|01-10-2012 - Traces, n. 9
The gesture that marks the resumption of School of Community with the new academic year “is not the reproduction of a form, but a life” in the various countries where it takes place. We offer a report on how this is true from Ecuador to the Ivory Coast; in the midst of the tensions in Lebanon, suicides at the university in Taipei, and celebrations in the Ukraine with Orthodox Christians.
edited by Paola Ronconi
The 40 people from Kharkiv and Kiev in the Ukraine, and Minsk, Belorussia, who gathered in Kharkiv for the Beginning Day, experienced a sui generis event that lasted two days and began with a theater performance by the Timur Theater company, made up of a group of handicapped children from the city orphanage. In the 1970s, Vasili Sidin conceived the idea for this company formed of street children, hoodlums, and petty thieves, to give them an opportunity to improve themselves. Through this experience, he was led to conversion and became one of the spiritual children of Aleksandr Men’, transforming his work into a Christian proposal. Sidin died last year, but through the efforts of his wife, on October 13th there was a performance of the play about Our Lady of Medjugorje, “24 Hours for Gospa,” focused on the theme of the mercy of God and His constant invitation to conversion.
This helps us see and understand what can be born when a “normal” gesture to which we have perhaps grown accustomed–like the Beginning Day–becomes “personal,” one’s own. It was no coincidence that at the end of the performance, Aleksandr Filonenko, an esteemed philosopher and the leader of the Movement in the Ukraine, introduced the lesson by Fr. Stefano Alberto (known as Don Pino) by saying, “We are here to help each other discover that our life is a journey, a vocation. Our gathering here today in and of itself has great meaning.” In fact, on October 14th, the Orthodox Church celebrates Pokrov (meaning “mantle”), the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God: in the 10th century, Our Lady saved the people of Constantinople from barbarian invaders, protecting them under her mantle. “Those barbarians were us, the Slavs, who came there from far off places in Russia, and Our Lady set herself in the middle,” explained Filonenko. “Frequently, when we ask something of God, we hope that He will send us an angel who will solve our problems, but things happen just like in the story of Pokrov: God sends people and circumstances that often are a problem and a challenge. For our ancestors, having reached Constantinople full of triumph, nothing could have been worse than defeat! But tomorrow we celebrate a great defeat that became a feast; it was transformed into a victory.”
It is not hard to see the connection between his words and Fr. Julián Carrón’s lesson a few weeks before at the opening of the Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. “This meeting, in a somewhat mysterious way, is placed in the midst of all these events,” continued Filonenko. “Thus, this year the miracle and mystery of faith will be at the center of our attention.” At the end of the lesson, he proposed a journey, the same one he pursues through instruments like the School of Community, cultural activities, the Emmaus Association (which helps orphan children), and Sled, their version of Traces. The next day, the play was performed again outside town in the Orthodox parish of Fr. Potapij, an Orthodox priest friend of Filonenko and the spiritual guide of the children of Timur. Two buses brought the small actors and the people of the community there to watch the play again and celebrate Pokrov with an Orthodox liturgy. “A theater performance on Our Lady of Medjugorje in an Orthodox parish is an incredible event, to say the least,” commented Elena Mazzola, who came from Moscow.
It is not yet time to leave our friends. In the afternoon, about 20 of them meet in a rented space below a staircase, where a group of university students usually invites some professors to talk more about topics they have at heart. Sunday afternoon, they are joined by Dima Strocev, a Bielorussian poet, and between one poem and another, a discussion arises, because Fr. Pino’s lesson has made an impression, shedding a new light on the political situation, current events in the country, the Church in the Ukraine, and the task of Christians. “A journey has begun,” commented Elena. “It is a personal journey that is linked to what one lives. People here don’t ‘copy’ what was done in Italy in the Catholic Church; it is not the reproduction of a form, but a life.” And this is precisely what was demonstrated in these two intense days.
On Saturday, October 13th, about 10 adults met in Jounieh, 10 miles north of Beirut, at the Mar Fauca parish. The song recommended by the Movement to open their Beginning Day, Come Holy Spirit, does not exist in Lebanese, so they could sing it in Italian, or not sing it at all. “Instead, they found a psalm of the Maronite liturgy in Arabic,” recounts Giuseppe Parma, responsible for the Lebanese communities. “We recited it. It’s a sign that gathering for the Beginning Day is becoming theirs, something they prepare with care. Bit by bit, as I spoke about Carrón’s words, I saw the faces in front of me light up. How could this be, I asked myself, if this fellow’s mother is sick, and that one has problems with his wife? The couple on the right, here for the first time, are Orthodox and are moved by the Pope’s words. So then, I said to myself, the things said in Italy have value here, too, for this small community, in such a different country.” The Beginning Day for Student Youth (GS) took place on Sunday the 14th, in Fanyoun, a Sciite village north of Jounieh, in the monastery of the Franciscan friars. With them, too, the talks went to the heart of the question: understanding who I am, and being able to live what reality sets before me, “bombs included,” says Giuseppe. For the young people, the year has been difficult. Forty of them participated in the 2011 vacation, while only ten did so this year. However, “the Pope’s visit was an extraordinary event. He came to increase my desire,” Francesco, a high school student, commented. “He told us that we can live well even in a disastrous place like this one.”
