices or two notes, would also apply to the law, which, for its intersubjective character, is born from an agreement. The law, moreover, is expressed in the rules for coexistence between two or more: from the family to associations, from institutions to people’s governments, up to relations between states. Not obligations, but relationships, beginning with the fundamental relationship of recognizing the other and others, as subjects equal to me.
And here is the space where fraternity is possible, intrinsically linked with the relational character of law, and capable of guiding both normative activities at the national and international level; the interpretation of the norms themselves and the behavior of the single subjects of the legal world, to weave bonds in the social fabric.
But we would like to add another typical element of the life of Communion and Law:
Commitment with young people all over the world; young people who, once again, find meaning in their studies and a new push towards the commitment to the improvement of coexistence. International summer schools on the most current and complex topics are organized for them, to give them an interpretation that is shared as much as possible.
In a message addressed to them, lawyer Maria Voce, current President of the Focolare Movement, wrote in February 2011: “It requires a strong commitment […] a gaze which knows how to catch, in today’s times, those signs that give hope and show the paths for journeying together to build a world where human dignity may truly be understood and respected.”
Experts and scholars become protagonists, too: in Brazil, the permanent research unit on “Law and Brotherhood” was established at the University of Florianopolis; research projects, dissertations, and doctorates are carried out.
With the 2015 International Convention on Environment and Laws: Between Responsibility and Participation, the horizon further widens to give life to a dialogue between law and other sciences. Beyond a formalism that encloses the law within the norm, it wants, instead, to open it to a question: “But can law really be simplified to the norm, or is the norm only one of the aspects, maybe that which is most noticeable, but not that which exhausts all the juridical reality in itself?”
Today, an agenda seems to be dictated for Communion and Law: to promote a culture addressed to communion, as an answer to the many fragmentations. Among various areas, let’s think of work and businesses with their “networks” of relationships; let’s think of urban planning and the structure of cities, so that the latter may not be places of “inverted rules,” but “training grounds of reciprocity,” open to relations also among peoples. A renewed commitment is asked until inalienable rights are truly such, and always constitute an unsurmountable limit for all.
From where do we start? It is perhaps a question of knowing how to listen also to the silence of those who do not have a voice, and who, in his or her existence, is a bearer of “equal social dignity.” These are the all for which the law was born, that law that concerns us all, because it begins from recognizing with one’s life that whoever is beside me is another me with equal dignity, as brotherhood demands.
A time, therefore, not only for listening to the questions posed by others, but also to make them ours merely for asking the questions to ourselves.
3rd Challenge: to give birth to “evidence of dialogue” among peoples and cultures, beyond the differences
In such sense, an extremely relevant issue, such as environmental protection, has been able to offer, through the multiple analyses from the world, a conscious and profoundly meaningful perspective. The multifaceted problem and source of countless environmental conflicts, today involves, not only international bodies or local public entities, which need to pass laws and regulations, and monitor their application; but also includes all the inhabitants of a place, the present, and future generations, and demands participation.
In this way, precisely in recognition of the Community’s “right to participation,” a law proposal that upholds it was presented in the occasion of the Convention (2015). This right should be recognized when decisions concern the environment, common home for humanity.
Besides, it seems to us that the environment can become a “metaphor” of law and be assumed as a representative of law itself. If environmental protection has the purpose of correctly setting the relationship of human beings with nature, the law in its essence has, at its face, the goal of correctly setting (that is, according to criteria of justice) the relationships among human beings. And would not such a group of connections be qualified as “environment of human relationships,” that can, as such, favor or, on the contrary, make collective life, our everyday life, more complicated? And this is in every part of the world.
Some developments in the world
In the relational network, “Communion and Law” expands its horizons in time and opens ways of dialogue.
In the USA, at the Fordham University of New York, a group of teachers was formed with a peculiarity: the inclusion of at least four religious confessions: Christian, Hebrew, Buddhist, and Muslim. After having actively participated at different international meetings of “Communion and Law,” the group has undertaken, in the USA, an exciting journey of deepening on the theme “Love of Neighbor and the Law,” being open to the contribution of other jurists outside of the University. A space of listening and dialogue, almost underlining the commitment of many in that “nearness,” which, in the words of Martha Nussbaum, asks that we reach the point of “[concerning] ourselves with the good of the other person whose lives are distant from our own;” that living of the other, who, in some way, belongs to us.
Need or utopia?
In front of the many questions that humanity also poses to the law today, the journey has gone ahead on a path of research leading to an international study on “traces of fraternity.” Open dialogue among regulatory systems in the world in a discussion among jurists of various countries around a principle and its foundation: Can fraternity, forgotten by history, inform the law and settle the many differences without overpowering?
Also, in South America, where different groups of “Communion and Law” have sprung up, the study of fraternity in law is brought ahead, giving it space in conferences. It is like this in Colombia, in Bogotà, and many other university venues. Alongside studies, concrete activities take place, done with passion and concreteness, by professionals and students. From here, a new initiative was born, with the name “Innocence Project,” promoted by the Faculty of Law of the Manuela Beltran University of Bogotà. The project aims to reopen for free, cases of people unjustly convicted, but who lack the economic resources necessary to pay for their defense.
