An account of an international meeting - Italy

When our little community of three sisters risked suggesting that the international meeting for the Fraternities might take place in Rome, we were not being rash: we knew that we could count on the collaboration of our fraternity, on our friends in the parish and neighbourhood and, why not?, on Fr Pernet and Antoinette Fage who are at the origin of this apostolic initiative. 
 
The theme of the meeting was very interesting and relevant because it touched the reality being experienced personally and locally in our fraternity: the family, the neighbourhood, the society that surrounds us, and which influences us: 
"WITH CHRIST ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS, IN THIS CONTINUALLY CHANGING WORLD, LET OURSELVES BE TRANSFORMED IN ORDER TO ENVISAGE WITH OTHERS A NEW WORLD WHERE EACH PERSON HAS A PLACE." 
 
Our first task was to find a good hotel, big enough to receive a large group of people and which would not be too far from our neighbourhood, San Basilio. In fact, about 150 persons were present at the meeting (110 from France and Belgium plus 4 from Palermo, 3 sisters from Naples and 30/40 from San Basilio). The Domus Urbis hotel was exactly what we were looking for. 
The second was the quest for persons who might help us develop the theme on which the different fraternities were preparing to work. As the General Council of the Augustinians of the Assumption is based in Rome, we immediately thought that one of them, knowing our LSA spirituality, could more easily understand and take on this task. Thanks be to God, Father Julio Navarro accepted this demanding work of reading and commenting on the experiences of the Fraternities. Perhaps not everybody knows that Fr Julio is also the postulator for the beatification causes of Fr d’Alzon and Fr Pernet. Getting to know the "people of the Fraternities" would enable him to have additional enthusiasm for this undertaking. 
The Brussels Fraternity had suggested Xavier, a young Belgian Salesian attached to the international community in Rome, who by vocation is in contact with today’s young people. Xavier accepted and so we had the testimony for the "family/inter-generation" theme. 
 
It also seemed very important to have a contribution on "inter-religious dialogue" in this society that is increasingly multi-cultural and multi-confessional, where we have little knowledge of the other, of those who are different, or else only know them through prejudices or by what the media show us. We immediately thought of Fr Mina Tawfik, a Catholic Coptic Egyptian priest. The Rome Fraternity support his charitable projects at El Minia, in the south of Egypt. Since the revolution known as the "Arab spring" and the chaos that has followed it, Fr Mina has organised monthly meetings for dialogue in which the participants are Catholics, Orthodox, Muslim imams and all persons of good will who wish to live in an atmosphere of peace and respect for the freedom of each one. Fr Mina immediately agreed to participate in our meeting. 
 
As the year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council somebody suggested that it would be a good opportunity to have a contribution dealing with the importance of the laity and their place in the Church. It was soon done: Monsignor Tino Scotti, who used to be in San Basilio and who accompanied our Fraternity over several years (he is at present secretary to Benedict XVI) also agreed to come. 
 
At that point we had the material to start with and the Fraternities had to get down to work. This they did really well: 14 reports, 6 personal testimonies, plus the "Book of Marvels", all of which were enriched at each meeting, were sent to Fr Navarro. The replies were of a high quality, very vivid, based on real life. 
 
At last, Thursday, 17 May 2012 arrived. 
The beginning of the adventure! There was a large number expected and the various groups arrived one after the other throughout the day: at the airport, at the railway station – would we be able to go to meet everybody? Alfredo and Ermanno placed themselves completely at our disposition and, thank God, everything went off without any problems. 
After dinner, the various Fraternities were presented; this was a very lively time when everybody participated as we were all anxious to get to know one another. 
 
We continued the evening with a short film that had great meaning: "The Butterfly Circus" which introduced us to the theme of welcoming and accepting others in their great diver¬sity, and with confidence in their capacity to change. The film was a success. 
 
Friday, 18 May : A full day’s work, marked by various talks.
After morning prayer, Fr Navarro A.A. began by commenting on the reports from the Fraternities and, so that everybody might understand, he commented in both French and Italian (his own language is Spanish). We were really grateful to him for that. 
 
The theme that most interested the Fraternities was the "family", it is the reality that is closest to them: the truth of the family, what is positive, its biggest difficulties, the lack of understanding between the generations. The sorrows and the difficulties were accentuated rather than the joys. Hope did not appear very explicitly. Fr Navarro suggested to us attitudes we might have in the face of these situations: forgiveness, respect, dialogue, self-forgetfulness. Love is the dimension of the Christian. 
 
Family life and the life of the neighbourhood are linked, because the life of others affects us. The good seed and the darnel grow together. So we can encounter racism or solidarity, help or exclusion, drugs and violence, but there is also the richness of the encounter with other cultures and different religions. The apostolic dimension of the Christian is suggested: it is not enough to change our heart and our outlook, we must change the reality in which we are (family, society, world etc.) 
God is present in all and what God wants of us is that "His Kingdom may come". There is an attitude that we have to work on: how to live with others. Respect, seeking the truth together, praying together, without prejudices. Our life must show that we are true Christians. 
 
After a short break it was the turn of Xavier, a Salesian who has been in Rome for the past three years to study theology. He shared with us his inter-generation and inter-cultural experience. What we are living through today is not something new: the Bible recounts the experience of Israel in its contacts with other peoples, other cultures, other gods. We must go to encounter difference. 
Xavier recounted the experience of his family who, one day, decided to adopt a child who had Down’s syndrome. This little girl was the source of unity in the family as the others were obliged to emerge from their own egoism in order to open up to what is different. 
 
