“I’m Fr. Carlo, a priest for 22 years in the diocese of Milan. I’ve left this parish community and will soon move to the Focolare’s international school for priests in Loppiano, Italy where I’ll stay for three years or so. In Milan I was often in contact with people, especially children since I was in charge of groups that were preparing them for First Confession and First Holy Communion.
I realized that at the basis of every pastoral endeavour there should be a living love for neighbour, striving to see Jesus in everyone, from the pastor to the Muslim teenager who came to play football at the oratory. I could tell many small stories that demonstrate how these small attentions to each person helped to create a close network of very beautiful relationships, that helped to facilitate many in drawing near to the faith and made the community appealing even to those who were unbelievers. I will share just two episodes.
I got to know Emilio during a chess workshop. His temperament was reserved and he didn’t really fit in with his peer group. To my great surprise at the end of the workshop he asked to join us on a holiday excursion in the mountains. There he began to fit in better with the group of boys, to the point of proving his courage by walking across a rope that was attached to a safety cable at a height of six metres: the “Tibetan Bridge”. His peers encouraged him, chanting his name in chorus and, in the end, he managed to walk the length of the course amid the general applause that gave him much confidence. When he returned home from camp his parents wrote to me saying that they had watched a young boy go off to camp and a young man return.
Then there was Eleonora. She wasn’t baptized. Her parents had preferred to allow her to choose when she was older. She had been invited to catechism classes by the enthusiasm of Maria, a very enterprising classmate who was only ten years old at the time. So Eleonara arrived, accompanied by her mother, who asked the pastor if her daughter could attend catechism classes. About two years later the pastor, seeing her faithfulness to the journey of faith, he decided that the moment had arrived for her Baptism and First Holy Communion, and he entrusted me with preparing her for the Sacraments and with the task of discussing it with her parents, who opened their hearts to me with honesty and candor.
The great day arrived. Eleonora arrived accompanied by family and relatives. We did everything we could to make them feel welcomed. The celebration was simple and very intense. Alongside the godmother were the catechist and friends who had been so important in her journey of faith. When I left the parish a few months ago, her parents wrote me a letter recalling “that unforgettable Sunday in April, the radiant and joyful smile of Eleonora that had illuminated all of us believers and non-believers alike, all who had gathered to celebrate her entrance into the Catholic community. For us it is the indelible image of a faith that goes directly to the heart.”
Loving our neighbours is always a grand adventure, you know how it begins, but you never know where it will lead.