Bringing a child, a young person or an adult into the family is always a challenge. Complex, not obvious in any way, both in its development and in its outcome which is never concluded. Looking at these “extended families” from the outside, one feels a mixture of esteem and amazement, almost as if the serenity they show is the result of an indecipherable alchemy of love – an almost romantic vision. It is hard to imagine how complex it is to bring together different sensitivities, cultures and habits, as well as the practical considerations of needs, schedules and languages, in an alliance where the many ‘I’s’ merge into a ‘fluid We’ without friction or, better still, with well-oiled gears. To then feel like one single family is an achievement that is not without hardship, doubts and disappointments.
“Welcoming Therese into our family,” said Sergio and Susanna from the focolare community in Vinovo, near Turin, Italy, “has not been easy”. Their story is straightforward, in no way sugar-coated which makes it all the more authentic. What kept them going in this decision was the desire to live their family life as a gift for others and feel the spiritual presence of Jesus as the fruit of mutual love. The decision to open their doors and hearts to a young African mother who arrived in Italy as a refugee was taken with the agreement of their daughters, Aurora and Beatrice, aged 20 and 17. The first difficulties arose when they tried to combine their various needs.
“Beatrice likes to plan everything,” says Susanna. “In the mornings every minute is accounted for but sometimes Therese would get up earlier and use the bathroom. This was a problem for her, but gradually she learned to ‘create family’ with her, simply asking her to agree on the use of the bathroom. Aurora, on the other hand, immediately decided to share her wardrobe with Therese and helped her with her studies.” The main challenge is to overcome the silent, corrosive opposition between ‘us’ and ‘the other’ and welcome the other into the intimate dimension of our lives, enlarging the ‘we’. In “creating a family” there is the will to strive to “be family”: in fact, love is first and foremost a choice and this is no less demanding for adults.
“In my desire to be welcoming to Therese, I often found myself talking to her until late into the night,” Susanna recalls, “but then I started to suffer from the situation. I found it difficult to explain that I had to get up early in the morning, I was afraid of hurting her. Sergio helped me to deal with it gently but firmly.” For Sergio, the difficulties arose when, rather than coming straight home from work in the evening, he had to go and pick up Therese who was studying in a neighbouring town. “Her classes finished late, and Therese didn’t know how to use public transport, so I often found myself having dinner after 9 p.m”. Here too, choosing to love meant accommodating Therese’s needs, but also looking after the family’s well-being: “We tried to teach her to be independent, as we do with our daughters, so that being available didn’t become too much of a burden for us or an obstacle to her growth. Little by little she has learned to use public transport”.
They have discovered that being a family also defines the way we present ourselves to the outside world: “In the first few months that Therese was with us,” Sergio explained, “I put a photo of myself with Susanna and our daughters on my Whatsapp profile. Therese told me it wasn’t a family photo because she was missing! And this is what we discover every day: we are one family because we are children of the same Father, we care for each other and we rejoice in each other’s achievements.
It is the ‘we’ which is extended and enriched by love.
(Source: www.focoalre.org – Claudia di Lorenzi)