The first memory that I have of my vocation is a bit out of focus: I am, together with about thirty of my peers, sitting in a circle around a crucifix. The Passionist father who was leading that Easter retreat was called Marcello and taught Religion at my school. He asked us to offer something to Jesus for that Easter. When my moment came, I said, more or less: “If you want me, I’m available.”
I didn’t know at the time that that phrase was a watershed moment in my life: I was eleven or twelve years old, and the same number of years would have to go by for my availability to God to truly become mature. Up until that moment, in fact, I had been accompanied in the faith by my family and by my parish. I was born in a Catholic family and my parents belong to the Movement of CL. Sunday was always the day of Mass and of celebration, and every evening, before going to bed, we would say our prayers with our mother. May was Mary’s month and we would pray the rosary in the streets of my city, immersed in the perfume of roses and of recently cut grass. I was an altar-boy, although I have to say that I do not remember even having thought of becoming a priest.
In middle school, I met Fr. Costante and Fr. Marcello and I discovered that a priest is a living person, who knows how to love profoundly. Those priests were happy and transmitted a great love to our young lives. Because of them, the hypothesis to give myself to God began to peek its head out in my heart and on my lips.
However, a few more years were necessary: more profoundly, I felt a deep fear at the prospect of a definitive choice; more superficially, I was subject to the winds of the most various interests and fashions during my years in high school. I was always falling in love, I had no continuity in the things to which I committed myself and I lived shallowly, “enjoying myself.” Thanks be to God, I took a couple of hits, especially at the end of high school: a break-up with my girlfriend, a poor grade on my cumulative exams, the collapse of my political ideals. And all of this was followed by a mistrust in everything that I had always believed, in particular, in God. Despite the fact that externally everything was as usual, within me there was a great emptiness. I didn’t even know if I should begin college or not. In this period of confusion, my father was a decisive figure for me. First, he helped me to choose the faculty of Psychology and, in a second moment, he was the reason that I didn’t lose myself completely.
One evening, at dinner, I declared: “There are two things that I absolutely do not need, and I do not want to have anything to do with them: the Church and the Movement.” After his initial surprise, my father said: “I get it. Let’s try this: go to the CLU Exercises this Christmas, asking to understand what you must do with your life. If you don’t find any answers, then feel free to leave everything behind.”
At the Exercises that Christmas, I didn’t find miraculous answers; instead, I found an invitation to set out on a path, this time, with new friends. I entrusted myself to this path and, through these friends, the possibility of a vocation came back and became stronger, thanks as well to the help of a friend of my father, Fr. Ezio. But I still needed a last push.
In order to graduate, I decided to do an internship in Uganda; Africa has always attracted me and in that period there, I fell in love. But, like with all great loves, there are both flowers and blood. The first two weeks I passed by myself, without friends in a place that I wasn’t familiar with and that I didn’t understand. I prayed a great deal to the Virgin Mary, who surprised me with many friendships with both Italians and Africans. If the Ugandans of my age that I met kept me company in a grand way; the Memores Domini who, with the simple fidelity to their vocation, kept the flame of my own vocation alive.
And so one evening, I found that I had to admit: “You have always loved me, even when I took my eyes off of You. And now You’ve come all the way to Uganda to follow me. What else can I do, besides giving myself to You?”
Pictured, a moment from the priestly ordination of Fr. Mattia, 24th of June, 2017.