When our Youth are asked to speak about our Community, they start by talking about their lives: from the darkness to the Light. I also want to do this. I want to begin by telling you about God’s Mercy in my family when I was young, in the 1940’s. During the war, my father was drafted into the army. We lived in the South… He was called into the army in Piedmont, and we did not even know what Piedmont was. However, my father told my mother to bring all of us with them. There were seven of us. We were hungry and cold, everything that children should not be. But, we had a strong mother, capable of bearing everyone’s burdens. Why do I tell you this? Because by reliving my past I have realized that it is right there where God’s Mercy is most abundant. My father was an alcoholic. We did not know this; we were children and only saw our father change, becoming nervous and angry. My brothers judged him for many years: “What a father we had! What a family we had!” They were ashamed. Today, in God’s Light, when I see them, I say: “You are ashamed of our father because you have not yet transformed the deep wounds of your heart into faith”.
moment when the Holy Spirit guided my father and my mother in strength, in humiliations; we experienced many humiliations and isolations. No one wanted southerners. We were given a house which was more like a henhouse. We were not wanted because there were too many children! Yet, today, after encountering the Lord, I see my past through new eyes; now – and I suggest this to the Youth – let us not be ashamed of our pasts, because our past is sustained by mercy which allows it to become love. Today those painful wounds have become for me open doors and windows for giving mercy, love, justice, and myself to everyone. It is through living mercy in our pasts we are able to say: “I have experienced these things personally”. I recognize how much the Lord has been kind to me, from the time I was a child he had already prepared me for what He knew I would have to live in my life…
I was engaged, I had a man who loved me, but in a certain moment I said: “My whole life with the same person, the same face… no, I could never do it”: I felt that my heart expanded, that I would have been limited by that choice.
We had already planned on having fifteen or twenty children, but this was too little for me. Twenty children, and then what? And then Mercy reached me right in my poverty, humiliation. It is a mercy that put itself with me, with my feelings, with my love. This is why today I am here with a large group of young people. We have many Youth communities throughout the world, even though we are a demanding Community. Our love, which is everything, total and unconditional, is a demanding love, because the young people must feel that we trust them, despite their weaknesses and fragility. They were no longer Youth; they were like old rags. But I believe that they were entitled to a strong answer that educates them, not to treats in exchange for good behavior. When they started to arrive, the first thing that we taught them – so not to deceive them, because everything else would have been deceit – is prayer. Luckily, our bishops, each time that I open a community, when I ask them on my knees to give us the Eucharist, each one said “yes”. Our chapels do not have benches; we kneel on the ground, with Jesus Eucharist, day and night. They take turns, and we are happy. We don’t have anything…we don’t have anything? We have everything! We did not accept money from the State, we believed in the love of God, the father. We also believed in mankind’s love. And in fact we are not lacking anything because everything becomes Providence. We can contemplate it: they are the people who come. For example, the guys would like a nice plate of pasta but they don’t have any tomatoes. Fifteen minutes before lunch, a couple comes and unloads a crate of tomatoes. It is always like this, in these twenty-five years I have never been to the supermarket. If things are missing, they are missing: If we have less, we experience that it is not material things that make us happy, but friendship, peace…
I’m finished. I started out by speaking about my childhood because I would like that when we are sad, or when we have not yet embraced our parents, I say this above all to you guys and girls: “Let’s learn to forgive, forgive our parents: that they have made few mistakes. But they suffered more than we did when they were young.”
After a while, our guys and girls go home for “verifica”. I tell them: “When you see your father, from afar, you run, run, run towards him and hug him. And while you embrace him you must count to seven, without letting go.” And you will see your father cry: everyone will cry! We can no longer just say: “Hi dad” and go away. But will stop just a minute? So your father remembers when you were young, he did not look at you, consider you, speak with you, or see you. In a certain moment, when the child embraces him, the “prodigal son” is the father. These young people, today full of prayer, compassion, love, are no longer able to make gestures that do not enter into our hearts, theirs and their parents’. When they come back from “verifica” they tell me: “Elvira, when I saw my father I said to myself: if I don’t go now, I will no longer go”. He started to run, embraced his father, until both of them started to cry. We have to be more human, more lovers of love. Love is life, sacrifice, at times humiliation, hunger; you must live it and then distribute it to everyone. God is love, and we have chosen God. Better yet, He has chosen us, and we are very happy to have encountered Him!
How is it possible to live with young people that have had so many experiences with evil? It is always difficult but there is Someone who teaches you. Every minute there is something new, even with our young people. And how can you reprimand, love, embrace, punish, smile, and play with them? These are all moments of love. But, still one more time, I remember what I got from my childhood. I have a saintly, demanding mother. Above all I remember a prayer that she repeated everyday and all day: “Holy Cross of God, do not abandon us!” She said it in our dialect: I am from Sora, near Frosinone.
Many times my father lost his job because he was not always present, but she did not say: “Lord, help my husband find a job, send us something”, no: the cross! She loved the cross; she embraced it. For this I suggested to the young people the encounter with Jesus’ cross, with the crucified…
How was I able to live with the guys? It was not I who lived with them, but it was Mercy: that Father’s face that makes mercy grow where there is misery. They come to us without dignity, words, a face, or hope. They come and they trust: I do not know how they trust, but they do. It is a miracle even for me. And we offer them the “road” of prayer, of faith: living it with them, because the Youth today do not need many words, but real life. Young people grasp things with their eyes, no longer with their ears: understand with their eyes because they look and observe to see if we do what we say. Coherence, how important coherence is with them…
We started out sleeping on the floor, because there was nothing in that dilapidated villa. But I never thought about these things: there is so much more! When we no longer have anything, there is more! Because there is more unity, love, smiles, even sometimes tears, but it is not important, this is life: it is made up of light and shadows, of courage and fears, of strengths and weaknesses, and we teach them this, even through the example of our lives. Now I must truly thank our Lady who after a few years has sent priests, seminarists, nuns who are already present in missions throughout the world. I never imagined all of this, but God has given us very much, exactly because we did not demand anything, He has given us everything, and everything to give to others. Thank you for listening.
Cardinal Schonborn: “One time I asked Mother Elvira: how is it possible to embrace the cross? She spontaneously responded: embrace the crucified”.
Mother Elvira: “It is true: I did not suggest the cross, but I told them: “let’s embrace the crucified”. Embracing Him, we become strong in our crosses. Let’s embrace Him, even if we can feel the nails. The cross without Jesus is a disgrace. We embrace the Savior, the One who has saved us making that cross victorious.