Belonging to the Christian community always begins with a friendship: a witness from the periphery of Santiago, Chile.

I wanted to share the story of a friend, Felipe. He is the father of a small girl with disabilities. I met him at an institute that organizes workshops for sustaining the development of kids with disabilities. I have been spending one afternoon a week there for the last two years. While the children are in the room, I stay with their parents in the waiting room. For a long time this was the context where I would meet Felipe: sometimes we would exchange only a few words, other times we would have longer conversations. This year I didn’t think that It would be possible to see him because I had to change the day I visited the institute. Instead, something surprising happened.
One afternoon in March, I was in the courtyard of a sanctuary nearby that is entrusted to our parish. The gate of this sanctuary is in front of a bus stop. At a certain point, I saw Felipe get out of a bus and come towards me. He said that when he saw me from the bus he decided to get out because he needed to speak to me about something important. We took a seat and he told me about the recent explosion of serious family problems. After speaking, we made an appointment to meet up again another day, through this episode a new friendship began. I am always more aware that it is not enough for him to have a personal relationship with me, that he needs to encounter something bigger, the same Christian community that also nourishes my life. So, I decided to invite him to the adults School of Community that we lead every Friday evening. Felipe decided to come, and since then he never misses. After a short period he told me: “I don’t come here because you are here. I would come regardless, even if you weren’t here, because what I have encountered is vital for me”. For me it was a liberation and a joy to see a son, a friend, entrusted so clearly to the life that generates me.
The thing that strikes me about him, in this last months of participation in the life of the Church, in a special way through the Movement of CL, is the seriousness with which he is living everything.
One day I went to meet him at his work, which is within a shopping mall. Before getting in line to get fast food and have lunch together, he told me: “Come with me, I want to show you something”. I followed him through hidden passageways, used only by the workers, which brought us to a door. He opened the door and we went in. Inside there was a half-empty room, with a sofa near the wall. Felipe explained: “You know, working in this mall all day, I am immersed in chaos and in the cacophony of music played from the loudspeakers that deafens me. During my lunch break, I eat quickly and then come here, close the door, and do silence. I take out the book for the school of community and read it”.
During these last months, this encounter and experience with Felipe has filled me with gratitude. It is a gift from God that mysteriously passed through an experience of profound pain. Looking at a friend, I rediscover the memory of God’s preference for me, who had pity on my nothingness and sends me to be channel of His grace to other brothers that He chooses.

(Alessio Cottafava is the vice pastor of the Divine Master parish in San Bernardo, Chile. The photo was taken during catechism, with those preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation).

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