Una vita in Africa – A life in Africa Rotating Header Image

November 20th, 2011:


Last Sunday, in Castel di Guido, a rural area on the outskirts of Rome, some old friends, myself included, met f around Don Franco, the parish priest.
We were people who in the early 70s participated in the Mani Tese group of the parish of the Transfiguration in the Monteverde district. Most of them had become friends of Nigrizia, since in those years we had the office in San Pancrazio, a few bus stops from their parish. They were high school students and contributed with their ideas, helping to proofread and to print photos – in a bathroom used as darkroom. Then in 1987 – these dates make you think – they started a non-profit making organization that is also called Koinonia, doing small projects in different countries. Today some are close to retirement. Michele, introducing the Mass, spoke of friendship, because Koinonia is actually more a group of friends than an organization, “a deep bond of life, kept on through the various life choices of each person, knowing that yesterday and today we can always count on each other, and also keeping always an open door in our hearts and in our. homes to those who were and who are less fortunate”.
One of these friends got married at the Transfiguration parish. He and his wife arrived at the wedding in blue jeans, and after the ceremony offered an ice cream to everybody, in an adjacent room. Last Sunday they were present, with children and grandchildren, and made he reflected on how difficult it is for his children now make solid and lasting friendships
We remembered George, who was a guest in their homes, and Marco, but also Don Andrea Santoro, who forty years ago with Don Franco was an important presence for the young of the Transfiguration. Then he chose to devote himself to the presence and dialogue in the Muslim world, going to live in Turkey, where he was killed by a fanatic in February 2006.
All day I thought about the connection between friendship, love and martyrdom. “No one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” The letters of Don Andrea tells us that he was surrounded by many Muslim friends, and that his choice to live in their midst was founded on the desire for communion. A few days before our meeting Sister Valsa John, an Indian religious who had fought to protect his friends exploited in the coal mines of her country, had been killed. And Graziella Fumagalli, Annalena Tonelli, Sister Leonella Sgorbati in Somalia, Archbishop Romero… All persons who loved God, but also really loved the people around them. For loving them they were killed.
In the church is not easy to find love. Or rather it is found more easily among the faithful and less at the higher levels of responsibility. It is hard to love and to exercise the ministry of the servant authority. Who is in authority naturally tends to focus on laws and structures rather than to pay attention to people. I have experienced this fact in these days, meeting people who have important responsibilities in the church. Apart from a couple of happy and positive exceptions, I found a lot of commitment to safeguard the interests of the church, to maintain the balance of power, to avoid scandal, to defend one’s little power, not to sound too naive, and so forth. But of love for the poor, willingness to get involved for their service, I experienced very little. I hope that my perception is wrong and I do not dare to judge people I met perhaps only for a few minutes. Yet it is clear that the church does not exist where there is no love.

A few days ago, in the daily Avvenire, Cardinal Ravasi quoted a German novelist, Luise Rinser: “This is my idea of hell: one is sitting there, completely abandoned by God, and feels it can no longer love, not any more and that will never meet another person for all eternity”. Maybe some people create their own personal hell here on earth, imagining that by so doing they will merit heaven. In contrast, martyrdom is the gift and seal for those who love.

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