By now, I am living in Russia for more 20 years. When I first crossed the Russian Federation boarder, I was still a seminarian. It was June 28th 1998, and I would be ordained a deacon that September. I still remember the sentiment that shook me back then on the first impact with the country, totally new and unknown to me. I found myself in front of something beautiful but at the same time neglected, lapsed and abandoned. Father Massimo, who was the superior general of the Fraternity at that time, told me before leaving for mission in Novosibirsk, “Do not forget that I am sending you to a place where the reconstruction of the human and reason is necessary. This will be possible bey entering into a personal relationship, one by one, and not into a relationship with a big group. Don’t be shaken down by numbers or by results, because it is the kind of work that requires years, of which we might not see its fruit.” These are the words that I kept in my heart, and are still with me now. Back then, I could not understand fully the depth of what Father Massimo told me, and it was only the reality that slowly revealed and still reveals me the truth of it.
I recall the day I arrived at our house in Novosibirsk, a block of reinforced cement panels with 365 apartments, where I had to step over a drunken man knocked out in front of the elevator to go up. It was as if Jesus, right from the beginning, wanted me to enter into the profound wound of the people to whom I was sent – not with words but by showing it to me. When I entered our apartment, simple and beautiful in its orderliness, it was almost like witnessing the victory over the wound already at work. Years later, I had the same thought when I entered for the first time the house of our friend who had encountered the Movement during the university years: I thought I was seeing a small pearl in the degradation which I was used to. A small flower blossomed from the trunk of our presence. Beauty, like love, is not something that you can work on it with your hands. Rather it is born as an answer to something that you experience. The same thing happens with the human. It does not sprout with a project in mind, but because one is touched by the attractiveness of the way of living, it mysteriously begins to become desirable also for himself.
In a society where the absence of the father-figure is widespread, realizing oneself to be the object of a gratuitous attention by someone, an outsider, cracks the crust of resignation. I got to know Andrej in 2006 at the prison of Tagucin, a small town 100km from Novosibirsk. The friendship with him sparked when I asked him a simple question: “Andrej, do you need something?” His eyes, so melancholic and sad, had given rise to my question. “No, Father”, he replied, “thanks, but I don’t need anything!” I was very surprised. Not long after I received a letter from him, asking me forgiveness for the way he answered back which he did not deem to be so courteous. Then he told me that no one in his life had ever talked to him in that way. In this episode, Andrej had rediscovered his dignity and he never stopped expressing his gratitude. We kept in contact until last year. Now he does not write to me anymore and does not answer my messages. In the past years he fell seriously ill with tuberculosis, and I fear that he has passed away. If it is so, now he knows the origin of the question that I asked him, and now he can enjoy that embrace, the ointment for the wounds that he so desired and we all desire.
(Giampiero Caruso is a priest since 1999. He is the chaplain at the Italo-catholic community in Moscow, Russia. In the picture, a street view of the city)