Father Ivan Filipovic 's testimony
I used to think that I was not responsible for anybody, that I didn't have to answer for what I was living. This was freedom to me. I used to think that freedom meant to have a lot of money, to visit the big European cities, to look at the glittering ads, to stay in a hotel. Looking for this kind of freedom, I found drugs and evil. From the very beginning evil seduced me, attracted me, and I fell into deep darkness. Father Stefano told you the story of light. He explained how light enters the life of man, the heart of youth. I will tell you my own experience.
When I remember how I joined the Community, I stand in wonder of how God revealed His love to me. You have heard that it really is possible to meet God, that Jesus Christ is living, that God is not a philosophy, that He is not in the clouds. He is here with us, alive in the Word of God, the scriptures, in the Eucharist, in the prayers, in the Rosary. Now after 12 years in Community, my mind goes back to the moment when I entered. It often happens while reading the Word of God during my personal Adoration. Believe me, when someone spoke to me about love, God, forgiveness, Providence, I didn't care. People could talk to me about Jesus as much as they wanted, but I didn't believe. My experience of life had been totally different, but somehow a journey started. Light started to enter my dark life. I sometimes remember those moments, and now I can see how God came to me, how He took me to the Community, surely thanks to the prayers of my mother, my grandmother and my friends.
In prayer a few days ago, I remembered a situation. I was only four months old in Community, and they gave me a work assignment. On Saturday afternoon I had to clean outside, around the house, in Saluzzo. Just imagine. After ten years of evil, nobody trusted me anymore. I had deceived everybody, my parents,my relatives, all the people who loved me. I had made fool of everybody, and everybody had abandoned me. People didn't trust me. Then after ten years, someone gives me a "responsibility,” actually trusts me again. I was very happy that day. I was proud, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to organize my job.
But then do you know what happened? A guy who had been in Community for four years decided I would work alone, giving other jobs to the guys who were supposed to help me. I was furious, crazy with pride. All the anger that I had built up during years spent in the streets came to my mind, and it reminded me of my past, so I started swearing in Croatian and in Italian. I felt crazy. I said to myself, "If I meet him, I'll tell him off. I'll hit him and on and on." I imagined all the details of meeting up with him again. I chose the words, and I even decided how to hit him with my fist, if he had dared to speak to me. All afternoon these thoughts filled my mind.
Eventually this guy came back to where I was. I went to him, and I spit out my evil, my rage. Actually I could only express a fraction of what I had in mind, because he had a strange reaction. He remained in peace. He looked at me, and then he smiled. I had never seen eyes like his in my life. They weren't the eyes of the guys in the streets, and none of what I had planned actually happened. When you shout at someone in the street or you hit him, he does the same thing. That guy looked at me, and with his peaceful look, he melted my anger, and I felt calm. Then he hugged me saying, "Sorry. I'll never do that again!" That was love. In that very moment, I couldn't really understand what had happened; it was something strange. But now twelve years later, when I think about it in prayer, I remember those eyes, his words, the situation, and I know that Jesus was in his heart, that God loved me through that young man.
I would have never been able to understand what love, goodness, and forgiveness are without those guys who had believed in Sister Elvira, who had believed in Christ, without those guys who had been on their knees long before me, who opened their hearts to God, who allowed the Word of God to take on flesh within them.We, drug addicts, who were at the end of our lives, in deep darkness, were unable to understand any other language, and we still can’t understand God’s love any other way. People could speak to us about love, but we needed to touch it with our hands, and this happens only in such moments. The Community, the life in the Community is simple, but full of similar situtions, full of God, of that living God who took on our flesh in Mary's womb and takes on flesh in our heart, as He had in the heart of that guy who spoken to me through his smile, his eyes, his hug. I was able to understand that language. It went deep and still goes deep into my heart. It is Christ living and present among us.
