4 September 2012. 14:00. Following a twenty hour-long bus ride we arrived in Castelli Romani, Italy. We were different from when we had left. How many were we? There were ninety-six on the bus and twenty on the plane, and the others whom we met in Budapest. There were the four who had travelled by car in order to save some money, some others in a camper, some friends working behind the scenes in the underground area of the Sports Arena: the people working in productions, the Internet coordinator, the youths who were working on the social networks and many others. Our group was like a small slice of the Genfest with people of different ages (some younger than fourteen – the group’s mascot – and some who were already over thirty). There were also people of different beliefs in our group (many Catholics, even practicing, many who were just curious to experience something different. And then there were some agnostics and nonbelievers, and also a few priests and religious sisters).
News of the Genfest could be had through various means (press releases, social networks, the instant replay of the event). But how will we know what this even meant for those who were there? Only time will tell, but we did get some sense of what it was like. Before leaving Budapest, this very Italian group sat for a while on a lawn in the in front of the “downtown Church” just a few metres from the Chain Bridge which had been the site of the largest flash mob in history, ever to be performed on a bridge (it actually shook under the weight of the 12 thousand rejoicing youths!). As they sat there on the lawn it seemed that time stood still.
They no longer heard the noise of the traffic or the voices of pedestrians as they hurried by, nor were they bothered by the roasting afternoon temperatures and thirst. All they were hearing was the river of life sharing that flowed from those who overcoming their timidity, raised their voices to tell what was taking place within them. “I found the courage to ‘allow myself to be wounded’ by the sufferings of others without trying to move beyond it,” says 22 year-old Tiziana who is studying economy. And Francesco, who is not yet eighteen: “I had decided to come at the last minute just to do something that might be interesting at the end of the summer holiday. I was never expecting such a big change in me. It began with an apple that rolled over my foot and a smile as I handed it back to the one who had dropped it. For the past few days I have only tried to love the person who was near me, and I’ve never felt as alive as I do now.” Fourteen year-old Anna confides: “This year has been a bit sad for me, thinking about the many friends with whom I’ve tried to share this great ideal and little by little they drifted away. That’s why, when I heard about Genfest I did everything I could to attend. And with the charge I received during the days of this event, seeing how many we are, all of us believing that a united world is possible, I want to go back home and shout out to everyone about this great dream.” Freddy, eighteen years old: “We are all agnostics in a group I belong to, atheists and nonbelievers. But welcoming others is fundamental for us. This is what we experienced over these past few days, we felt like brothers and sisters in spite of the differences.”
I can leave now as the Genfest challenge has been won. One year ago, when we planned the trip, the young group leaders had said that we would need a whole week, since the fundamental thing would be to build relationships, strong bonds with our friends. And that’s how this trip turned out. It brought us through Vienna, and we stayed on in Budapest for an extra day in order to get to know this marvellous city. At the heart of it all were the two days at the Sport Arena, the Chain Bridge and the gathering in front of St Stephen’s Cathedral. “As soon as I stepped into the Arena something happened,” says Paolo; the concert on the 31st of August, the language of the songs that united the young people from all over the world, the feeling that you needed to jump up and down, to embrace each other, to share our feelings. But this emotion was immediately transformed into life, as is shown by the experiences they have shared; it has translated into courage and decision. And it has given them the courage to return home and live their motto “Let’s bridge,” to be a living bridge to anyone we may meet.
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