When he was at school, an encounter with Guy Gilbert (a priest who has devoted his life to youth in difficulty) aroused in him the desire to become a priest working with youth. He spent two weeks in a rehabilitation community for young drug addicts, living as one of them – in similar conditions but with a different history; he was there by choice, the others by obligation. The difference in their situations did not prevent mutual acceptance and the growth of friendship between them. 
 
In Rome, he is living in a community of 44 Salesian priests, of 20 different nationalities. Every day, each one learns something from the other. Difference is a richness, living together is a prophetic mission. Our future will come through dialogue, openness to what is different. 
 
We had a lunch break, and then we continued with two other interesting talks. 
First, there was Fr Mina Tawfik, a Catholic/Christian/Copt/ Arab/Egyptian: an ensemble of apparent contradictions. He has great esteem for our LSA charism. In Egypt, he works with street children, drug addicts, unmarried mothers who are victims of violence; he also helps families who are in difficulties because of sickness or unemploy-ment. In his country, relations between Christians and Muslims are difficult. There is discrimination in the area of opportunities for work and a career. 
From the beginning of his talk, Fr Mina laid great emphasis on the fact that dialogue is the only path for attaining peace between people and between religions; there are many prejudices among people and much ignorance concerning the faith of others. For example, the Palestinians think that Fr Mina cannot love the Christians because he is an Arab, whereas the Muslims cannot believe that he and an Imam can be friends. 
 
What we have in common is God; our dignity comes from God; our faith must be courageous and proclaim the love of Jesus Christ. Only the Christian can say: "God loves you." In the Koran, the name of Mary is mentioned 23 times, but the word "love" is not to be found. To love and accept, to support, to dialogue and to live. What characterises the fundamentalists is that they do not accept the other, the other who is different. The experience of dialogue passes through patience and the acceptance of refusal. 
 
It was Mgr Tino Scotti who concluded this demanding part of the day by talking to us of the Second Vatican Council on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. He recalled that the laity have always had their place in the Church and have always had constant attention. Laypersons, although distinct from the priest, are equal by their origin, their ultimate aim, their grace and their dignity; relations with the hierarchy are and should be those of fraternity, family spirit, communion. At the centre of our faith Vatican II placed once again: Jesus Christ, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the faith as a daily choice. 
 
The laity are called to live out their existence as a vocation, by participating in the unique mission of the people of God: the extension of the Reign of God. Deeply rooted in the human reality, they participate in the building of the Church through the richness of their family, professional and cultural experience. The community is diverse, but each person has a place. Many lay Christians, saints, have had an important role in recent history. Even among the founding fathers of European unity, there were lay Catholics. The laity live out the dimension of secularism (which is different from secularisation), that is, they belong to their time. They are not called to do exceptional things but, in the normal course of daily life, they must always seek the truth. "Be holy as the Father …" It is in the sanctuary of their own conscience that Christians find God and hear his voice. Their duty is: to be faithful to their own conscience and always seek the truth. 
 
The day was not yet over. Having nourished our minds with the richness of these talks, a time of relaxation and festivities was before us. Each Fraternity had prepared some¬thing: songs, poems, sketches.   The Romans among us pre-sented some important characters of Roman history without, of course, forgetting the Holy Father.
 
Our Lamberto played the role to perfection, and everybody wanted to have their photo taken with him. 
 
Saturday, 19 May:
At 7.30 a.m. on the Saturday, two coaches filled with joyful pil¬grims set out in the direction of St Peter’s. The whole morning was given over to this visit. Each of us received an audio-guide which made us independent, enabling us to visit as we wished. At 12.30 we left to return to the hotel.
 
4 p.m. – We met in the large conference hall for the celebration of Mass. In Italy, the feast of the Ascension is celebrated this Sunday, a "cultural difference" of the secular calendar. 
 
Everything had been prepared with care and solemnity; we sensed the importance of the moment. The Fathers who celebrated were Fr Antoine (chaplain to the Belgian Fraternity) and Fr Giuseppe (a Cameroonian priest who at the moment is attached to the community of priests at San Basilio). We could follow the readings and the hymns in the two languages (French and Italian) with the booklet that had been prepared for that. After the homily, ten brothers and sisters from various communities renewed their baptismal promises. We all partici-pated in this moment with emotion and joy. The exchange of peace was particularly warm – we form a single family, a single Fraternity! The celebration closed with Fr Pernet’s prayer for unity. 
 
Some free time and then… for those who wanted and had the energy, we left with about half the participants for a visit to "Rome by night". Three guides awaited us. We broke up into three groups for three different routes and we began walking … We got back to the hotel about midnight. 
 
Sunday 20 May
 
There were already the first departures, but it was possible for the greater part of the group to have a little tour of Rome by bus and to visit two other important basilicas: St Paul outside the Walls (where the tomb of St Paul is) and St Mary Major, the first church, magnificent, dedicated to the Virgin. 
There was a group photograph and, after the meal, our meeting ended. We were tired but happy, with so many new "brothers and sisters". 
Fraternity, how lovely it is!
 
The San Basilio community (Roma)
26/10/2012
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