The initiative was born in 2007. “In general, the cases that are most frequently dealt with are those that have to do with a negligent or unjust identification and singling out of the perpetrators of the crimes. These are cases in which judicial officials fail to fulfill their duties faithfully and that, through acts of negligence, lack of training, lack of evidence or false testimony, but also corruption, lead to wrong decisions, which unjustly convict a person."
The “Innocence Project” is composed of an interdisciplinary working team, which includes lawyers, psychologists, detectives, and, of course, students of various areas of study. The interview with the inmates is participated in by a professional lawyer, a psychologist and generally, students of law and psychology: “one never loses sight of the fact—the director of the Project underlines—that this may be the only opportunity to be listened to that this person has.”
Cases such as kidnappings, homicide, sexual offenses, extortion, money laundering, reach the “Innocence Project,” instances behind which, however, are persons unjustly accused and deprived of freedom. Such was the case of Manuel Mena, sentenced to 17 years in prison for homicide, which he did not commit. After three and a half years in jail, and a rigorous work carried out by the University team to analyze evidence and facts, the Constitutional Court nullified the sentence, ordering immediate release.
A leap in Africa, at Kinshasa (Congo), where a young man, a lawyer, who had participated at a convention in Rome, started to meet with other legal practitioners, and shares: “Our justice is not entirely independent, we meet many challenges and oppositions. The hurdles are many, but we draw the courage to go ahead from the proposal of Communion and Law.”
An example comes from a retired judge, now a consultant of associations for minors. “I left the judiciary with great suffering in my heart—he writes—I had tried to work honestly, and I found myself very poor, compared to friends and colleagues who had accepted compromises. The spirit of Communion and Law has taken this pain away from me. And this is the wealth that I want to leave to whoever follows me.” (Paul Maziku)
In the south of Spain, a professor of Private Law at the University of Almeria, Belen Sainz Cantero, had the opportunity of forming within the University an instrument that allowed teachers and students to get acquainted with the principles of “Communion and Law”: On May 6, 2008, the University Council unanimously approved the creation of the “Chiara Lubich Permanent Seminar on Law and Social Ethics.” The full adhesion of the Council was justified by the particular relevance of the thought of Dr. Lubich and of the social projects that she had given life to with the Focolare Movement, which she founded and spread all over the world, and responding to the felt needs for the internationalization of the University itself.
Born for training, research and consultancy on the subject of law and social ethics, the “Chiara Lubich International Seminar” collaborated with the University in various sectors; it is part of the Bioethics Commission established at the University of Almeria, in charge of evaluating the ethical conditions of research projects that receive public funding. It provides access to various international fora for dialogue and formation in different disciplines. Through studies, deepening, conventions, cultural exchanges, the teachers and the students of Almeria go deeper into the legal issues in the light of "Communion and Law" research. To that end, international conventions and seminars are dedicated to students, orienting their education and helping them prepare to the legal profession with the principle of fraternity in the first place in their hearts.
The commitments of individuals are not of lesser value: a Filipina prosecutor in Cebu fights for just protection of minors, giving priority to girls, who are too often still abused. And she works, risking herself, to answering to the cry of the suffering of these small ones, and to do justice, notwithstanding the inequity, the lack of judges, the length of the processes… She further commits herself in the training of police officers, so that they may be at the frontlines in the protection of the most defenseless. Precisely for her commitment, she has received various distinguished recognitions.
Today, Communion and Law, in its widespread commitment for a renewed legal culture, intends to make the challenges of our time its own, so that responsibility becomes an opening to communion among individuals and peoples; legality, concerned with the needs of the person, as a meaningful horizon in compliance with norms; justice, custodian of relationships in equal dignity; and fraternity, a project which is not a utopia.
But we are aware that it is necessary to taper to a renewed form, the legal categories that are indeed old, yet made new to give life to communion.
A horizon, it seems to us, to which not even law is foreign. In fact, with its principles, it, too, can share to make up the “human family” in a universal dimension and transform the culture of having into a culture of being, the claim in recognition of what is due, the latter in the highest value of a gift for the other.
 L'Altro: identità, dialogo e conflitto nella società plurale, edited by V. Cesareo, Milano, 2004, p. 43
 Così F. Carnelutti, Discorsi intorno al diritto, vol. 3°, Padova, 1961, p. 215 ss.
 F. Todescan, Compendio di storia della filosofia del diritto, Padova, 2009, p. 350.
 M.C. Nussbaum, Poetic justice. The Literary Imagination and Public Life, Beacon, Boston, 1995, p. xvi; it trad.. di G. Bettini, Il giudizio del poeta. Immaginazione letteraria e vita civile, Milano, 1996, text edited by E. Greblo: M.C. Nussbaum, Giustizia poetica. Immaginazione letteraria e vita civile, Milano, 2012.