“I don’t feel the exhaustion, but probably just the lack of sleep, since I have slept five hours less than usual over the last five days. I have just returned from a school camp or rather, a work in progress camp for kids, as one of the educators of Teens for Unity of the Focolare. It was a fantastic adventure which, compared to other activities this year, has enlivened my daily routine, making me forget that I have entered that potentially critical post-retirement phase. The proposal to give a hand for those kids was enticing. Well, I thought, I may be retired, but I still have the energy and eagerness to keep going.
The appointment was at nine in the morning in Borgo Don Bosco, a venue placed at our disposal by the Salesians. Slowly the kids arrived, 25 boys and girls in all, below 18 years of age. After the initial shyness a friendly atmosphere was immediately created, even if most of them had no idea whatsoever of what would come about or what to expect.
The programme was full of surprises, as it should have been for an initiative with young people. But also a surprise was the hard work (so to say!), sweating together under the sun, or drenched with rain, to clear out the site of the camp. For three mornings, I was assigned the task of restoring a remote corner of the garden, abandoned for over 20 years. The grass had grown on that soil transported by wind and rain, concealing an entire asphalted pavement. Locker rooms and showers were still there, and had become the hiding place of spiders and insects so big they seemed like an alien race. Without counting the various objects abandoned in the grass that initially could not even be seen, it was practically a jungle to be razed to the ground.
At mid-morning, I thought of telling the kids how I try to consider the work, and particularly that job. I must not have said more than 20-30 words in all. But I ended by confiding the real motive urging me to do this: the thought that “in that place, Baby Jesus would have come to play.” I understood from the silence that had descended on us, that the kids understood the sense of my words and had taken it to heart. And the light I saw shining in their youthful eyes was immediately transformed into concrete action, giving them a new drive in helping one another. This immediacy was a lesson for me, since, unlike these boys and girls I myself am rather slow in letting myself be convinced by what others tell me.
At Sunday Mass, I found myself next to a boy who had worked by my side. On exchanging the sign of peace we both spontaneously reached out to one another, to declare that we were ready to give our lives for each other. As an adult this act would never have been so spontaneous towards another adult, but it was not so with him.
Staying with these young people gave a new dimension to our future as one humanity, and gave me hope. In fact, I saw that they all had the desire and capacity to give. It is up to us to believe in them. Adolescence is a difficult age, but it is also the age in which one can build great horizons. There is no need for words, just start “doing” positive things with them. Perhaps this is why, on saying goodbye, some of them asked to come with me next Saturday to the district market, to collect the unsold fruit and vegetables for the poor people’s canteen.”