It was the 1970s, a period which went down in the history of many countries as one of social unrests, protests, wars and sense of disorientation. I was in Palermo (Sicily, Italy) and in my last year of teachers’ college. I started to get involved in politics. It was a very dark era: a wave of mafia crimes had engulfed Sicily; the young people with either left or right political ideologies took part in student strikes and violence was rife. The withdrawal of the Americans from Vietnam and the fall of Saigon left open wounds caused by an absurd war. Like so many young people, I was looking for role models. In this spirit, I willingly accepted the invitation of my teacher to participate in the Genfest, a youth festival which was organised as part of the activities of Holy Year declared by Pope Paul VI.
My background was in the Scouts, so I couldn’t believe that I could take part in this new experience. The invitation was extended to many other students at my school, and finally, together with my sisters, we made up our minds to attend, even though I remember that at the last minute I was tempted to stay back as I had to undertake an exam. The others encouraged me to go and so we left Palermo on a number of buses. With me I took my inseparable guitar, songbooks and tape-recorder, which at that time was rather cumbersome.
During the trip, I was favourably impressed by some of the girls, the Gen, who were already living the spirituality of unity. I was struck by their attitude, the attention they were giving to everyone, the climate of harmony and serenity that they created among us, despite our exuberance, the moments of reflection that followed when we listened to the songs of Gen Rosso and Gen Verde, which I learnt to play straightaway with great enthusiasm
I immediately experienced the power of the Gospel when it is lived. For example, it was the first time that I found myself sharing deeply with someone who was sitting next to me, thus having the experience of living as brothers and sisters. My dream, to see a world of peace, a united world, came true, right there. I was amazed and awestruck by the personal testimonies so much so that I almost had to pinch myself to believe that all this was happening. I listened attentively as they shared their stories from the stage: the two young people from South Africa where apartheid had not yet been defeated, the group from Belfast where there was conflict due to religious and political division. They were tangible signs that, if we really commit ourselves, we can achieve peace there where we live.
The next day, we all gathered at the Vatican, in St Peter’s Basilica, where Chiara Lubich presented us to the Holy Father. During the offertory, twelve young people, representing us, walked up with Chiara on the altar. I remember there was an endless applause. Consequently, during the Angelus (midday prayer) in St Peter’s Square, the Pope greeted us with words encouraging us to go on: “This morning, around the altar, we had twenty thousand faithful, the young Gen – New Generation – who came from all over the world. The beauty of it was something moving. We thank God and take courage. A new world is born: the Christian world of faith and charity.”
It was truly the beginning of a new world. For me it marked the beginning of a new life.