I'm sure that you youth who have come here to Medjugorje will be able to encounter Jesus Christ through your prayers and supplications to Our Lady. I'm convinced that we youth are not here by chance, but the Blessed Mother called us here to teach us in such concrete language so that Christ might take on flesh in our lives, so that when we go back home to our friends and to our jobs we can give testimony to the suffering world that Jesus Christ is living, and we have met Him here.
You will talk about Christ with your lives, your smile, your forgiveness, your embrace, your way of greeting people. Today's world needs such an announcement of Love. You are here today to learn the language of love, because God is Love, Jesus is Love, and the Blessed Mother shows us the way of love. She directs us to the master of peace and love. You must be sure,we all must be sure, that she has wanted us here to give birth to Her Son in our hearts once again, so that we can spread Him all over the world. Let's give Mary this chance!
Open your hearts in these days, and let Our Lady enter them. They will become big cribs ready to receive the Christ Child, and Jesus will be born in your hearts. He will suffer His passion there. He will do miracles. He will heal your wounds. He will raise you up again, and you in turn will help somebody else's resurrection. You will be the yeast that will cause love and peace to rise. You will be the leaven in the world. We must do this. It's our task, and this is the reason why we're here in Medjugorje.
I'd like to tell you something about Providence. You know that our Community lives on Providence. Since the beginning, our Community didn't rely on the help of politicians, of important people. Elvira has never accepted money from the government. She said, "Your money will never be enough for me to save all the youth that need to be saved. It's better to believe in the Divine Providence, rather than in money from the government."
When I entered the Community I often heard these words: "Providence. We live on Divine Providence. We mustn't buy anything. Our first Providence is to roll up our sleeves and work, work in the kitchen, the garden, the stables, with the cows, making cheese....we can do that." I sometimes saw some trucks arrive and people unloaded milk, meat....I couldn't believe it. When I entered the Community, everything looked false to my eyes. They were just stories to me. "Providence—stupid stories, nonsense!"
I remember something that happened when I had been in the Community for 20 days. Just imagine how I was feeling after ten years of living in the streets. I didn't understand anything about the Community, and I didn't accept anything. I still felt the desire for drugs, my heart was so wounded, I was sad, I missed the street life, the wine, my cigarettes. I missed everything—and the guys were speaking to me about Providence!
I remember a situation in the chapel. I didn' speak Italian, so it was difficult for me to stay in the chapel, particularly in the evening when the guys talked about their day. That evening I saw a guy crying. He was one of the guys in charge of the house, and he started to cry. All the others were silent with their heads down. I didn't understand Italian, and I didn't know what was going on so I asked the guy next to me, "What's happening? Why is he crying?" but there was no reply. When we were out of the chapel, I persisted with my questions and he told me, "He was crying because we betrayed Providence." So I asked, "How can you betray Providence?" And he explained, "We had run out of coffee for more than a month, and today one of us asked a friend to give us some.We didn't trust God’s Providence. We haven't trusted that God would send us coffee at the right moment, that there is no need to ask for it. That guy lied so that his friend would come back with some coffee.We have betrayed God’s Divine Providence."
That moment is impressed on my heart. I didn't believe in Providence. It was a lie to me, but in that particular moment, I saw a man who believed in Providence, who believed in God. His tears spoke of God to me. Today when I reflect on this, I'm sure that God came reached out to me through that young man, through his tears and his eyes. I consider those tears to be the first missionary that I met. Those tears had a strong impact on me because they represented the strength of God's grace. They were able to break down my walls and to touch my heart deeply, a heart that was hard and selfish, my addict’s heart. Those tears were the first thing that made me think of God. They were the drop of faith that had entered my heart. They were the seed of God. In the Gospel we read that the reign of God is a very small seed, almost invisible, but a big tree grows from it. The faith sowed in me by the Community has grown a lot during the last twelve years. I was an addict, and now I have become a priest. Today I am a priest. The life that I had lost, that had died, that was dark, is now light because I've really encountered Jesus, risen and living. It is the same Jesus that today wants to meet each of you to give you his peace. Amen.