In memoriam: Maria Vingiani, ecumenical pioneer and friend of Sofia Cavalletti

Maria Vingiani and Sofia Cavalletti

20 January, 2020

by: Francesca Cocchini

On behalf of all those children and adults who, for their Christian formation, follow the catechetical method known as the “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd”, I wish to join in the thanksgiving that is being given to the Lord, God of history and life, from so many parts of Italy and the world for the life of Maria Vingiani.

It was in 1954 that Eugenio Zolli’s pupil, a scholar of Jewish literature and the Bible, Sofia Cavalletti, and the Montessorian educator Gianna Gobbi began the adventure of the “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” in Rome.  This catechesis has now spread to six continents continents and has been welcomed many Christian Churches.

Her ecumenical vitality owes much to Maria Vingiani, as Sofia Cavalletti herself recalls in one of her letters: “As for my interest in Jewish-Christian relations, my relationship with my Master (Eugenio Zolli) was certainly decisive. I thus entered the Ecumenical Commission of the CEI and had very interesting encounters with Maria Vingiani, the person I consider to be the “mother of ecumenism” in Italy. Maria founded the SAE (Secretariat for Ecumenical Activities), weaving a very wide network of relationships with the other Christian Churches and in particular with Judaism, which Maria rightly judges to be the starting point of all ecumenism. My relationship with Maria has helped me to realize how much we owe to Judaism, not only because it is the “root that leads us,” but because today’s Judaism teaches us to find in our life of faith realities that, although always present in it, remained in the shadows and no longer nourished our life as believers. Among these, the messianic tension seems to me to be of the utmost importance, our being aware that we too are a people waiting, and that, therefore, a basic virtue also for us is hope, the tendency towards completion. Everything is accomplished in the person of Jesus, but, for now, in him alone; while God’s plan is to found a “kingdom”; it is to arrive at the moment in history when “God will be all in all”. (1Cor 15.28). And this is the object of our waiting, of our hope” (in Sofia Cavalletti. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. An anthology of chosen texts, EDB, Bologna 2015, p. 17s.).

In 1997 a very large group of catechists of various nationalities and different Christian Churches celebrated an ecumenical “retreat” in Assisi, with the participation of Giuseppe Chiaretti, Bishop of Perugia, Sergio Goretti, Bishop of Assisi, and Frank Tracy Griswold, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Chicago.  To prepare for that event Sofia had frequent meetings and long and intense conversations with Maria Vingiani, of whom she kept precious memories and was very grateful for the advice she had given her, along with sharing concerns and hopes.

Thank you Maria, on behalf of the “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd”.

Note: We had the surprise and great joy that Mary shared a conference on ecumenism at that meeting in Assisi.