Today I arrive home after spending the last three weeks at some remarkable gatherings.
The first week I was a chaplain to 320 people of all ages from small town Italy who meet for vacation every year. They are attracted by the friendship that is a first fruit of following Christ. These friends don’t fit any political, theological or religious, moral or legal stereotype of Christ-followers. They are a diverse bunch covering every perspective and profession and they won’t squeeze into any box that we might assign to Catholics who like to vacation together.
Perhaps the best way to describe the week-long vacation in the mountains of north Italy is as a work. Ask any of those who took part and they would say that a real vacation is not an absence of work but it is itself a work, a work that has the opportunity to be more real (and therefore more rejuvinating) than the auto-pilot routines of the rest of the year because on a vacation we intentionally make room to breathe deeply.
Each day of the vacation we eat and drink and talk. We walk in the mountains, we play and sing and pray. We chat more and then (perhaps because this is Italy) we eat again and we eat more. The mountains and the dining table are work places where living in vibrant adult relationship with Christ and the consequences of this choice are always (either directly or indirectly) the central reality.
The following week was the Rimini Meeting for friendship among peoples. Annually 800.000 people visit this week-long festival of faith with exhibitions, conferences and conversations. Several times every day the young at heart fill lecture-halls in their thousands to take part in robust faith debates led by some of the world’s great minds. The Meeting avoids the religious language that is no longer an effective communicator of the beauty and freshness of faith. This enables every part of the meeting to get right to the point and gives a common language enabled by a religious sense which is shared by all people.
In the midst of the magnificent exhibitions and lectures most of each day (often from 11.00am to 11.00pm) is filled with conversations with friends old and new. This year I was privileged to meet at least a couple of times each day with two young Muslims who quickly became friends. Towards the end of the Meeting I was skipping meetings just to drink coffee with them. I realised that while I had met many people of Muslim faith before, I had never had the opportunity to share friendship in the way that we did last week. This encounter affirmed the fact that friendship overcomes fear and our mission, following the example of Jesus, must be before all else a work of friendship.
an international conversation
At the end of these two weeks I would have been satisfied, but there was more to come.
The International Meeting of the “Responsibles” of Communion & Liberation was held in Corvara in the mountains near the Austrian border. For four days 250 people from 80 countries gathered for an intense conversation with days often finishing with Mass at 10.30pm. For most of each day we heard people from around the world speak about the reality of Christ in their experience, and every moment when we were not sitting in the meeting hall was spent sharing our own experience of Christ.
how to share?
I’m writing this during a stop-over at Hong Kong airport an hour before I board the flight home. Long flights give good time for savouring graces and pondering implications and applications.
It is difficult for me to convey the beauty and the power of my experiences these past three weeks, surrounded by thousands of people (mostly younger than me) who have discovered the heart of Catholic Christian faith and who live this with a beauty and joy that we might not often see.
I return home re-convinced that there is a method for renewing the Church in the western world, and the method is not a doctrine or a programme, but the person of Jesus Christ.
On my return home I look forward to working with any person who is happy join me in following this God-given method.