Thailand On vacation in Phuket

In the White Sand the Seed of a Friendship
From January 17th to the 24th, the first vacation of the Asiatic community was held. Fifty-two people, adults and children, prayed, played, and took outings… in the name of Christ

by Malou Samson

It came like a flash of inspiration, a dream too beautiful not to pursue: If we can come to La Thuile and Rimini for an annual bonding and renewal of ties with other CL friends, why can’t we bring the same wonderful event to Asia, where most of us live and work? Why wait for August to see familiar faces when we can come together and discover the face of CL in Asia on a vacation with family and friends?
And that is exactly how it came to be. With the wonderful news that Fr Ambrogio, our Asian visitor, was already in Burma during the middle of January for a priests’ retreat, we thought that the timing was right to have a few days of vacation with Fr Ambrogio accompanying us in our first endeavor to come together as a family. The choice of venue was difficult to resist: Phuket, Thailand, known the world over for white sands and sunny skies. Little did we realize that it would be a monumental task to gather, plan, and coordinate conflicting dates of leave from work (many of us couldn’t confirm because it was too early to have a vacation in January), constantly changing flight schedules, and overbooked hotels (it was right smack in the middle of Chinese New Year, the busiest and most-awaited event in most Asian countries)–and having 52 people (37 adults and 15 children from 1-16 years old!) of varying shapes, sizes, status, and orientation (we had 4 priests, 2 Memores, 1 nun, 2 grandparents,1 bachelor, several married people, and even 1 pregnant woman!) come together for the first time.

Ideal place for vacationing
The Herculean task of putting this together fell on the shoulders and into the able hands of Fr Mauro Bazzi, who indefatigably and almost single-handedly coordinated everything from flights, hotel reservations, transfers, and meals. A Capuchin missionary living in Thailand for almost 8 years now, he speaks fluent Thai, which came in handy in negotiating for the best prices and services our budget would allow. His choice of hotel was perfect: the Kata Beach Resort was a mere 45-minute car ride from Phuket International and offered white sands right at our hotel room doorstep and was ideal as a quiet, relaxing vacation place. He was the perfect host and guide, giving up many precious moments to relax privately, as he was all over the place making sure everything was alright.
And alright it truly was, and much more! Coming from nine Asian countries (Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Shanghai/China, South Korea, and Japan), many of us hardly knew each other. Some brought along new friends of the Movement (Bird and Reiko from Shanghai), while others have not seen each other for years (it was a tearful reunion for Carlo and Pina, now based in Korea, and Malou, who met them when they resided briefly in Manila in 1999 and offered her first intimations of CL friendship). Still others brought family, KL’s Paolo and Iris and HK’s Hermes and Diana brought their kids with them while the Shanghai group headed by Francesco, Alessandro, Massimo and Omar formed the biggest and most formidable delegation of 26 attendees, while some came solo (there were Anna, Lucio and including Lara who was glowingly pregnant with her first child). We even had missionaries (Fr Giuseppe and Sr Giovanna), who came from remote places of the Philippines. But there was a common thread that bound this motley group of people to come together and see in all of the delighted faces a certain, undeniable feeling of having met before. It was the face of true CL friendship lived and enjoyed in the company of people you knew were your companions on your life’s journey. It was connecting to a bigger whole, of which each one was a piece of the other.

The Buddhist friends
Every moment together–whether in prayer (we started each day by praying together and ended each day with the celebration of Mass) or in fellowship and fun (endless swimming, elephant rides, island-hopping, sightseeing, seafood dinners, and singing)–glowed with a patina of a certain fullness one doesn’t usually get from an ordinary vacation. Perhaps it came from the warmth of a friendship fully alive, beating to an Asian tune yet truly and wonderfully CL, which is open and has no boundaries nor borders. Or maybe it came from the readiness of each one to discover, accept, and embrace new friendships and rekindle old ones. This was evidenced by the presence of Wakako and Yasuhiko, our Buddhist friends from Nagoya, Japan, who came, despite their hectic work schedules, travelling all that distance even if they could stay for only two days. They were constantly amazed at the warm reception they were accorded by everyone and the feeling of “ family” they could sense from the very start.

Belonging to the same history
And as we reflected on Fr Giussani’s letter to the Holy Father (on the 25th anniversary of his pontificate) and his editorial in the Italian daily Avvenire (“A reasonable and possible joy: our indestructible company”), we noticed a beautiful coincidence in our reason for wanting to be together, to be “ in the company of Christ,” our CL family. As we listened to Fr Ambrogio while he reminded us that “God hasn’t grown tired of us,” we were reminded of how many of us had traveled and ventured thousands of miles away from Italy to come to Asia to fulfill our destinies and find, in the warmth of the smiles all around us, that we were not alone. After hurried exchanges of e-mail addresses and phone numbers and promises to keep in touch, we stood in the hotel lobby to send off our friends while savoring the last few moments together. Each tearful good-bye and tight embrace assured us that we all belong to the same history that started with Jesus and his Apostles 2,000 years ago, now revealed in each of us today, in this wonderful event and renewing experience.
In the end, everyone went home with a tan, a smile, and a fullness of heart that came from a vacation like no other. And everyone agreed to make this event an annual experience worth looking forward to each time as CL-Asia continues to grow, not only in size and number, but also in depth and understanding of what it means to be truly human, truly Christian!