An unending line of buses filled with young people clamoured up the narrow roads that rose from Incisa Valdarno, Italy, to Loppiano. Such a long carcade hadn’t been expected and threatened to throw off the plans. Who would have expected 10,000 young people to come for what would then turn into a yearly event in many cities of the world? It was a real invasion that made all the jaws of Loppiano’s citizens drop.
It began on a day of spring sunshine that burst from hearts and faces after a vigil of wind and rain: the first Genfest in history! And I was there! Yes, I was there! “Vivir para cantarlo,” García Márquez would say. “I live to sing it!”
I can still see Loppiano’s natural amphitheatre in front of me, filled to the brim with young people from Italy and several other European countries, many hours of travel behind them – and also representatives from other countries around the world: like me from Argentina.
This youth festival (Genfest), organised by the New Generation movement, which had gathered in response to the invitation of Chiara Lubich to live for a more united world, opened with a song from the Gen Rosso international band that I belonged to. Songs, dances, personal stories, presentations. It all added to the celebration while, at the same time instilling in our hearts the certainty that the world would one day be united, thanks also to our contribution.
The presentation by Fr Pasquale Foresi, who delivered a message from Paul VI, in which the Pope said he was pleased to hear about the the Genfest, and expressed his wish that the event might “contribute to form an ever clearer awareness of the responsibility that the Gospel entails.”
It was the era of the youth protests and Fr Foresi presented the Gospel as the greatest “social revolution”. I thought of my cousins who had supported a social revolution, in the footsteps of Che Guevara, and of the “desaparecidas” years later (they say 30,000 young people had disappeared in Argentina).
Perhaps it was for this reason that one song really hit home with me. It had been written and sung on the same field two years earlier by Paolo Bampi, a young guy from Trent who had died of a serious illness. Even though I had never met him in person, through his song, an ideal relationship had been born that seemed to link me to Heaven: “What do you want, what are you looking for? Do you want a God? I’m one! Do you want a human being? I am one!” It felt like I had found the Way in Jesus, just as Paolo had.
I remember at one point a woman with a rather apologetic smile, came almost trembling in front of the microphone. Her silence spread like oil across the field and the 10,000 young people seemed to become a single person. She began to talk with incredible force: “God is Love and he loves us immensely.” She was Renata Borlone, who was among the first young people to follow the call to a hearth community, a focolare. Now she’s a Servant of God on her way to canonisation.
Antonio – also from Argentina – and I sang Humanidad: “New lights are announced in the heavens . . . humanity awakens . . . greeting the new sun as it rises . . .” We ended the song with a loud cry to God: Believe in Love!” Our sunburnt faces, despite the sun hats that we all wore, shone with the strong visible mark that was imprinted on our souls.
We left with the certainty that we were “announcing a new dawn”, that a united world was possible because we had experienced it amongst us on that historic May 1, 1973.