In Xinzhuan (New Taipei City), about 30 gathered in the Saint Paul parish on October 14th to sing Come Holy Spirit and the afternoon Liturgy of the Hours, and to listen to Fr. Emmanuele Silanos speak about the talks of Fr. Carrón and Davide Prosperi given at the Beginning Day in Milan. His words were followed by a half hour of silence and an assembly, then dinner and songs. “The challenge is to enable the Taiwanese to perceive themselves in communion with the rest of the world, and overcome the ‘island syndrome,’” says Fr. Emmanuele, who has been in Taipei for years. “What Carrón said in Italy is also for them. Being able to look at the facts that have most touched the community in these months–the baptism of Sara and Stella, the drama of the suicides at the university–and being able to form a judgment has been a decisive step. The story Carrón told about Francesca, who died of cancer, struck them greatly. A psychologist friend at the assembly asked, ‘The first time they tell you that you have a tumor, faith can win out, but the second time, how can you not think that life is a cruel joke? I don’t want to wait for an illness to discover that everything is false. I want to know now wherein lies my substance.”
Other contributions were about what it means to follow a road. A businesswoman, A-mei, expected payment from a client. At work, the other is either an adversary, an obstacle, or “an opportunity the Lord gives me to make me mature. I changed my attitude with that client, and he noticed, and continued to place orders.” Steve, who was baptized a few years ago, recounted that after indicating his willingness to participate in the parish council of his zone, he received grave threats. Then the guilty person confessed, and Steve said, “Ever since I encountered you CL people, not only have I met Jesus, but I have also learned how to forgive.”
When one speaks of difficult circumstances, people in this area know very well what that means.” Marco Bertoli, a psychiatrist and physician from Friuli, Italy, has a special bond with the Ivory Coast. On Sunday, October 21st, in the Capuchin monastery of Angré, near the capital city of Abidjan, he spoke in French about Fr. Carrón’s lesson. About 20 people represented the four communities from different parts the country. “The distance and travel costs made it impossible to have everyone present.” Jacques, the leader of the local community, and a biotechnologist, was there, as was Fr. Simeone, a diocesan priest of Abidjan. “They have no priest there. He can help the community, and be helped himself by having people who follow a charism,” says Bertoli. The Ivory Coast still suffers the consequences of a long war, and all its people in one way or another have experienced violence and paid the price (outside the monastery, during the meeting, there was an armed guard). They were most struck by the word “reborn” in the lesson, recounts Bertoli. “That is, if a person experiences faith, he can face the darkness. These people are not complainers, but being able to face the grave situations of life with a different humanity is something that hit the bull’s-eye.” Another point was illuminating: “The reminder about Saint Paul, shipwrecked. God does not spare us these things, not even those closest to Him. But everything, everything, serves to help us mature, so we may live better. How can we not feel loved in every moment?”
Just a few hours after watching the video of Fr. Julián Carrón’s lesson (in Spanish, for the first time–an event), the community of Ecuador saw “life as vocation” take concrete form, because after the half-day gathering, the 80-some-odd friends boarded buses for the Sanctuary of Guapulo, for Vidal and Sara’s wedding. The bride and groom hadn’t attended the morning event (“They wanted to, but couldn’t; you know, all their relatives were in town...” recounts Stefania Famlonga, responsible for the community), but they were there in the evening. “They wanted it to be an event with songs and dancing–a party like those we usually have. Seeing them say ‘yes’ to Christ and grasping the connection with what we had just heard Carrón say, was an experience of beautiful unity.”
The Beginning Day was held at the Hosteria Pukará, a small resort in the Tumbaco valley, just outside the city. There was an introduction, the video, 45 minutes of silence, then the assembly to talk about the repercussions of the talk. “There were many people, and the repercussions were strong,” recounts Stefania. “It was easy, perhaps more than the other times, to recognize the immediate bond between what we were hearing and what we are living. Many were moved. A great number told me that his words spoke directly to their hearts.” This was the case for Pato, who received a phone call between the lesson and the assembly to tell him that his little nephew had just died of leukemia. “It was a great provocation, but he immediately said he realized that what Carrón said passes through this. It was like seeing the lesson in action.” It was also the case for Pancho, who will marry in December, and who “understood even better what that means.”
After lunch, the participants traveled to the wedding, then later returned to Tumbaco for the party, with singing and marimbas–until one in the morning. Everyone was deeply moved. “Their ‘yes’ was also ours. Seeing two people for whom vocation is fulfilled in the form of marriage is a sure sign that the experience we are living is true.” in the world