It is true and I cannot deny it

A friendship that puts Christ at the center changes life. A testimony of Gioventù Studentesca from South America.

Garcia Small
Diego Garcia celebrates Mass with high schoolers during a retreat.

For the last few years, in the school at which I teach and where I am chaplain here in Santiago, Chile, I’ve witnessed an extraordinary growth in relationship with the young people of Gioventù Studentesca (Student Youth). With the Christian proposal at the center, a familiarity among us has blossomed.

Above all, the desire for authentic friendship, which could help them to face the challenges of their chaotic lives, evolved into a profound connection.

In particular, I’d like to tell the story of Bastián, a young man who defines himself as an atheist and who often appears with a certain hardness in his expression. His story shows a noteworthy transformation. In the course of these years, he openly shared his experience, proposing to the younger kids, in our communal encounters, what he has seen  and recognizing that friendship with a priest might seem strange or even illogical, but in reality it is not.

With an honesty that was truly courageous, Bastián told of how the friendship with the teachers and students of GS had been his anchor in turbulent times, especially during the pandemic. Against every expectation of his old companions, he expressed an authentic desire to go deeper into these relationships, demonstrating that he had found something significant for himself. A few weeks ago, during a hike in the mountains, he told me: “I am not able to see this Christ of whom you all speak, and this is why I identify as an atheist. But when I look in your eyes, I recognize that this Christ must exist, because your eyes allow me to understand. It is true and I cannot deny it.”

“I do not want to leave this place, it helps me to live,” are the emotion-filled words with which Bastián underlined the importance of the friendship found in GS. Beyond religious taglines, this story highlights the depth of an authentic relationship that seeks to go beyond the barriers and that becomes, for kids such as him, a beacon of hope in difficult moments. THere is an imperative need in the hearts of young people to have a point of reference, something on which to lean in the chaos of a world in confusion.

There is an imperative need in the hearts of young people to have a point of reference

Another story is that of Agatha, a girl affected by the loss of a close friend in an accident. She came to our meeting at the invitation of her friends, not giving too much credence to what they had proposed, but when the topic of the meaning of life came up, she immediately reacted, acknowledging that she had never heard it spoken that way anywhere: “When the other guys talked about the topic, I felt that they were answering questions that I was avoiding instead, so as not to hurt myself more. From then on, after each meeting, I would come home different, feeling that the wounds hurt less, until I had to recognize that I really needed to come back. When I was in School of Community, I wished that it would never end. I began to feel that it was like a home that enveloped me and helped me look at life, a second family, a place where I could really be myself.” In a world that is often divided, the relationship that we teachers establish with the students of GS becomes a moving testimony to how friendship in Christ can be a bridge to the discovery of life’s meaning, even among people with seemingly opposing perspectives. Christ, as the center that guides and illuminates our path, thus becomes an ideal to follow.

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