Giulia telling the story of the Happy Prince

From Oscar Wilde’s heart to ours

Fr. Neil from the Church of the Holy Family of Ealing was unable to attend the London Encounter. So a group of friends decided to take the exhibition about Oscar Wilde to the parish. Between a five o'clock tea and a sangria, an account of the weekend.
Gianluca Marcato

"Everything in our life, today as in the time of Jesus, starts with an encounter. (...) Thus, centered in Christ and in the Gospel, you can be the arms, hands, feet, mind and heart of an “outward oriented” Church.”

Provoked by the audience with the Pope in Rome, some of us decided to ask Fr. Neil, parish priest of the local church, to invite his faithful to the London Encounter (a one-day cultural event in central London). He was very helpful and allowed us to make an announcement at the end of Sunday Mass and distribute leaflets. There were many intrigued faces, but the most astonished of all was surely that of Fr. Neil, who usually stops at the main door at the end of the celebration to greet people one by one. When everyone left, he said: "I am really sorry, I cannot come. I am particularly sorry for the Oscar Wilde exhibition because I have never seen him in this light." He was referring to the central point of the exhibition, which emphasizes the need to have a wounded heart in order to know oneself and be open to the possibility of an alterity entering this heart. The idea immediately sprung to mind: we suggested that if he could not come to see the exhibition, we could bring the exhibition to him.

Thus the proposal of the Oscar Wilde exhibition in the parish of the Church of the Holy Family in Ealing (London), Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 July, was born. From that first moment, it was a real spectacle to see the freedom of those who were involved in the proposal (and also of those who initially resisted and then gave in) flourish, at different times and in different ways depending on their temperament. In all, we were about fifteen people, living in the area or participating in the weekly School of Community. Some, including Amos, Chris, Giulia and Jack, were the exhibition guides; Giulia recounted the story of the Happy Prince to groups of open-mouthed children in front of beautiful drawings prepared ad hoc by Brad Holland (famous American artist); others hung invitation posters and distributed leaflets at the exit of two underground stations and a school; Ines welcomed the people arriving and on Sunday morning offered tea and coffee and the delicious cakes prepared by Elena the day before; others, led by Ale and with the expert help of the taster João, prepared sangria as an aperitif and caprese, roast pork and dessert for dinner. Fr. Neil himself was there with us all Saturday, from 10am until 11pm, when he greeted us goodbye by closing the room.

On Friday evening, we feared that very few people would come and that they would only come after Sunday mass. In reality, it was a great surprise to see people coming, both days, interested in meeting and confronting the man Oscar Wilde. What a pleasure to meet about one hundred and twenty new people, plus some friends of the movement who had not been able to see it at the London Encounter. All of them (and first and foremost us guides) were moved by the very dialogue between themselves and Oscar Wilde's humanity. There are those, like Simon, who came because Kiyoe had invited him outside the tube station the evening before, who stopped to read the panels after the explanation and the video; then there were those who, instead, came back the next day just to say hello, or those who, like Emmanuelle, showed up on Sunday morning all smiling and to the question "what, are you still here to see the exhibition?", to which he answered very happily: "Oh yes, I had to come back to bring my friend Eleni." Finally, there were those, like Christine, who were evidently moved both at the end of the guided tour and the video, and who would like us to take the exhibition to her parish as well, and who offered herself as a guide.

The most surprising encounter was with Ifan, a 75-year-old Welshman who spends ten months of the year in Barcelona and two months in Ealing during the summer. At first reserved, he preferred to read the exhibition alone "word for word" (he was an English teacher). Then he saw, even if he was not very convinced, the video with extracts from De Profundis acted by Marco (a friend, who acts as a hobby). When he had finished, we got a little bit scared because of his tense face and asked him: "Did you like the exhibition and the video?" Ifan: "Liked it?...Mmmhh (sigh)...All my life I have been thinking and telling others to forget about suffering and try to live happy days...(still sighing, with moved eyes)…in a life without meaning.” Suddenly the words of Oscar Wilde at the end of his life came to mind: "May my writings one day be the message from my heart to the hearts of men." It was thus for Ifan, and it was thus for all of us: risking what we met, we gained a hundredfold, coming out strengthened in the human experience and in the experience of faith, and we also became more friends amongst ourselves.

We can certainly say that the power of such a gesture educates much more than speeches, and for this reason we began the week in a completely new way, waiting for the encounter with the gaze of a Man who changes our lives. It is this desire that probably made Ifan write an email, that same Saturday evening, asking for the contacts of our friends in Barcelona. And that made him come back on Sunday morning, to say goodbye and "spend some time with... you."