In Front of the ephemeral, the idea of “forever” doesn’t exist: one must return to experience.

I recently saw a Taiwanese film, animation, entitled On Happiness Road, in which the protagonist, a little girl, asks her grandmother: “What is happiness?”. And the grandmother responds: “Happiness is not forever”. When I was young, during Gioventù Studentesca (GS), I learned something different: faith is not only something that concerns Sunday Mass, but something that has to do with everyday life, especially with friendship. The friendship that was born in those years promised to be forever.

Here in Taiwan, we want to bring forward this challenge with the students that we meet in the university: there exists a friendship that is forever. This affirmation inevitably clashes with the prejudice that everything passes, with the dominate conception that “forever” doesn’t exist.

What can you do with kids who have this mentality? The same thing someone did with us when we were young: point towards experience and not towards mere slogans.

With our university students we propose a meeting that is called “radius”. Only a few of them are Catholic. During these meets we attempt to challenge them to reflect on their experience. We offer some questions and together we help each other to learn from our experience. Myself and Antonio have in mind where we want to arrive, but we are also open to learning from them. It is important to listen to them and understand what they think. Together we are working through the sections of The Religious Sense, by Fr. Giussani, starting with the profound needs found in the heart of man: happiness, beauty, love, truth, justice. Even if the kids way of reasoning is very worldly, when they are solicitated by their experience they are able to learn from reality. We also need to learn how to ask the right questions.

Last year we asked them to share episodes of “wonder” in front of reality. We hoped that they would speak about the beauty of creation that awakens questions: where does it come from? Who gives it to me? Instead, what they spoke about was terrible, things that had left them afraid, because in Chinese there are many ways of saying “wonder”, some positive, others negative.

This year, speaking about “beauty” and “love”, we wanted to solicitate them in working through the tenth chapter of The Religious Sense. Remembering the previous experience, instead of asking, “when have you been in wonder?”, we asked them, “what is your experience of being in contact with nature? ”. We were worried that nobody would share anything interesting so we had already prepared examples: going hiking in the mountains, star gazing, contemplating the ocean… unexpectedly, they all started to share very concrete examples: one shared about feeling big and at the same time small when immersed in the mountains, another who had remain moved by his experience of seeing the ocean floor while scuba diving, and another who had admired a sunset, etc. One of the girls said: “But this beauty, if it wasn’t seen by me, it would be as if it had never existed!”. It was another way of saying that “man is that level of nature in which nature itself becomes conscious of itself”. Another girl asked: “What does beauty have to do with love?”. And then she responded to her own question: “They are two roads that lead to the same destination: God”.

 

(Paolo Costa, priest since 2003, is vice pastor at St. Paul parish in Xinzhuang (New Taipei City) and Italian professor at the University of FuJen. Above, two Taiwonese students during a trip in Italy.)

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