The view is breathtaking. From the fifth floor of the international headquarters of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), with a single glance one takes in the city of London’s financial district, with the Stock Exchange, the Bank of England and the distinctive “Gherkin” skyscraper. Looking from East to West, one can see the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the masterpiece of architect Christopher Wren, and the “London Eye”, a giant ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames from which one can admire a spectacular panorama of the city, including the Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, the burial site of English monarchs, renowned for the celebration of Royal weddings.
Yet it is not the view that strikes us, fascinating though it is, but the mix of ethnic cultures which composed the group of 85 young people, mostly Londoners, but also from other parts of Britain, who came together on the evening of Saturday, 3rd September, to discuss the theme “The Power of the Word” in the presence of Focolare President, Maria Voce, and co-president, Giancarlo Faletti.
As the sun was setting on this warm day, its rays flooded the room lighting up the faces of the youth who, through games, songs and experiences, were able to amply discuss issues that were by no means simple or straightforward.
The word referred to in the title of the meeting is the Word of God, which, Chris explains, “is capable of transforming our lives and the world itself”. The Gospel was proposed with courage and simplicity, without being watered down; the Word has generated life and light down the centuries, and it does so even today, in London, the city where riots recently erupted. The meeting exceeded all expectations, generating much interest and participation.
“People seek the meaning of life and ask many questions,” says Joanna, a young English teacher, “but they don’t know where to get answers”. And Oliver adds, “It’s embarrassing at times to talk about religious matters with my friends because they’re so anti-religion.” But this is not so on the terrace of the CAFOD building. To hear these young people speak, and especially to see them so united, London can offer a hope for the future. There is depth, freshness and openness amongst this multi-ethnic group of young people who speak English in varying accents.
“By reading the words of the Gospel in the morning and reciting prayers,” Ranjith says, “I am able to face my stressful job with more serenity and I’ve experienced a joy that I never knew before.”
“Living the Gospel shaped my life without my even noticing it,” exclaims Carlos from Panama, “Some people criticise me because I give a lot of myself, but living the Gospel is not at all complicated. It is enough to love.”
“I recently started a new job,” said Edel, a girl from Northern Ireland, “but I wasn’t happy. I started to live the art of loving, and after a few days the boss thanked me for being there.”
Maria Voce freely shared some of her own experiences when as a young person she discovered that the words of the Gospel could be put into practice. It led her to change her life completely and she experienced joy, peace and freedom, even in difficult situations such as when she lived in Istanbul where the majority of the people were Muslims, and also in Lebanon during the war. “Living the Gospel,” she concluded, “not only changes your life, but sets in motion a revolution which was born 2000 years ago and which is not over yet. So many revolutions have taken place in history, but who remembers them? The Christian revolution is still alive because Jesus is alive, and his words are for everyone. We can embark on this wonderful adventure without fear or apprehension because Jesus is with us.”
The young people then issued an invitation to the next Genfest to be held in Budapest on 2nd September 2012, and while sharing a pizza together on the balcony, they stuck several post it notes on the glass doors, some of which read: “I can always start again”, “Don’t be scared: you’re not alone” and “Think of the Gospel as a letter of love from God to you”.
It is difficult to describe the joy, the warm atmosphere of unity amongst everyone and the desire to share with others the happiness experienced here.
From our correspondent Aurelio Molè
Press section: Focolare Information Service