The Stand at the Fair of Catholic Youth

Four days in Houston for a conference of youth from all over America. Days of meetings and testimonies of how the Movement happens along the most unexpected roads

by Mike Eppler

The National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministers, Inc., a business that has “stockholders” who are the Diocesan Directors of Youth Ministry (of which I am one), proposes a National Catholic Youth Convention every other year. This year’s event was in Houston, Texas. The youth and their adults who went to Houston are the same young people who Father Giussani met in 1954 on the train to Rimini: they have exterior pins and buttons that indicate that they are Catholic; however, if you ask them questions about their faith or their lives within the Church, they are unable to respond with any rational answers.
There were 23,000 such young people there… with their adult “youth ministers.”
The event was four days long, celebrated Mass only once, crammed the kids into the enormous Houston Texans Football Stadium.
In the midst of the Exhibitor’s Hall, Communion and Liberation had been able to acquire a booth. The booth was located between a booth that sold wooden statues on one side, and a booth of people who tried to get kids to “do” mission trips to Appalachia and South Texas on the other side. Across the aisle was another “store” that sold t-shirts with Protestant sayings on them, like, “Don’t go to Hell” or “Liars go to Hell” or “Fed up with Satan”, “Body Piercing Saved My Life” (an indirect reference to Christ’s crucifixion). These Evangelical shirts were a great attraction at the Catholic Youth Conference, so that those who stood at the back of the line to get their Protestant shirt found themselves looking at a group of Americans and Italians who had a different proposal for their happiness.

The Beginning
of the Miracles

I arrived on a Wednesday, the day before the event began. Also arriving was Heather from the Winona community. Heather and I met a year ago over the phone and she was struck to the point of seeking out a School of Community near Father Jerry. Heather took a taxicab to the Houston School of Community on Wednesday night. There we met with this small but loud community! The School of Community was a beautiful judgment that the Church is life, not just an aspect of it.
Heather works for Saint Mary’s Press in Minnesota. She was working in another booth at the Exhibitor’s Hall, but she was always at the CL booth!

From Montana
On Friday morning, as I sat alone in the booth, I was sad because no one was coming to my booth and everyone was going to the Protestant shirt booth. I was a little angry. I sat in that booth alone and I began to pray the Angelus, begging Mary that I might be open to anything and everything. Still not satisfied, I prayed the Morning Hours begging Mary to help me see the flesh and the desires of the human heart that would come near me that day. I was feeling better, but I still needed to ask again, so I prayed the Rosary for the intentions of Father Giussani.
As I finished, Paolo Zaffaroni and Marco appeared! It was a beautiful sight! These two started talking to the crowd, handing out Traces, engaging anyone who got too close to the booth.
At that moment, two young people, about 25 years old, a man and a woman, stopped because the cover of a Traces issue had caught her eye. She stopped and said to her friend, “Oh, this is Communion and Liberation, these guys are really awesome! They really understand.”
My mouth was wide open. So I asked, “How do you know about Communion and Liberation, since you are from Billings, Montana?” Their names and diocese were on their tags.
The woman, Jessica, said, “There is a Catholic chat room on the Internet where there are two girls who keep writing about this priest named Father Giussani and they have set up a special place on the website for what they call a ‘School of Community.’ Like two weeks ago, someone asked, ‘What is freedom?’ and this girl answered the question with the words of some guy named Cesana and it really spoke to me.”
I looked at Zaffaroni and Marco who also obviously were as surprised as I was by this statement. We had them sit down and we talked for a long time about what they were looking for and what they wanted. We gave them a copy of Why the Church? and proposed that they start doing School of Community together in Montana.
It turns out that the people who had been proposing School of Community on the Internet were Emily and Brandy from Evansville! Brandy was on the trip so she got to meet Jessica in the flesh! It was no longer a discourse on the Internet, but an encounter with a person! I know this experience because it was the same for me: I met Father Giussani in a book, but I met the Movement in the flesh later.)
These two had to leave to go to a meeting, but they came back often to be with us.

