This Summer, Daniele and I spent a few weeks together with elementary and middle school kids at one of our parishes, Navicella, helping Fr. Lorenzo Di Pietro in his task of educating. We prepared the Summer program with games, songs and field trips and then we began to invite kids. In the mornings we would begin with the Angelus and a short catechism which focused on certain young martyrs who the kids could identify with, like Joselito and Rolando Rivi. They all followed with enthusiasm the stories of these saints who had given their lives to Jesus: Joselito, during the terrible Mexican persecutions, and Rolando, who was a victim of a group of communist partisans. We invited the kids to take a risk in following our proposal, and we had the grace to see them grow. Andrej (a made up name i will use) arrived from Russia a few months ago. He was refuted by his biological parents, then again by his guardian family, ending up being adopted by an Italian family. Every time we invited him to do something he resisted, as if he wanted to return the return the experience he had from his first parents. He didn’t interact with the other kids. Initially we felt the preoccupation to welcome him, to make him finally feel at home, but as the weeks passed we noticed that what he needed were father figures to look up to. He wanted to be welcomed, but also corrected and challenged to move. One day, after the lunch break, Andrej moved towards a group of other kids. I suggested that they have a race, and I told them that I would be the timer. I finally saw the true identity of Andrej emerge, his tenacious character, Russian pride, enthusiasm. The race finished with him outrunning the others. Finally certain that he was loved, day after day he started to warm up, risking with the other kids. Watching the kids, I rediscovered the beauty and force of a Christian proposal, which, when radical and profound, is capable of changing one’s life.
One afternoon, as we were playing with the kids, a thunder storm broke out causing us all to run for shelter. As I ran to get out of the rain, an anxious thought came to mind, “what in the world can we propose for the last hour before the parents arrive?”. We made it inside in time to see it really start to pour. Arianna, a missionary sister of St. Charles, had begun to sing with a few GS kids who were there to help with the camp. I heard their voices singing: “Suo feliz, Senhor, porque tu vais comigo”, I am happy, because you walk with me, and I thought to myself how true it was. It is truly possible to be happy under a thunderstorm, and in a difficult life like that of Andrej. The passion to educate is born from the certainty and joy that the Lord walks with us.
(In the photo, a moment of singing in the Summer oratory in the parish of Santa Maria in Domnica—photo by Stefano Dal Pozzolo)