This year, I was asked, as a charitable work, to accompany the middle school kids who participate in life at the Center, together with Giovanni, another seminarian. The Center is a place that was entrusted to one of our houses in Rome (Navicella), where for many years now families have shared an intense Christian life. Our proposal for Saturday afternoon begins with a prayer, a few songs and then games. After a snack, there is a moment called setaccio, which means “sieve”; the image is that of sifting through our life experiences together, retaining that which is precious. We introduce the Sunday Gospel, encouraging the kids to feel the impact that the words of Jesus have on their own life. Finally, we walk together in groups to the Navicella to finish the afternoon with Mass.
These walks have offered me the occasion to become more familiar with two of the children in the smaller group that I was assigned to watch. Right off the bat, there was a kind of special connection with them. Brimming with vivacity and street smarts, these two immediately bombarded me with many questions and provocations about God and life. “I don’t believe in God, and I don’t want to be here” was the first thing they said to me. “I don’t believe in the Incarnation!” one of them told me the following week. However, it is not always questions or problematic affirmations. For example, one day, I heard them talking as they walked, and they were speaking about whether there was meaning in being born if one must suffer. When I approached, one of them pointed at me and yelled: “Phil knows well where babies come from!”. I didn’t understand exactly where he wanted to go with this comment. He continued: “Yeah, you know where life comes from, you are giving your own life to Him!”
Throughout the year, I came to know their personal stories and I began to understand from where their profundity and periodical rebellion, every now and then manifested through their provocations, were born. In front of their questions, I tried to respond, as much as I was able. That being said, I became aware that the most important thing was my presence, always there to receive them with their desires and within their dramas, to carry them and something of their resentment to God through my prayer. When I began this charitable work, I couldn’t have imagined that the moment of walking together might become the best possibility for a friendship to be born.
In these years of seminary, my desire to accompany young people and their questions has grown, together with my own experience of having fathers who carry my own questions and difficulties together with me. And last Saturday, one of the two kids, the more peaceful of the two, asked me to prepare him to receive his First Communion.
In the photo, Phil Stokman with a few kids of the “Barca di Pietro”.