Here in Czech Republic, like in most places, the scholastic year has been affected by Covid: since October, our teaching has been online. More so than actual math classes – the online lessons were not that bad after all – the aspect that has been affected the most has been the relationship with the students: their webcams are rigorously turned off, conversations never go beyond in-class exercises, and it is impossible to have a moment to talk after class. All this is due to the widespread fragility regarding affectivity, which makes them afraid of exposing themselves too much. It became fundamental to take advantage of every opportunity to look for relationships that are more human.
At the end of September, for example, we organized an outing to a forest near Prague for a group of students of the Movement. I also invited three of my students whom I had gotten to know better a few weeks back, and the trust and enthusiasm that they showed during the day we spent together really struck me. There were only three students out of seven who were baptized in the group. The day was very beautiful, so much so that even the masks and distancing did not ruin it. One of the girls was very moved during the opening lesson; the other students asked us many questions about Catholics: whether we are allowed to eat pork, whether we believe in reincarnation, why priests can’t get married. For the first time in their lives, they attended Mass. At the end of the day, one of them told us, “With you, one can really feel an atmosphere of intense love; it is good to be together.” She did not realize it, but she was repeating the words of Peter in front of Jesus on Mount Tabor.
These days, I am asking myself how I can reach out to the other students as well, to make a proposal of a different way of facing social isolation, online classes and free time. The thought that remaining in their homes could be like hell for some of them makes me suffer greatly. One of my students was kicked out of the house by his mother. Another student does not have a mother and has to live with his alcoholic father. Some of their parents lost their jobs, or fight all day. In order to foster relationships with my students, I often write down some of my reflections regarding the present situation and send it to all of my students by email. Before Christmas, I wrote to them that in these months, the possibility of doing many things has been taken away. I concluded the email by saying: “Everyone (even math professors) sees the value of what you do, and not the value of who you are. But the most beautiful thing happens when you realize that you are loved for who you are, and not for what you do. I believe that this Christmas will be helpful if you pay attention to those who love you for who you are, and if you try to love others simply for the fact that they exist.”
Some of my students wrote me back saying that they were forced to think about the meaning of the vacation time; others told me about their families and first love. Many of them did not write back to me. At times, I am not aware of the things that remain in the heart of the students. One of my former students came by our house last Christmas to say hello: she told me that during high school, she was never really enthusiastic about math, but rather, studied it only to not disappoint me. Then she added, “In the end, every one of us in class knew that our relationship with you would not have been changed by the grades that we would have received, and we knew that you would have continued to want the best for us.” Perhaps this is the lesson that would be left in their hearts: an authentically lived charity, a charity that would one day, lead them to encounter the source of every true love.
(Father Marco Basile is the rector of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sorrows, and teaches Math in Ústavní High School in Prague, Czech Republic. In the picture, Father Marco is directing the choir in the courtyard of the House of the Fraternity in Prague – 2019).