Some time ago, Sister Valeska, Rachel and I spent the day with the Knights (middle school group) of the Rome community and the adults that guide them. We went to the Abbey of the Three Fountains, just outside of Rome. It’s a place that’s connected with many saints, in particular Saint Paul and Saint Zenone with his legionaries: men who were distant from each other a hundred years ago, but brought together by the great “yes” they said to the Lord. We listened to their story, then we ate and played, and finally we went to mass.
The moment of games was the part that touched the hearts of the kids the most and, after thinking about it, it was for me as well. In the chaotic mix of yelling and ambush, my gaze falls on Anna (made up name): she’s sitting by herself in the middle of the grass, she seems disoriented. I get a little closer. I’m intimidated by her sad expression but I don’t hesitate to ask her why she’s not playing with the others. “I’m afraid” she responds. “I’m not good at playing, they’ll steal my flag in one second and I’ll lose for sure”. I who, like her, have always avoided playing for the same fears, pushed her: “you know what happens when they steal your flag?” “No”. “Nothing! You get another one and keep playing!” Anna looks up and me and asks: “Really?” I motion for her to get up and offer her a flag. She still seems uncertain, so I insist: “Come on, you can do it: look at your friends that are playing, they seem happy!” I offer her the flag again and she takes it, goes up to a boy and challenges him to a duel. In the end he gets her flag, but she came back to me to ask for another one, smiling.
The words that I addressed to Anna were first of all addressed to me: I realize that staying with these kids, entering in the tangle of their thoughts and fears, makes me discover truth that alone I couldn’t grasp. I’m sure that even Saint Paul and Saint Zenone were afraid (who wouldn’t be afraid at the moment of martyrdom?), but the gain of being able to embrace Christ and obtain eternal life permitted them to not give fear the last word. Only the luminous faces of those near us allow us to overcome the fear to take a flag and get out in the field.
In the photo: a group of middle schoolers on a hike.