I have been living in the house in Eastleigh, England, for the last 7 months with Fr. Luca, Fr. Raffaele, and Fr. Marco. Shortly after my arrival, Fr. Raffaele asked me to recount the Parable of the Prodigal Son to the primary school kids in the youth group. As I prepared for this moment, I thought about the aspect of the parable that has always impressed me most: the figure of the father and his relationship with his son. In my talk, I highlighted the father’s desire for the son’s return, his patience etc. While I spoke, my eyes moved from face to face. It began to dawn on me that many of the children have complicated relationships with their biological fathers. When the morning together finished, I went to speak with Edward [all names are invented], one of the faces I had noticed as I spoke. Edward lost his father when he was a child due to a disease. He seemed a bit nervous when I went to speak with him. When I asked him if he had liked the parable, he nodded unconvincingly. As we spoke I considered the thoughts that the story may have provoked in him. I felt the need to tell him something, even if It seemed a bit forced: “Edward, you know that your Dad is in heaven with God the Father, and that they are waiting for us, just like in the parable.” He responded with another nod. I returned to the house apprehensive about how the morning had gone. As I walked into the kitchen, I nearly ran into Fr. Raffaele and I decided to share my apprehension with him. “How is it possible to speak to these kids about the love of the Father?” I asked. As we spoke, I became calm, and things began to settle into their proper place.
I want to share another episode that happened in the months that followed. There is a family in the neighborhood that is very present in the life of the parish. The mother participates in adult formation, the two sons are in the youth group and go to the local Catholic school. We cross paths with them on a daily basis. At a certain point, the father of the family left the house, leaving the children with their mother for an extended period. After the father’s departure, we noticed that the boys were struggling: they would seek attention from everyone, trying to fill the void they were experiencing. Without taking on a role that wasn’t ours to take, it was beautiful to see how the four of us began to accompany them. With their situation in mind, each one of us was able to be attentive to them. In this experience, I saw how the communion we live in the house, and in our mission, became the embrace of the Church for this family and these kids.
This was the beginning of an answer to my question: to communicate the love of the Father to these kids means to invite them into the life of the Church, into a guided friendship where, in time, they can experience the love of the Father for them.
Every Sunday morning I stand with the greeters at the entrance of the church to welcome the parishioners and invite the children to Children’s Liturgy. The most beautiful part is seeing Edward arrive with his sister and mother; he is genuinely happy to enter the church and his face is luminous.