«The first feast, the first trip, the first appointment, the first dance … one never forget them! We are moved when we remember the first-time events, bringing either a smile to our face, or a tear. This is what I feel when I recollect my first Mariapolis that just ended.
I had received the invitation from a dear friend and despite doubts and uncertainties, I decided to participate. When I reached Esmeraldas – a city inhabited mainly by Afro-Americans, with a special tradition, cuisine, and rhythm – I knew perhaps 10 people of the 350 who were attending the Mariapolis. Therefore I felt a “total outsider”.
I had to share a room with two strangers, praying that they didn’t snore, and then I attended meetings, round tables, moments of interaction with people I’d never seen before… but listening to their experiences, their dreams, the way in which they sought their happiness and that of their neighbours, I too got the necessary confidence to step out of myself and speak about me.
Among the various meditations, the one that impressed me most was a letter that John Paul II had written to Chiara where he invited the members of the Movement to be “apostles of dialogue”. How could we do it? By listening to and opening ourselves up to our neighbour. I remembered my father, who will soon turn 85 and is now without friends because many are already in heaven. I understood that I could be his friend, listening to the things that interested him: I can’t speak with him about the iPad or the Internet, but all the same I can love him and spend more time with him».
The title of Mariapolis read: “The other from me, another me”. A strong experience related to this was the visit to the inmates at the women’s prison, which led to the falling of many prejudices and indifferences, and to the discovery that we always have something to gift: love.
But the Mariapolis was not only about commitment and meditations. I enjoyed, as only on a few occasions in the past, the talent night where everyone displayed their artistic talents. Besides, the Afro mass was wonderful: the exact representation of the joy that exists in our hearts when we participate in a meeting with God.
When I returned to my home town, although I came back with an empty stomach for not having eaten the famous traditional fish-based dishes such as the corviches or the encocado, my heart was completely filled with love. We were told that the Mariapolis really begins when we get back home to our everyday routine. And so I have tried to put into practice what I had learned, particularly trying to see the face of Jesus in the many brothers with whom I interact during the day.
I can confidently say that Esmeraldas was my first Mariapolis, but it will certainly not be the last.
For information on the Mariapolis in the world, visit: www.focolare.org/Mariapoliss