Just last week I was immersed in an ocean of heroic virtue! And it was a real joy! I was attending a ten day convivence (alias, a retreat) of the Neo-catechumenal Way in Italy. It was open to families who feel the call of God to leave home, comforts, stable jobs and emigrate to areas where there is the need to establish or strengthen the Church. It was a real spectacle of faith! A chant to life!
We must have been one thousand five hundred people and more. Many of them young families with many children. The Apostolic Nuncio of Italy, Very Reverend Paolo Romeo, came and presided the Eucharist in the name of the Pope.
“The Church is grateful to you,” the Nuncio said with strength. “You are a living open cell in this enormous macrocosm! You render visible and credible the missionary dimension of our Church. Abandon all your fears to Him. He will sustain you.”
Pope Benedict will meet with these families in January and give them personally the missionary cross, as Pope John Paul II did with the other families who have now been in mission, some of them for eighteen years! This is a new form of evangelization aimed directly at the many “lost sheep” that no longer have any contact with the parish and with the Church.
Why the ‘missionary cross’? Because the success of evangelization cannot be measured by management efficiency programs. By their presence alone, these families are making faith present.
It was beautiful to listen to mothers recounting how their children are the spearhead of the ‘New Evangelization’ by families. For example, the mission families in Japan are always finding their homes invaded by Japanese children, friends of their children. These children learn the language every quickly. Through the children, the families have got to know other families. These Japanese are very struck by this way of ‘living the family’, seeing the family table like an altar where the father transmits the faith to the children and where the marriage bed is also an altar where new children are given life. A new culture appears and this touches the hearts of the neighbors.
The stories which they say many times are scary! “I woke up one morning and found blood near my bed. I had been feeling weak the last days and so I phoned the doctor. He immediately diagnosed the reason of my weakness! “Are you sleeping with your windows open?” he asked. When I answered yes, he said “In our country we have bats that suck the blood of animals and people. Just keep the windows shut and you will be OK!” Gosh!
“The rats are so aggressive that one night I found the cloth of my pajamas eaten by them! I must have been very tired because I did not even feel them!”
“I found myself facing a gun,” recounted Gerald in mission in Georgia. “This man was insisting that I take his daughter to Europe because here she was being threatened by the Mafia. When I told him that I am not here for this kind of activity but to announce the Gospel… he stared at me and I thought that the end is now…. Luckily, he did not shoot!”
And yet they are so grateful “God has sent me to this district where there are so many people whose lives are destroyed, to make me – who has so many times doubted the love of God – share the experience of St Thomas: to put my hands into the wounds of Christ, which are these poor people”.
“When we have nothing to eat, the children take up their guitars and play!” “I had bandits in my house. They started beating us when they found out we had nothing in our home. I suffered immensely but I will never exchange this suffering for anything in this world! Jesus Christ sustains you, Kiko!”
“God gave us an intimacy with Him which is one million times more beautiful than any suffering which one can go through in the mission field. Jesus Christ comes with us. This is our conviction. To enter into the suffering is joy.”
The constant refrain was, “God has humbled me and has been extremely good with me.” “I am so grateful to God for choosing me for this mission – He has given me joy, He has rebuilt my marriage, He gave a backbone to my children through suffering…” “No way will I return home! I will go back on my two feet, walking, if necessary!”
As Kiko Argüello, the initiator of the Neocatechumenal Way commented “They have all come with eyes full of light, of love, of the tenderness of Our Lord Jesus Christ who has been with them in the midst of very great suffering and has helped them very much.”
When Pope John Paul sent out the second wave of families to the mission, he emphasized the need for faith to appear in this generation: “You need a deep faith to walk in today’s world as a family. You need great faith to walk as a family in the steps of the Holy Family of Nazareth”.
Let us find out how we can generate this kind of faith in our parishes!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.