“It takes around an hour to reach the Singapore Airport from the city of Johor, crossing a river at Woodlands that is actually a sea strait separating Singapore Island from Malaysia. I am in great and youthful company in the car carrying us. There’s Sophie who had just arrived from Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. She’s 43 years old, with two children aged 11 and 14, and works with an Arabic airline. She narrated her decision to live as a Christian in a professional setup that is not always easy, not solely for religious reasons but also for the quality of work: “Often I was obliged not to accept gifts and bribes that someone would like to give me because unfortunately in Indonesia, there is rampant corruption.”
Heyliy’s beautiful smile stood out beside her. She’s from another world – from Mumbai in India. She’s been in Singapore since seven years and works as an air hostess with another airline. She’s part of a group of young people of the Focolare Movement. She’s Indian, another’s from Brazil, two are from Singapore, another’s from Mauritius, there’s a Malaysian, one from Macau, and finally, a Korean!
26-year-old Latando and Oktav 28, had just arrived by air from Yogyakarta, the cultural capital of Indonesia, where they are studying Italian with commitment, eager to spend a period of spiritual and professional formation in Italy. They have a great hope: that their Muslim friends from Bantul, with whom they had worked a lot after the deadly earthquake of 2009, find a suitable way of development.
Anna, 22 years, is our driver. She lives together with his family in Johor. She’s studying Health management. She’s positive and optimistic by nature as well as by choice: “I believe that the crime affecting my city must be overcome by good police measures, but even more by works of social and political justice”. Finally, 22-year-old Nicolas, Singaporean with her smart phone always ready to go and ringing. She’s an accounts auditor: “But I always try to see faces and people beyond the money. It’s not always easy. Out here it seems that one should live for the money. I don’t agree”.
It’s these people, along with 300 others from Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, who gathered today, 20th January, at the Sacred Heart Cathedral hall in the heart of the city of Johor, to meet Maria Voce and Giancarlo Faletti who are visiting the region. Many of them don’t know each other due to the vast distances between them. It’s easier for them to meet as Indonesians, Singaporeans, Malaysians… The youth and children made up an overwhelming majority, but there’s no dearth of the “workers of the first hour”, i.e. those from the eighties, when news of the lady teacher from Trent reached out here. A burst of colours, numerous thoughts, so much expectation. Palpable emotions. People who are really diverse but all the same brought together by gospel love and that of Chiara Lubich.
Characteristics of diverse peoples expressed colourfully, emotionally and artistically through dance, music, theatre, scenic representations… A festival of peoples, an exposition of this part of the world that is so varied and rich. Maria Voce observed: “I was struck by the richness of this people who have such an immense potential both expressive as well as spiritual”. A youth from Penang, Malaysia remarked: “I didn’t know that the Focolare Movement communities from neighbouring countries were so diverse, I’d say complementary. I realized that we Malaysians alone wouldn’t know how to be so rich”.
A personal contact is being established between the guests from Rome and the many people who are present. There are intimate questions and in some way, just as intimate answers. It’s a constant call to God’s love and the individual conscience. With an invitation to a kind of “Jubilee year”, in which space is given to forgiveness, to “begin anew”, to look out for God’s grace that arrives… Questions somewhat universal, globalised, which would be valid even if asked in Cologne or Buenos Aires. But with a touch of the local social, religious, and political situation: the difficulty to commit oneself due to the stress of daily life wherein work is the most important value; the interfaith context, particularly Islam; the difficulty of a true altruism; inter-generational relationships; laws that not always favourable to a suitable civil coexistence…
Maria Voce concluded saying: “Only God remains… God needs witnesses and not defenders”. And this is what the life of the Movement means in these lands: to constantly renew oneself in the gospel love and to bear witness to it with one’s own life. To thus reach, little by little, the unity Jesus wanted.
Selamat Datang is written on the meeting hall’s backdrop. It means “welcome.” A few hours together and it’s already a certainty”.
By Michele Zanzucchi, correspondent