Normally, when one enters a new environment, such as an office or a home, he seeks to find himself a space that is all his own, in which he might be recognized and appreciated by his colleagues or his neighbors. It’s normal that it happens, even when the colleagues are professional educators and the neighbors, the guests of the Nazarene Cooperative, which from the eighties onward has offered home and work to hundreds of disabled persons of Carpi and the surrounding areas. A friendship with the founder, don Ivo Silingardi, opened the doors of the Cooperative to the Fraternity of St. Charles, particularly the doors of its’ two major works: Centro Emmanuel and Manolibera, or «Free hand». The center of these works is always the person, to whom friendship and work are offered as an occasion to discover the truth of oneself.
Beginning my work in Villa Chierici, which welcomes the guests with the more severe disabilities, my first preoccupation was to obtain the approval of the educators and of the guests. I desired to make an immediate impact on their lives, to bring about a visible change. In other words, since I was there, I had to make my own contribution.
One morning, I was asked to work with Pietro, a man of about fifty years, whose legs and whole left side of his body were left paralyzed in a car accident he suffered at just seven years of age. He gets around in a wheelchair and is not able to speak well, so much so that often I did not understand what he wanted to say. Even still, it was precisely him who recounted to me his whole story, to make manifest the herculean effort of which he is very proud, an effort which is all concentrated in his right arm.
Once we arrived in the workshop, one of the educators explained that we had to sand down large globes made of clay, which were to become Christmas decorations. She showed us how it was done and then told us to be careful not to break any, as the store run by the Cooperative that had requested their production had ordered a precise number of them. After having received the message, I lay out our plan attack for the job: I would hold the clay balls and Pietro would work with the sandpaper in order to smooth out the bumps and ridges. After a few minutes, my companion needed to rest his arm, at which point I immediately thought to myself that we would have gotten very little done working with that rhythm. And so I asked him to switch roles: he with his strong right arm held the balls, and I with the sandpaper, alternating arms so that we would not have to take breaks from the work. At that point we became more efficient. One, two, three ornaments sanded in no time at all, and I realize that we are close to finishing the box. It would have been all thanks to me, in the end. With this in mind, I insisted, encouraged my work partner, and sanded with more and more vigor, until we are forced to stop at a certain point. I look at the sphere of clay broken into a million pieces in the hand of Pietro and right away I turn abruptly towards the educator. I was worried about her reaction, so worried that I did not hear Pietro, who behind me began to yell, repeating a certain phrase. The educator, instead, understood immediately. «Listen,» she told me. I turned around again, but I was able to grasp only a few words of the brief, almost incomprehensible phrase that he was repeating: «Chi non fa non falla» «He who doesn’t do, doesn’t fail.» It was what his grandmother used to say to him when he was younger, to encourage him to get up every time he fell.
It summarized what Pietro has learned during his years at the Nazarene Cooperative: that is not what you are able to do that determines who you are. What determines who you are, instead, is the dependence on a friendship that is never scandalized at you, that is always ready to forgive you. And that is always ready to begin again, together.
Stefano Zamagni, third-year seminarian, after spending last summer in Carpi, will pass a year in mission in the house of Denver. Pictured: seminarians visiting St. Peter’s with some of the guests of the Nazarene Cooperative.