A vacation with university students brings out the deepest questions of their hearts: a witness from Taiwan

A few weeks before Easter, taking advantage of the vacation dedicated to the cleaning of tombs in Taipei, we organized an outing of three days and two nights at HuaLian, a small city on the west coast of Taiwan, with the university students that most frequently attend the Radius that takes place at FuJen university. The vacation was born out of their desire to freely spend some time with us and do something beautiful together. Fr. Paolo Costa, who is responsible for the university group, offered to organize the vacation with them. It was the first time that this had happened after many years and everyone had great expectations.

The three days were prepared with attention to everyone’s needs: in particular, the mornings were free so that we five priests would have time for prayer and silence. Before lunch, there was Mass and everyone was free to choose to participate. The afternoons were organized by the students with time for games, sports, and conversation. We watched the short film The Butterfly Circus and had two assemblies. Even though only one of the ten students present was Catholic, the proposal that we offered them during those days was explicitly Christian, just like it is at the Radius they participate in regularly. The theme of the vacation was suggested by the movie in which the main character discovers his own value only when he recognizes a gaze of unconditional love directed at him. In those days, our desire was to help them discover if such a gaze was present in their lives.

With some of these students, the vacation was very beautiful, with moments of true communion and even deep conversation. With others, instead, we barely managed to make a dent in the superficiality that normally dominates their lives. The kids took advantage of the vacation to rest, some just to sleep late. But I was struck by one of them who during the vacation always got up early. Responding to one of us who had asked him why, he said: “The time we have to spend together is so rare that I don’t want to spend it sleeping!”

For me, this short vacation was a small miracle. These kids that have known us for the past few years are often lost among thousands of activities: it’s rare that they are able to have true friendships between them in which they can confront important themes in life without shame with people their own age. The seriousness with which they confronted the theme that we proposed and their faithfulness to the weekly Radius are slowly changing something within them: they are more attentive to each other and are slowly learning to be friends.

Through the time spent with us, in the dialogues and games, the deepest questions they have in their hearts slowly come to the surface. And thanks to God, an insight into a response also emerges. I was struck by the contribution of one of them at the final assembly. It was the first time that she had participated at a Catholic Mass and she used to think that it was simply another liturgy like those of the traditional religion, a rite whose deeper meaning often remains incomprehensible. Thanks to the homily of the celebrant, she understood, instead, that the Mass (as its Chinese name, Gan En Ji – literally “sacrifice to give thanks” – expresses well) is a liturgy to thank God for loving us infinitely. She added that that was exactly what she had experienced during the vacation. This girl understood the meaning of the Mass more than many Taiwanese who have been Catholic for generations.

We can’t know what seeds God planted in the hearts of these young people, and, above all, we can’t know when and if they will bear fruit. One thing is certain: in staying with them, I discover continually that God is at work in me. He works so that I may learn the simplicity to recognize Him in His happening, a silent but active maker of a new humanity. Just as He was doing during this vacation.


Simone Valentini is associate pastor of St. Paul, in Taipei (Taiwan). Above, songs with the local community of Communion ad Liberation

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