We have often seen that families, despite participating in the activities of the community, remain isolated from each other. Four years ago, we launched the idea of creating some small groups to help them in their journey of faith. We priests would then commit ourselves to accompany them on their journey. Thus were born small communities that help each other live the mystery of life. They meet once a month to talk about their daily lives, to try to discover how Jesus changes existence for the better. We certainly could not have imagined how decisive this intuition would have become during the pandemic.
As soon as it was possible, aware of the experience of communion they had shared, the groups arranged to spend a period of rest and recreation together in the mountains, with the desire of rediscovering the beauty of nature and of relationships, the pleasure of having the children play together in the open air, the joy of finally looking each other in the eyes, and also communal prayer.
In September, when it seemed like everything had already been overcome, another sacrifice, in some ways even greater, was asked of us. Schools closed, babies and children at home with often exhausting remote learning, an intense pace of work prevailed…
And so, even in the last few months when everyone had to stay closed in for a longer period, these small groups decided to continue to support each other in taking care of the children, confronting financial problems, or simply helping each other to lift their gaze after a tough day with a phone call, a walk, or sometimes even just a brief greeting from the balcony. One case left a particular impression on me. In one of these families, everyone was sick with COVID. The local health authority was calling every day to ask for updates and to encourage them to remain distanced from each other. How this would be possible, with them having only one kitchen and one bathroom, remains shrouded in mystery. The mother was in bed with a fever of 104°F without being able to do anything. All of them recovered, thanks be to God. When we saw them again, she confided to us: “Without the support of the friends who called me every day, I wouldn’t have made it.”
In a city like Torino, solitude is the most deadly cancer. The health crisis has multiplied this drama by a hundredfold. This is why these small fraternities are a beacon of hope, not only for those who participate in them but also for those who, often without knowing it, are in search of a companionship. As another mom told us: “I have a friend for whom I have much affection and for whom I pray a lot. We see each other at the theater school, which is a common passion of ours. He is not baptized and one time he told me that he didn’t even know how to make the sign of the cross. During the first lockdown, on Pasquetta [the day after Easter], he rang the intercom, asked us to come up, and, without waiting to be invited, came into the house, sat down, and told us that he needed to see some faces. I was very shaken: on the day of the Angel, the Lord sent me a pagan to remind me that we need each other.”
Gianluca Attanasio is pastor of Santa Giulia parish in Torino. In the photo, a meeting with young people at the parish (July 2018).