In this thirteenth year of mission in Bologna, Cardinal Zuppi officially asked me to continue working with the university students in the CLU, as well as to help with the broader context of pastoral ministry for university students in the whole city. For this reason, among others, I decided to start celebrating a mass in our parish in the center of Bologna on Sunday evening at 7pm. And Fr. Peppino offered to hear confessions during the mass. Despite their being subject to strict restrictions, many of the students in the community decided to remain in Bologna during the week to follow their lessons in person, returning to their homes in Romagna during the weekend. Several of them would come back to Bologna on Sunday in time for that mass, before the work of the new week would start.
In these difficult months, many public events of the community were suspended, while others were moved onto digital platforms. Notwithstanding this change, the Christian life continued to find its way, attracting the hearts of these students, who ever since their birth have been in dialogue, even without knowing it, with the mystery of God. Among the most loyal to the Sunday evening mass, there is Simon (the name is invented): he is from the hills in the region of Marche and is in his second year in a challenging area of study. The story of his experience during the last few months deserves to be told.
After a summer session of classes that went fantastically, despite having abandoned the faith for some time, he felt the need to thank God for the positive results of the exams and decided to return to Mass. He wanted to put God to the test, to understand whether there was still meaning in the Cristian education that he had received from his mother and abandoned after Confirmation. A few days later, he was studying with Giovanni, another student who had already helped him “from a distance” during the spring lockdown. Simone was intrigued by the unconditional availability of his classmate. Giovanni invited him to the apartments of the students in CL. And there Simone saw many faces of those who had welcomed him during his first days of university and had given him useful advice. As those sporadic encounters with them came back to mind, he remembered perceiving that he was something good and gratuitous in their eyes; for this reason, he had fixed them in his memory. They invited him to stay for lunch. The first time he refused, but it left him with the sensation of having missed out on something. He waited for the invitation to be renewed in the following days; he wouldn’t let it pass the second time round. After lunch, as they washed the dishes he had the chance to have a conversation about the Christian proposal they were living together, which was ever more essential due to the pandemic. Simone bombarded them with questions; he was enticed by the stories of his peers, and he remembered the challenge he had made with God a few days before. In the kitchen he commented, “I had noticed immediately that you guys were different. Now I have finally met you!”. And he told them about his secret prayer.
At home, he told his mother that he had found friends who were living the faith and talking about Fr. Giussani and Carrón—his mother understood and was moved to tears. Simone risked everything on what was happening. He started coming back to Mass with his new friends and decided to go to confession. Prevailing over the skepticism of his parents, he left the comfortable room he was renting and moved into an apartment with the guys in the CLU, a more spartan living situation. They introduced him to me at the beginning of the fall semester. He stared at me with his luminous face and said aloud, with great simplicity: “This is the first time I have introduced myself to a priest!”. From that moment forward, a friendship began between us. Simone is very faithful: when he is faced with challenging decisions, such as the choice between returning to his family or staying with others in Bologna, during the second wave of Covid, he asked to be helped. I simply reminded him that, as Saint Paul wrote, wherever we go, nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ.
(Marco Ruffini is assistant parish priest of Sant’Isaia and in charge of the diocesan university ministry in Bologna. In the photo, Marco is with the university students of Communion and Liberation during a vacation.)