The gratuity that I learn

From a Spain extremely secularized, the story of a priest on mission among university students

Pedroli Small
A moment of singing with the Spanish university students of Communion and Liberation

For a while now, I’ve been asked to dedicate a significant part of my time and energy to the accompaniment of university students. It has been an unexpected gift, not without a certain initial fear on my part and a continuing sense of disproportion. The phase of going to university, in fact, is an extremely delicate moment in which the great questions of life are called to find definitive answers that can become solid roots for adult life.

My main task is to look after the university students of the Movement of Communion and Liberation, who are spread out in various parts of Spain, including the islands. Besides the large and well-organized communities, there are also an important number of young people who make up small groups in more marginal cities. Traveling to see them is the part of my ministry that I like best: how much wonder they show when they see someone who is willing to travel hundreds of kilometers only to stay for a few hours with five or six twenty-year-olds to sustain their faith and their path! Often I think of the care and silent dedication that many educators have had for me: if I’ve been able to discover the beauty of Christian life, I owe it to their educative passion, to the desire that they had to accompany me with all of their energy. In the end, Christianity is precisely this uncontainable passion for the destiny of every person.

Christianity is precisely this uncontainable passion for the destiny of every person

I see this clearly also with the state university of Fuenlabrada, which has about 8000 students. The bishop of our diocese asked me to occupy myself in a special way with this modern university campus. The impact of the pandemic has marked a point of no-return: online teaching, or at least hybrid, is now the rule. And yet, this has not stopped me, in these two years, from seeing the Lord at work with the singular creativity that distinguishes Him.

I’ve been able to establish relationships with many persons who are far from or totally contrary to the faith, who stop me outside or at the cafeteria, where my black clerics elicit many understandably curious looks every time I enter. I am not yet habituated to the sensation of suddenly having three hundred pairs of eyes on me and of listening to the whisper, “Look, it’s a priest!”.

How does my presence make sense in a state university in the relativist and extremely lay Spain? It’s truly a drop in the ocean, tiny just like the number of people who come to the Mass. And yet, I am there for each one of them, for the professors and for the students, for the groundskeepers and for those who work in food service, for the janitors and for the security. Often a smile, an exchange of words or a timid request for prayer are the last bulwark of a humanity in search of companionship.

Among the many people I’ve encountered, I carry in my heart the one with Jorge, a boy who came from far away, in every sense of the word. Seeing me in a hallway near the secretary’s office, he came up to talk and, as time passed, found the companionship he was looking for. He became reacquainted with the sacraments and began coming to the cafeteria meetings with other students. He began a beautiful journey of faith with his young fiancée, not without the travails of rediscovering a demanding faith that was asking him for an undivided heart. One day, he unexpectedly informed me that he would soon be returning to his country: he had to interrupt his university studies because of a serious family problem. I felt a great helplessness, because I considered his membership in the Church to be still very fragile. For months I heard nothing about him, until I received an email from him informing me that he had established relations with his home parish and was walking briskly toward the discovery that his life is wanted and loved by eternity. He was grateful for the time I had given him. The encounter with Jorge -fleeting, as often happens, because a university is a place that demands much flexibility- is one of the many small gifts that confirm for me the desire to give my life so that Christ can be known. In my mission, I learn that what’s important is not time or fruits that I can see, but the gratuity that I learn, of which I am the object, and that I attempt to live with every person that I meet.

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