Some time ago, we had a vacation with a group of forty university students in Communion and Liberation. We spent a weekend together in a venue a few hours outside the city, immersed in nature and–taking advantage of the tropical weather—playing games in the pool.
Over the months, this group transformed from being a “spiritual moment,” as the students called it, to being a real life. In fact, when we came back into the city, many of them continued to meet up almost every day, not only for the School of Community or the Charitable Work, but also to spend their free time together: singing nights, dinners and intense games of volleyball. Witnessing the growth of this story is truly a miracle that fills me with gratitude and makes me realize that the most useful thing that I do takes place during Mass, when I offer each of these kids to God as I elevate the bread and wine.
On Friday, if it doesn’t rain, we have a bonfire in the courtyard of the parish with singing around the fire. The summer favorites this year, thanks to the arrival of Javier, were the Mexican mariachi songs. Since we are in the middle of the city, the problem with the weekly bonfire was the wood supply. The students organized themselves in groups, taking turns searching in the park for wood (we discovered that the palm tree burns very well). This is how the competition took off for who could cut the most wood, organized by Sabastian, an engineer and competitive bodybuilder.
On Tuesday, we eat lunch together at the University of Los Andes, and after coffee we study in the library. It’s interesting that these buildings, now used for storing books, were once churches. When the university bought the neighbourhood to build the campus, it transformed it into libraries. At the entrance there is a sign on the door that says that the new use of the space, “is a symbol of the victory of science over superstition and religion.” The spiritual void we are immersed in has generated a surge in drug use, and a large number of student drop-outs and suicides. Last year, at one of the many universities, there were six official suicides. University higher-ups, aware of the economic loss of a high student drop-out rate, left aside its great scientific ideals and began seeking psychologists, yoga, and pseudo religious activities. For example, they built the “room of silence,” which is a lounge built inside a massive glass mirror wall. At the entrance of the room is another sign that says, “You are not alone, you are with yourself.” This space is supposed to be used for meditation. The idea is that students can enter, take off their shoes, switch off their phones, and meditate. Instead, it has become the preferred spot for an afternoon nap, to the point of needing to hire a janitor to move out the sleepers.
I think about the great suffering of the kids who tell me these things, and yet I am certain that at the University of Los Andes there is a seed of hope that is already sprouting. It’s true, the university has been successful in removing the presence of Christ from the campus. That said, one afternoon as I watched them studying together, in that church transformed into a library, It dawned on me that Christ was there, present, not in the tabernacle, but through us: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18, 20).
– Fr. Carlo Zardin, 36, is chaplain at Jorge Tadeo Lozano University and assistant parish priest of Nuestra Señora de las Aguas, in Bogotá (Colombia). In the photo, together with some students. (2019) –