|01-11-2013 - Traces, n. 10
We followed Fr. Julián Carrón’s visit to Kenya, where he met friends from various countries, from the Ivory Coast to Ethiopia to South Africa. The intensity of this experience was astonishing: in places so far from the historical origin of the Movement, an all-encompassing encounter vibrates
Dust, bougainvilleas, and throngs of people in the streets–the arteries that feed the heart of the city are obstructed by thousands of nervous automobiles. The jeep belonging to Fr. Alfonso Poppi, a missionary of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, moves forward with difficulty, advancing from stoplight to stoplight. Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, has 4.5 million inhabitants, and their presence is visible. It is a city with many wounds–historical, urban, and human. But the vitality of its people keeps it alive, despite old scars and new burns. The most recent is the open crater in the body of the Westgate Mall, the site of a terrorist attack that began on September 21st and, after four days of siege, left more than 60 dead. Its perpetrators were an unspecified number of Shabab, Somali guerillas with ties to Al-Qaeda. Our car stops in front of the gate of the Dimesse Center in Karen, the convent and retreat center where the ARA (Assembly of African Responsibles of Communion and Liberation) will take place. A security guard approaches, peers into the car, and says, smiling, “No Shabab on board? Okay, go ahead…”
There are 100 people from 14 countries in attendance. Besides Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria, where CL has been a presence for many years, Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and South Sudan are represented. In the convent courtyard, Fr. Julián Carrón, wearing the regulation gray polo shirt, has a smile and an embrace for everyone. He is just back from his encounter with Pope Francis, and he begins his introduction from there. “Our task is to make faith more and more ours within daily life, within the challenges in all of the environments where life develops. It is there that we can give our witness, showing others a life that is more intense and reasonable.” We are thousands of miles–geographically and culturally–from the place where these words were spoken for the first time. And yet, to the ears of the listeners–Kikuyu or Masai, Igbo or Fulani, Baganda or Basoga–the distance is nonexistent, also because the provocation leaves little to interpretation: “How can one live?” and “If things go well, we are happy; if they go poorly, we are sad. But what is faith for, if we react like everyone else?”
It is immediately evident that, for the Nairobi community, the Westgate attack is a wound that is still open. We talk about it at the first assembly. Maggie, for example, speaks of her fear: “I went to work saying the Rosary. I couldn’t help but pray. I thought about the horror of terrorism. I said to myself, ‘The same thing could happen to me.’ But, seeing myself so frightened, I was scandalized. I am tempted to control my reaction, to lean on people rather than Christ. He has shown me that He can do anything. But what can transform the scandal of ourselves into recognition of the Mystery?” “The issue is whether or not you have met something that can stand up to the fallout of the terrorist attack,” responds Carrón. “Do we have a certainty that can withstand this impact? The challenge is for a situation like this to be the occasion to grow in the certainty of Christ.”
Fr. Alfonso is the pastor of Saint Joseph in Nairobi. For a year now, ever since the Shabab attacked a Protestant church in the city, his faithful have been passing through a metal detector as they come to Mass. He also talks about what happened at the mall, starting from the day of fasting for Syria: “We adhered, and not without an initial struggle, to the prayer for peace in Syria. We said Mass and had an hour of Eucharistic adoration. My resistance disappeared, and a presence came forward in the density of that silence. It wasn’t just the sacramental presence; I told myself, we are one with the Pope, the Syrians, and the whole world. Then, a few days later, we found Syria here at home. And we held our breath and wondered, ‘What is happening?’ The President announced three days of national mourning. ‘What mourning?’ we asked. ‘We are Christians; for us, these will be three days of prayer, that Christ embrace us and this country.’” Joakim, the head of CL in Kenya, would return to this point two days later, introducing Carrón’s speech at the Beginning Day in Nairobi by asking, in a situation like this, “How is a presence born?”
Without mincing words. At the end of the first assembly of the ARA, a boy from Kampala hugs Carrón, lifting him up by his waist, and sings, “Oje vita, oje vita mia...” Then the other Ugandans from the Alpine choir gather around him and sing an energetic E col cifolo del vapore. Enrico comes from Luanda, Angola, where he moved for work. He explains that he and two other colleagues began to meet to do School of Community in the nunciature. They invited the nuncio, as well, and after some time he said to Enrico, “I heard that there is another group that gets together to read the same book.” These were three Portuguese from CL, who then joined the Italians. “The Lord continues to amaze us,” says Enrico. “Our community doubled in one shot.” Maria and Giacomo work for AVSI in two different villages in South Sudan. Smiling, she says, “My village isn’t even on Google Maps.” Giacomo, who was used to the vitality of the CLU community in Italy, now finds himself on the other side of the world–alone. He uses other words, but he, too, asks: How can one live?