Interested and Curious
During the day, Friday, as it unfolded, many curious passersby came and went. We gave away Traces and had a few conversations. The question that these people always asked us at the beginning was, “What do you ‘do’?” We said that we were friends, who lived Jesus in our midst: in school, in our jobs, in our families, but, most importantly, as a response to our wants and desires, we found ourselves here, with our friends, the Church.
Many people just simply walked away. It really didn’t fit what they thought they were looking for (or they simply weren’t looking for anything).
Then an old priest from Des Moines, Iowa, came up to the booth. Like Simeon in the Night Prayer canticle, this priest said to me, “When I studied in Rome years ago, I met you guys and I met some of you in Milan in the 1970’s. I’ve been watching and waiting for you for a long time! Thank God you have made it to the United States. You are exactly what we need right now. There is a priest in Des Moines who wants to start a School of Community, here is his name and information…”
And then the lines from the Protestant shirt booth would be so bad that people were literally walking through our booth just to get by. One of the people trying to get by was a bearded man who was about 38 years old. He felt a little sheepish about cutting through our booth, so he picked up a Traces to be polite and to make it seem okay to cut through.
When he looked at the cover of Traces, he said to me, “Oh my God! You guys are Communion and Liberation!” I said, “Yes, here I am.” He said that a Jesuit priest in Phoenix, Arizona, who has since died, was his spiritual director when he was in the seminary. This Jesuit had told him that one day Communion and Liberation would come and that he should listen to their proposal because it was the proposal of the Church.
Daniel is now a professor in Pittsburgh and a youth leader who was looking for something for his people. We gave him a copy of Why the Church? and the proposal of a method for School of Community.
During Friday, Father Meinrad Miller, OSB, a priest-monk and friend of the Movement from Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas, came to the booth and he kept bringing all of the high school students and college students that he knew from Missouri and Kansas with him to our booth. Father Meinrad is now leading a CLU School of Community in Kansas and is a good friend of Captain Jones.

The proposal becomes
more insistent for our lives

On Saturday, I met with Luca and Vittorio, two students from Polytecnic in Milan who now study at Texas A&M. Luca and Vittorio were at the booth early, but the crowd for the Protestant shirts had already started to gather.
Vittorio asked me, “What do we say to people when they come to the booth?” I said, “We begin with ourselves in prayer. We have to start with begging Mary for the flesh and we have to beg for the intentions of Father Giussani.
Soon, we were joined by Paolo with Marco and Emanuela and their son, Giacomo. During the morning, friends and the curious stopped by.
In the midst of this crowd, we started to sing Movement songs: “Hoy Arriesgaré,” “Cielito Lindo,” “Hombres Nuevos,” “Viva La Company,” “Carbon,” and “I’m a Believer”! We were not very good, but we were very loud. The Latinos sang a little with us, but mostly people looked at us like we were crazy.
And then appeared Soqui, the catechist from Orlando, Florida, and she sang the songs with us because these were the songs her grandmother sang to her. But she stayed and asked for more because she said that she had come looking for something—were we it?
She was struck by the friendship.
We gave her the numbers of the Poole’s in Florida and we will make contact with her. Soqui showed us that this proposal is more demanding for us and for our lives.

The others
There were many other miracles. There was the woman from Raleigh, North Carolina, who was struck by the story of our good friend, Joshua, who is in prison, and she wants to go visit him. There are the numerous stories from Kansas of people who are looking for us and can now find us because of Captain Jones.
There was a woman in Louisville, Kentucky, who had just heard about the School of Community in the Chancery in Louisville organized by our friend Crystal and who was interested in going because of her encounter with us.
There was the professor at the University of Michigan and the group of students from Michigan who came just after her (but they didn’t know each other until they met us) and the proposal of a School of Community in Ann Arbor.

On Saturday night, after the event, we met at Jay’s house with his wife, Stacy, Amy, Heather, John, Luca, Vittorio, Marco, Manuelle, Paolo, and Elizabetta and we judged this event.
From the music to the friendship, it was clear that our experience in front of this Protestant shirt booth was an interesting provocation. What had been nothing was, in fact, something enormous. It was as if pilgrims and those looking for satisfaction found us on the Areopagus, as the place of the “unnamed god” that St Paul pointed to.