On the weekend of July 15th two Chicago Focolare youth, Annie and Samantha, accompanied by Ana Paula Panzarini and Corin Han Sook of the Women’s Chicago Focolare house, made the five-hour drive from Chicago to join with the St. Louis Focolare Community for their summer community picnic. The weekend was planned as a way to share the Focolare charism with others in the St Louis area. But the weekend held many fun and meaningful surprises.
The Chicago group, accompanied by their St Louis friends, also visited the Arch and just had to celebrate National Ice Cream day at the local favorite Ted Drewes on Route 66, nonetheless.
For the Chicago group, spending time relaxing with Jesus in the midst prepared them for another special jewel in their weekend travels.
On Monday morning, they headed down to visit the Monastery of the Poor Clare Sister in St. Louis.For the two young Chicago travelers, this was their first time to visit a cloistered monastery.
When visiting the sisters, the atmosphere was very natural and open. The lively group hardly noticed the grill between them.
After the visit, Annie shared how she didn’t know what to expect. She said that although she thought it might be awkward to meet the cloistered nuns, instead she felt at ease right away. The conversation felt very natural and familiar. For Samantha, hearing that these nuns were “behind bars” was a little strange. She hadn’t heard of anything like that before. The thought of the sisters not being able to go out and live normal lives like people their ages took Samantha back a bit. But once she sat down in that room and the sisters appeared, she knew that they were living happily in the monastery. It really made her think that not everyone needs a significant other, money or a luxurious life to be happy. These sisters followed God and they seemed perfectly fine, which brought a smile to her face. When Samantha arrived home, she told her whole family about the visit with the sisters as she felt that more people should know about these wonderful women.
The sisters were delighted to hear Annie’s and Samantha’s experiences of living the Gospel as teens.
Accompanying Anne and Samantha was a member of the Chicago Focolare house, Corin Han Sook. She shared with the sisters about her work in interreligious dialogue in South Korea and her recent enrollment in a PhD theology program in Chicago. All were happy to see that even in a monastery, where people live a cloistered life of consecration to God, the spirituality of Unity of the Focolare is appreciated. The sisters asked for prayers for their community and assured the travelers that they remember all members of the Focolare Worldwide Family in theirs as well.
From barbeque to frozen custard to a cloistered monastery, the feeling of family remained for the Chicago group as they returned home. The youth found that reaching out sometimes also offers unexpected joys and graces.