Maria, who came to Kenya from Switzerland, opens the second assembly. “I am certain that the Lord is responding to the question of my humanity. This is an unexpected beauty. But the question remains dramatic, and sometimes I find myself desiring a manifestation of the response that is different from the one that comes from the companionship. Is this a lack of faith?” “No, it’s a matter of time,” answers Carrón. “The Lord responds when He wants. We are certain of being in good hands. The certainty is in the relationship with Him, and this allows us to wait for Him to answer.”
Fr. Gabriele, another St. Charles Borromeo priest, accompanies the university students in Nairobi. “It all started with an e-mail to Carras, in which I complained about how Simon was working with the CLU. Carras answered that the only way to start over was to live a friendship with the kids. So I went to Joakim (the CL responsible in Kenya), and asked him to remove Simon as head of the CLU. But he answered, ‘No, let’s go to dinner with him and talk about it.’” “Do you see?” Carrón bursts out. “We get an e-mail, and we reduce it to our thoughts–unless there is someone who doesn’t reduce the challenge, someone irreducible.” “We got together–Simon, Joakim, and I–and we talked, without mincing words,” Fr. Gabriele continues. “Joakim proposed that I accompany Simon in responsibility for the CLU. I could not have imagined that we would become real friends, nor everything that would come from it.” Carrón had seen what he was referring to the previous day, at the assembly with the CLU. There were 50 students, completely taken by the Movement, capable of questions and witnesses on par with those of the historical communities.
This is what is striking, not only about the university students, but about the whole reality of the Movement in Africa. There is an intensity of experience that overturns the prejudice of those who think that, in the end, outside of its historical places, the Movement exists in a “light” version. There are many difficulties. But the vibration from the encounter is palpable. The struggles are those of everyday Africans. The secretariat, for example, collects a fee of 65 euro for the two days of the ARA. A number of people ask to be allowed to pay in installments. Fr. Emil, from Cameroon, talks about his younger brother, who landed on the coast of Lampedusa a few years ago, after a desperate voyage. Mireille, who works with street children in Yaoundé, says that she is the second of eight children, and the only one who has not emigrated. She adds, “If I had not met CL, I would have left Cameroon, too.”
The fly and the elephant. “The Movement educates us to look at what happens among us, that is, to see what the Mystery does,” says Rose as she introduces three witnesses. “We need someone who tells us, ‘Look here!’ But when we look at our life without the gaze of faith, a fly appears as big as an elephant…” The speakers are Sister Elena, Eveline, and Roland. Sister Elena lives in the new house of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo in Nairobi (the first such house outside of Italy). She doesn’t talk about what she does (she teaches art at the Urafiki Carovana School), but about herself, and how her relationship with Jesus is growing deeper through the unity with the other sisters. “This unity is the most significant thing that has happened to me in life,” she says. Eveline is a cashier at a supermarket in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. She talks about her encounter with the Movement and her friendship with Mireille. “In the relationship with her, I learned to love myself. I had never thought that Christ could love me more than I myself was able to.” Roland is Nigerian; he lives in Lagos and attends the university. “I was about to give up my studies,” he says. “But in the friendship with the kids from the Movement, I decided to continue. With them, I am living something different–it is the most beautiful thing in my life. They are no longer just friends, but brothers.” Among these “brothers” are his friends from the Alpine choir in Kampala. Rose is careful to emphasize this fact: “He called ‘brothers’ friends who are not Nigerian. A Nigerian would never do that, because only his compatriots can be ‘brothers.’ This is truly a miracle.”
In the evening, Michele Faldi introduces the video of the rehearsals of Bedrich Smetana’s Moldava, conducted by Ferenc Fricsay. Two hundred eyes follow the gestures of the conductor who, in inviting the members of the orchestra to identify with their own experience, offers the path to proper execution of the piece. Almost no one had seen the river that flows through Prague, and yet the music is moving in its evocation–as it is moving to see Fricsay, in turn, be moved.
Concluding the ARA, Carrón introduces another video. “We all desire that our communities become like this orchestra. The value of each person can contribute to the orchestra. But in order to become an orchestra, to become a true community, we need a conductor. Only by following the conductor will our communities be able to become like an orchestra.” The images of the video prepared for the presentation of the book Vita di Don Giussani (Life of Father Giussani) appear onscreen. “Let us thank each other for the welcoming charity with which we have prayed and walked and lived together today.” It is Fr. Giussani, speaking at the pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1992, and it is as if he were speaking to the 100 people at the ARA in Nairobi. “And may such charity become the ideal of every day.”