It was the last day of the Summer Vacation in Bavaria. We were about to return home after an intense week of games and songs, prayer and readings from the Chronicles of Narnia. Amidst the general enthusiasm about the weekend, a question remained about a certain kid named Carl (all names are invented), the only one who had adamantly refused to come to Mass. He is twelve and has a rough background. He and his brother were taken away from their parents and entrusted to a middle aged woman who, after meeting a family in the movement, began to send her children to everything we propose. Carl was usually among the most challenging kids of the group: restless, in constant need of attention and affection. At the same time, however, even more than the others, he wanted to belong. During vacations or long trips, I often found him speaking with others and playing, trying to entertain those he met.
That day, after a long discussion, we concluded on the following compromise: he would come with us into town, but during the mass he could remain outside the church. He followed me sullenly, and with even more frowning he made a surprise appearance in the church. During the homily, picking up from what we had read in Narnia and the Gospel of the day, I asked the children: “But do you believe there is a love so great that it is stronger than death? Would you be willing to give your life for your friends like Jesus?”. Some nodded their heads without understanding; others said they were confident in their own readiness even if they probably did not fully comprehended what it entailed. Carl, in the meanwhile, had completely changed mood: he raised his hand, almost standing on the pew to attract my attention and say that he, too, would be ready to do anything for his friends. At the end of the Mass, I found Carl waiting for me. He wanted to join me for the trip home. At a certain point during the drive he asked me, “Davide, do you know what I asked during the mass? I asked Jesus to give me his stigmata, because I want to know what he must have felt.” I remained speechless, totally surprised. In that moment, Carl reminded me that we are sent on mission in order to safeguard and rekindle the spark that God himself places in the hearts of the children we work with.
But those sparks are not only relegated to children. A few months ago, I received an email from a young couple who had recently moved to our parish. They wanted to know what time I would be celebrating mass. Immediately taking the opportunity to get to know them better, I went to their house for dinner. Sophia’s family is originally from Antioch, and they are Greco-Orthodox. Manuel’s family is Catholic, from Spain. They were both born in Cologne, Germany, and met when they were studying. Wisely, they had started to live together only after marriage. Although they have clarity regarding certain aspects of the faith, those true aspects of faith generally are mixed with other bizarre ideas. However, Sophia has been rediscovering the faith in the last few years, dragging along her husband whose own religious search fluctuates. When their first daughter was born, despite Sophia having an uncle who is a local Orthodox priest, they asked me to baptize her. After various dinners together, they would bring up the topic of their marriage; in particular, they were concerned that they had not been adequately prepared for it. After the last meeting they attended with the other families, Sophia and Manuel decided to participate in a course to rediscover what had happened to them a few years earlier through the sacrament they had celebrated. Through my friendship with them, I have been reminded that everyone has their own, particular story. We are called to accept the patience of God, and to accompany the people entrusted to us, challenging their freedom and supporting them as they take the steps they are able to.
(Davide Matteini, 37, a priest since 2015, is chaplain of the Kreuz-Köln-Nord Pastoral Unit. In the photo, the Way of the Cross in Cologne, with the community of the Movement of CL)