In 1978, Brother Roger went with a group of young brothers to Bari, a city in southern Italy, to spend time in a poor neighborhood in the center of the city. The brothers prayed three times a day in the old church of the neighborhood, worked with the residents and offered hospitality for a simple evening meal and a time of sharing. After they left, some local youth decided to continue the daily prayer, doing all they could to revive the local community.
In March this year, two brothers of the community went to the region of Bari for prayers and visits in various locations: Triggiano, San Giovanni Rotondo, Santeramo, Oria ... They found that the seed sown there over thirty years is still bearing fruit. Not only in “Bari Vecchia,” where the local community still keeps going and the prayer continues, but throughout the region, where their involvement has encouraged others to join a pilgrimage of trust with community prayer at the center. Now the children of those "young people" of thirty years ago are beginning to show interest and to take part in meetings.
Before going in Puglia, the brothers stopped in Portici near Naples, another place where links with the community have remained alive for many years, to talk to priests and to lead prayers at Herculaneum and Sant’Antimo. At a time when the socio-political reality in Italy is rather depressing, it was good to see new seeds of life, young people who have not given up but who are searching for a different future.
Meeting in Turin
Wednesday April 30th
The Po is flowing impetuously, the snow covered Alps are there, but rain – an unexpected pilgrim – does not allow these to show themselves. Everyone hopes the weather will improve, that there will be at least a little sunshine to be able to welcome the group from Sicily, who are travelling a long way to spend these four days with young people from all over Italy, united in prayer together and in listening to the Word.
Everything is ready: Piedmont surprises us with its serene organisation and its warm welcome. For example, there will be three welcome places, according to the method of transport used to arrive. What can be done to ensure that the pilgrims feel at home from the start?
One sees that, during these 25 years, the heart of the people of Turin has known how to go for the essentials. Gabriele, a nine year old boy, sums it up and gives us a taste of what we may experience: he knows exactly at what time and in which churches we shall pray each day… The three days to come are sure to be days of intense prayer.
Thursday May 1st
An almost deserted city gets ready to welcome. The sun has put in an appearance, no cloud has come to upset it, and the arrival of the young people will make the day even warmer. Thus, little by little, the more than 500 who have enrolled pass through the welcome. At 8.30pm the church of San Domenico (once the seat of the Inquisition!) began to fill up. Five minutes before the start of the prayer, the church appeared to be half empty. It was enough to simply go out onto the forecourt, for everyone to enter, in less than three minutes, so that the prayer could begin. The moments before and after the prayer, as usual, offer a time when the Italian heart can beat and breathe to the rhythm of this people, for whom faith and friendship are inseparable. During the prayer one of the brothers talks about the theme of the meeting: ‘Witnessing to hope’. “We human beings are living a mortal contradiction: we are seeking an existence beyond simple well being and consumerism, we know that we are called to a greater life; but at the same time our need for comfort and security often stops us in mid-route. During these days, through prayer, silence, sharing with and opening up to others, we want to rediscover and choose hope.”
The prayer was supposed to end at about 10pm. The welcome group thought that the pilgrims would be tired, that transport would not be easy, etc. Not at all! The choir had to keep going until after 11pm; the young people stayed in this old and simple gothic church as if spellbound. Gabriele was not mistaken: the days of prayer had already begun.
Friday May 2nd
How can one witness to hope? The question floated in the air and Friday arrived with its share of answers: answers lacking easy or short term solutions. The day was split into three parts: in the morning, a bible introduction followed by sharing groups; in the afternoon, visits to places of hope or a talk; in the evening, prayer around the cross.
The theme of the bible introduction was based on our personal journey towards God. How can one enter into a relationship with God? Is this possible?
After a frugal shared meal and the unavoidable coffee, some people left for the meeting ‘Faith and freedom, my path towards God’. Mgr Luigi Bettazzi, former bishop of Ivrea and president of Pax Christi, Pastor Guiseppe Platone from Vaud, and a hermit sister illustrated this theme with their personal testimonies. Others went to places of hope: the Cottolengo, a Carmelite community, the home of the Missionaries of charity, the Salvation Army, etc. All these activities produced the same questioning: ‘How can we take practical steps to establish a relationship with God and with others? These meetings had all been prepared with an openly ecumenical perspective.
At 9 pm in a bare cathedral, almost free of pews, there was just some orange material, bricks, and an illuminated Taizé cross… Hidden in his shrine, Saint Suaire accompanied this great simplicity.
In order to pray with us, Brother Alois had left Taizé and the 3,500 young people who had come for the feast of the Ascension. At his side, Cardinal Poletto, Archbishop of Turin - welcoming on behalf of the diocese, and representatives of the Orthodox and Evangelical churches were also present. The Prior of Taizé’s speech to the participants took the form of a meditation. He said, amongst other things:
In a time when many people know the temptation of discouragement or scepticism, we would like to discover a new momentum, letting ourselves be carried along by the dynamic of the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is like a light that enlightens the meaning of our life and lights up hope for the world. Since his resurrection, Christ accompanies each human being. He does not impose himself, but comes humbly alongside us; and he never stops seeking our friendship. To live this friendship with Christ! This becomes a leaven of peace and reconciliation for the whole of humanity. Then to widen this friendship to those around us, going beyond the separations which remain! If only we could do everything to make it more obvious that the Church is a place of friendship for all, particularly those who are vulnerable, isolated or strangers!
At the end of the prayer, in a long and seemingly endless procession, everyone came close to the cross to entrust to Christ their own burdens, as well as those of others. To pray with so many families, so many young people, so many generations together was perhaps the symbol and the most practical gesture of hope that we were given to live during the meeting; and, as Gabriele had hoped before it all began, the prayer was without end.
Saturday May 3rd
Today the sun seems more summery than ever, but the pilgrims are not discouraged. After introductions and small groups – this time on the theme of journeying towards others, helped by the story of the Good Samaritan, the prayer at San Domenico welcomed us all and allowed us to place back into God’s hands all that we had lived.
There were two highpoints in the afternoon: the forum of associations, and the evening meal at Sermig. In one of the central squares of Turin, twenty or so associations and Christian movements, active in the city, came together to give a presentation of their activities and to share with the pilgrims all that they are doing to make life more beautiful for all.
A few metres away from us, a shape rises up… a factory? Yes, but one from another time and a factory that one would prefer to see demolished. The old military arsenal – the biggest in Italy – is now the Arsenal of Peace (Sermig) : a place of welcome and improvisation, born from the initiative of a small group of laypeople to help the missions. Immediate needs made of this group of people, and then of this building, a place of welcome for all those who could find no other place and for whom hope is an empty word. It was there that we had our evening meal.
For the evening prayer we moved away from the centre, to the Chiesa del Santo Volto, a very new church. Songs, a brief and intense meditation by Cardinal Poletto, and silence – in a church lit by thousands of candles, sign of the resurrection. The more simple the prayer, the more beautiful it is. After this came a good number of greetings, goodbyes (after the Sunday celebrations everyone was going home), thank yous, smiles…
Familiar faces and many new faces, but above all faces which already told of hope.