The beauty that we all desire to see

In a country that is always on the brink of war, with less than 1% of the population that is Catholic, what is our task as Christians? A meditation on our mission in Taiwan

Copertina Copia Dimensioni Grandi
Martino Zavarise, on mission in Taiwan, with two friends from the local community of Communion and Liberation.

To those who ask us if we are worried about the political situation in Taiwan, if we think that war is an imminent threat and what new change will be brought by the election of Lai as the president of Taiwan, we respond that the situation in which we find ourselves today is not all that different from the past. The anomalous condition of the island, which used to be called Formosa, was determined more than seventy years ago, when the old president of China, Chiang Kai-shek, was a refugee there after having lost the civil war with Mao, asking for protection from the United States. Since then, the preservation of the status quo is the least common denominator among the actors in this political situation, which is as complex as it is delicate. The same goes today: it appears to still be difficult to divine what might be the final solution. Much less does anyone know the times or ways in which it will be obtained, notwithstanding that we all hope they can be peaceful.

In such a context, what is our primary task? Why have we been there for more than twenty years by now? Our single preoccupation is to allow the people that we meet that, beyond the political situation in which they live, the only one who can give man true freedom is Christ. It is the reason for our mission in this corner of the world where Catholics are around one percent of the population: responding to the invitation made at that time by John Paul II to our Movement: “Bring to the entire world the truth, the beauty and the peace that can be encountered in Christ the Redeemer.” Truth, beauty, peace. But how to communicate all of this in a language and in a culture that is so far from our own, in which, at times, even the criteria for which something is considered beautiful or good are different from those with which we were raised?

Educating to beauty means having the experience together with those being educated

It was 2011, and with two friends, we had decided to take about 30 Taiwanese students to Madrid, to World Youth Day with Benedict XVI. Half of those kids were not Catholic. We had also included in the program a stop in Barcelona to see the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece that none of us had ever seen before. On that hot August day, the air was almost unbreathable. Our friend, a young and very knowledgeable Italian guide, was explaining to us the history of Gaudi and the Sagrada and had begun to illustrate the exterior of the basilica. However, I could see that our kids were distracted, perhaps because of the heat that made it difficult for them to pay attention to the Chinese translation. In addition, we were continually interrupted by encounters as beautiful as they were unexpected. As soon as we arrived, in fact, we happened to cross paths with Etsuro Sotoo, the famous sculptor who had converted to Catholicism thanks to his encounter with the figure and work of Gaudi. After greeting him and introducing ourselves, lo and behold, while the guide had resumed explaining, a group of German university students accompanied by two of our priests arrived.

The enthusiasm aroused by the unexpected meeting of two worlds that were apparently so distant – which was immediately followed by the necessary rite of selfies -had made our students even more restless and inattentive. A bit short on patience, I turned to the guide and said: “Enough of all this, let’s go inside!”.

Rediscovering together that Christ is the origin of the beauty that we all desire to see

We had finally set foot in the Sagrada. Those who enter for the first time are truly taken aback. From the outside, it is impossible for them to imagine what awaits them inside. I had entered first and had begun to walk as if in a trance, head up and eyes wide open, walking about twenty meters as if “pierced by the dart of beauty,” to steal an expression from Benedict XVI. After walking inside the basilica for a while, I remembered that I was there with about thirty Taiwanese young people. I turned around to see if they had even come inside, and yes, they had, but they were stuck a few yards from the door. Their eyes were not only wide open, but their mouths too, so great was their amazement at what they were seeing! That day, I intuited what it means to educate to beauty: having the experience together with them. Not only explaining what it is, but living it, taking part in it together with those who are entrusted to us. It is the reason why we were sent to Taiwan: rediscovering together with those who live there that Christ is the origin of the beauty that we all desire to see, through which it is possible to know the truth and to experience peace.

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