The Focolare Movement has elected Margaret Karram as the new president of the international Catholic organization.
Karram is an Arab Catholic originally from the Holy Land with a strong commitment to interreligious dialogue. She has received the Mount Zion Award for Reconciliation and the St. Rita International Award for her work in promoting dialogue between Christians, Jewish people, and Muslims.
She will be the third president to lead the Focolare Movement, a Catholic organization focused on the principles of unity and fraternity. According to the movement’s statutes, its president must always be a woman, specifically a consecrated woman with perpetual vows.
“Hers is to be, above all, a presidency of love because she must be the first in loving and, therefore, in serving her own brothers and sisters, remembering the words of Jesus: ‘Whoever wishes to be first among you must be the servant of all,’” according to the statutes.
The Focolare Movement was founded by the laywoman and Servant of God Chiara Lubich in northern Italy in 1943. Her cause for beatification was opened in 2015 and transferred to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 2019.
Lubich led the organization until her death in 2008, when Maria Voce has elected for a six-year term as president. Voce was reelected for a second term in 2014.
Karram was elected on Jan. 31, receiving more than two-thirds of the votes cast by 359 representatives from around the world who make up the Focolare Movement’s General Assembly. The Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life later approved the election.
Born in Haifa, Israel, in 1962, Karram grew up in a Jewish quarter in a city in Galilee where she said that hers was the only Catholic Christian Arab family from Palestine.
“I remember when I was small, maybe six years old, some children began to insult me heavily saying that I was Arab and couldn’t stay in that quarter. I ran to my mother in tears, asking the reason why. In response, my mother told me to invite those children over to our house. She had baked some Arab bread and gave it to them to take to their families,” she said in an interview with Focolare in 2017.
“From such small gestures we began to make contact with our Jewish neighbors who wanted to know the woman that had performed such a gesture. This taught me that even a small act of love towards a neighbor is capable of overcoming a mountain of hatred.”
She added: “At age 15 I got to know the Focolare Movement, and the spirituality of Chiara Lubich gave me wings to fly. I felt that I didn’t have to change people, but change me, my heart. I went back to believing that other people were a gift for me and that I could be a gift for them.”
Karram went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies from what is now the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. She worked for 14 years at the Italian consulate in Jerusalem.
She has served as a member of the Episcopal Commission for Interreligious Dialogue of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land and the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. Since 2014, she has been working in Italy at the Focolare Movement’s headquarters as one of the leaders of the movement’s dialogue with other ecclesial movements and new Catholic communities.
She speaks Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, and English.
The election of the Focolare Movement’s vice president will take place on Feb. 4.