Reading, England

A light amid the storm

The drama of separation, living faith in secularized cities, relationships at work. Five hundred people met for the annual meeting between Fr. Julián Carrón and the Northern European CL communities. The theme: daily life, and what illuminates it.
Giuseppe Pezzini

Alessandra, a young newlywed from Italy, travels immersed in indifference, both her’s and that of her colleagues, who commute with her on the train to Telford, a grey village in the North of England, where she has been working for several months. Davide, a manager with decades of experience in the UK, started a new job after months of unemployment, he has to obey to a young boss with much less experience. Michiel is a university chaplain in Tilburg (Netherlands), a country that is now totally de-Christianized. Martina, who lives in London with her husband James, is tormented by doubts about the experience of the movement, which makes choices she does not share. And Massimo, Ettore, Francesca... Men and women with responsibility, measured every day by their performance, often without the expected results.

These are just some of the stories recounted during a weekend in January, in Reading, half an hour away by train from London. More than five hundred people from the Northern European CL communities met with Fr. Julián Carrón for the traditional, yet always novel meeting. A varied group of people populates the country golf resort, immersed in the English winter fog: there are the veterans with their teenage children; the newcomers, recognizable by their still ‘uncertain’ English; and dozens of young families, with children and babies in tow.

The format of the weekend is simple: two long assemblies, framed by two lectures by Fr. Carrón, and a theatrical reading of a text by Oscar Wilde on Saturday evening. On the theme of experience, starting from the circumstances that everyone is called to live.

Moments that are sometimes extraordinary, such as the moving encounter with Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, about whom Marco speaks; or painful, such as Tommaso’s, wounded by the drama of a separation and forced to live outside his home, hosted by friends who accompany him like a brother.

For the most part these are trivial, everyday, normal circumstances, like those that all men care called to live in this chaotic beginning of the millennium, where Christians have become a minority.

And on Friday evening Carrón, begins the dialogue by looking at and deepening the nature of these historical circumstances: sterile if one gives credence to one's own lack of imagination, influenced by the world’s sensationalism or nailed to an image of the past.

The key question, Fr. Julián repeats, is that of Nathaniel ("Can anything good ever come from Nazareth?"), a question that becomes even more dramatic in a rapidly changing world, where the storm already looms, perhaps even more in secularized Northern Europe than elsewhere. Instead of Nazareth, we have the places and circumstances in which we live, the people around us, but the challenge is the same.

And even God's method does not change: to doubts and difficulties, Carrón responds by laying bare his experience, of leading the movement in such a troubled historical moment, and of his suffered discovery that everything is given for his own maturation. The same discovery that Oscar Wilde also made, a prisoner a few miles away from the golf resort, recounted in his The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was presented on Saturday evening.

Faced with all the uncertainties, Carrón is radical: "We need to verify Christianity in today's world, in this particular context. One has to face one's doubts and uncertainties, otherwise they remain unresolved. But all doubts cannot prevent Christ from happening again, as we see in the experiences recounted in these days".

The mystery of the Incarnation happens again, in fact, every day. The same event, in a different form. As we say in Sunday's homily: "The light of Christmas shines in the poverty of a manger, and it now shines in the little things of our lives, those that do not make news headlines, but change our lives and therefore the world."

And it is precisely this Light amongst the little things of life that is the true protagonist of the weekend, to which Carrón invites us to look. Little by little, Alessandra began to look at that hour on the train to Telford as an opportunity. So she begins to be herself, starting from her need and the hypothesis of good that she met: her colleagues notice this difference and an unexpected friendship is born with them, which amazes her first of all, for the curiosity and insistence with which they bombard her with questions about her strange life in the movement.

Or Massimo, who has been in Ireland for many years, who had an aggressive reaction to criticism from the managers of the bank he works for. They reproached him for his paternalistic style and over fixation on details. Yet, he suddenly remembered Pope Francis' invitation not to build walls and began to wonder how and where Christ can happen in an apparently hostile circumstance. How does he start again? "First of all by listening to what I was told."

It is the same path as that of Davide, Rudi, Francesca, Michele and many others who live isolated around the United Kingdom; the same dynamic, but always different, embodied in the moment of history in which one is called to live: the adherence to the positive hypothesis encountered and enlivened by following the movement has made them inclined to intercept God's action in their own history, and to surprise in themselves with a different joy and intelligence.

The same path as that of Tommaso, whose separation from his wife turns out to be a precious path for human growth and a position of virginity, which for him is a source of peace. "Where could you see that this is possible?", Carrón urged him: "Because you have seen people called to virginity whose lives flourish. Whose life is not resignation or settling for something less."

To look, Carrón repeats, is in fact the Christian verb par excellence: as Marco says, talking about his moment of common prayer with Rowan Williams, Anglican Archbishop, for the unity of the Church: "There was nothing to do at that moment but look and enjoy a Presence, which filled me with joy and certainty."