It was fascinating to see the surprise on the faces of the young people of the Movement. Most of the fifty or so of their peers who had come for their first encounter with the spirituality of unity had formed an orderly line so they could speak with Maria Voce. They sought her out after hearing her responses to their questions. This was not just a show of good manners, they were moved by the desire to say something personal to this white haired lady, of the same generation of their grandmothers, about the things she had touched inside them.
“Thank you for having given me the meaning of suffering,” said a student of Philippine origin. And Cheryl, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, added: “You explained in such a simple way how I can overcome suffering with love, that I had to say, “I can do it.” “The life you challenged us to live is radical, but we feel greatly encouraged”, said an African Canadian girl. Alma and Len expressed their surprise at these affirmations, “We have never seen anything like this. It’s not part of Canadian culture to go and speak about personal feelings like that.”
About one hundred young people came to St Joseph’s College Hall, from as far away as Vancouver on the Pacific coast and from Calgary, a four hour flight away. But it was worth it. The theme of the meeting was a presentation of the life of Chiara Luce Badano, recently proclaimed blessed. Its title was uncompromising: “Heroes of today, saints of tomorrow. Can you do it?” A demanding challenge for anywhere in the world, but here in Canada a particularly strong one, a struggle against the odds.
Secularisation here has caused a drop in church going from 80 per cent to 10 per cent in a matter of decades. Here a woman can obtain an abortion at any stage of pregnancy; in 2005 same sex marriage became legal; religion and its external symbols are increasingly disappearing from the public arena; in the media there is intolerance towards religion and believers; the fundamental rights of religious freedom and even of conscience are questioned in court.
Nevertheless Maria Voce, when asked whether it is possible to change the world, did not hold back. “If you do not change the world, no one else will,” she said plainly, “Society would have us think that happiness lies in having more. I have the impression that young people have a lot of things, but they are not happy because they haven’t discovered that what brings happiness is love.”
The president had lit a fire. “At today’s gathering you have experienced the gospel of love. Never by satisfied with anything less. Don’t turn back. Don’t risk closing the door on God.” She went on, “He trusts you. You have had this experience today. Take it to others. The future of Canada depends on you. And never feel alone, because the young people of other countries are your supporters. Together it is possible to change the world.”
The message had been delivered. And those standing in line wanted to express their adherence to it, to this woman that they had only met an hour ago. With an embrace or a kiss on both cheeks, this was an unforgettable moment. And the group photo with Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti, co-president was an opportunity for a cosmopolitan explosion of joy.
Our correspondent – Paolo Lòriga