Dear Community Families,
They’re taking my phone. Please call Albino!
This 5 week experience began with the first person I saw as I approached the Festival of Life. It was someone who knew my son both in community and after they had both exited. The Holy Spirit knew he and I needed to have a meeting and wasted no time in arranging it. My experience had started before reaching the gate! And unknown to anyone in Community, my Guardian Angel had already been designated. This hill above Saluzzo is a living miracle of Community – a living Festival of Life
After the fest I remained in Saluzzo on experience. Albino made a last stop to say ciao to everyone at Casa Madre and to make sure I had not spent the day applying for jobs in Saluzzo. I asked him where I would be spending my experience. With laughter and joy he basically told me “ I don’t know, I am not in charge of anything once I am in Italy and I am happy about that. Just stay with your guardian angel for now and don’t eat too much”. I turned around to see who he meant would be my guardian angel. Both of us were in disbelief at what just happened. This wasn’t something Albino or either of us expected or even wanted to have happen. He just happened to be the closest American to us at that point. But, thanks be to God, it happened. We needed each other. We talked a lot. We will pray for each other.
Casa Madre is mission control for Comunita Cenacolo. Constant movement, new guys entering, other guys passing through on their way to another house, to exit, to go to the missions, coming back from or going on verifica, families living here and raising children in community. As for me, I weeded tomatoes and zucchini, picked string beans, tied up onions and threaded pepperoncini to hang and dry. A few days I was in the forno watching they guys make pizza or focaccia and spent some time in the prep kitchen chopping, slicing or cleaning freshly picked fruits and vegetables. And of course, talking with the guys. There were maybe 4 or 5 Americans in Saluzzo, the rest from all over Europe and the Balkan countries. Everyone in Community seems to have a corrupted sense of humor, and I fit right in. No matter what the language was at the moment, laughter with and love for each other were clearly communicated. But it was in the individual talks where truth really came out. Talks about the past, about the hurt that they lived and the hurt that they caused, about guilt and remorse. Talks about how they have been changing and how they wanted to live after they left community. Some who felt they were ready to exit, clearly weren’t. And those who knew they had still some growing to do in community seemed more ready to exit. Every once in a while a car would pull up to the office and mother, father and son would get out. This is when I remembered what really happens in Community. One of our sons would greet the family, shake hands and welcome them to community. The son would remain, scared to death, as the parents drove back down the hill without him, feeling relieved and somewhat free. It really was all of them entering community. This was déjà vu to me. I prayed that God would take the son out of the hell he was in, and for the parents, that their son’s and their own prayers would be answered.
In the middle of all of this was the prayer. Adoration, Mass, and the rosary. The walking rosary at the Mother House is on the road up and down the hill. On the way back up we stop just before the entrance at the same spot every time to pray the Eternal Rest and the Guardian Angel prayer. When I was told why we stop at this particular place in our walk it was like a hard aching punch in my stomach. A brother who fell back into his addiction after exiting in Saluzzo, then struggled more to walk back up the hill to re-enter community. He wanted help. But the addiction was strong, and he stopped to finish the last of what he had with him before he re-entered. His body was found at that spot the next morning, less than a minute from the Mother House. Sadly, things like this happen in the world of addicts.
It is a powerful lesson. Still I struggle to understand why God allowed this to happen. We pray God accepted this young man into Heaven in return for what he sacrificed in teaching us. Sometimes if I am tired or lazy and do not want to pray, I remember this. Then I pray.
One morning Don Stefano and I met in a hallway of the House in Saluzzo. “Papa, tomorrow morning you are going to Loreto for 2 or 3 days. Is that ok?” Spending time at Loreto, near the Holy House of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, has been a desire of mine for the last 4 years. It is a very “concrete” house ran by a responsible, Glauco, who has been in community over 20 years. I have heard from many how beautiful Loreto is both as a Community house and as a location on the Adriatic sea.
I texted Albino to let him know about this great gift of a visit to Loreto. He replied saying “Loreto is a beautiful house. Say hello to everyone. Don’t eat too much”.
The next afternoon, after saying thank you and goodbye to Clinton, my Guardian Angel, 5 of us jammed into a little Panda car and started the several hour drive to Loreto. No one spoke English. I did a lot of listening and took pictures. When we arrived at Loreto I was immediately in awe of the setting. It is on a hillside looking out over the Adriatic sea, a pleasant salty breeze blowing off the water. No one spoke English here and my Italian is good only in church, at the dinner table or in restaurants. But there was a beautiful garden, a small outdoor shrine, piles of rocks and a soccer field. Yes I could stay here a few days for sure. I met my new responsible, Glauco. After brief introductions all in Italian he put his hand out, not to shake mine but to ask for my cellphone. I got nervous. I needed it. I thought I needed to stay in touch with my son. So I was upfront with Glauco. I told him it was my camera and I also need to keep in touch with Albino. He did not take his hand away but said something to the effect that he knew Albino well and that he would talk to him for me, and when there was a time for pictures he would release the phone for me to take pictures. Usually I am fine in new and different situations. I was very nervous though. I quickly fired a text to my son “They are taking my phone! Please Call Albino!”. Glauco took the phone out of my hand and I felt completely helpless. I was completely and verifiably as they say “out of my head” I had reverted to my own son. It was way past time for me to learn a valuable lesson.
In the meantime another beautiful thing was happening in Community. The long awaited mission in Africa was being opened, the 7 missionaries were chosen and final arrangements for their travel were being made. As it was, Glauco, who loves this community so much he has committed his life to helping others, was one of the chosen missionaries. For every bit of sternness in Glauco, there is twice as much love and kindness. I realized this in talking to the guys in Loreto and the feeling of sadness in seeing him go. But they knew Africa was a desire of his and they saw him off with unselfish love which was the best gift he could have received for this is what he has been giving our sons and daughters for the last 20 years. And to see it returned to him must have been very humbling and rewarding at the same time. Songs, skits, laughter, cheering and finally a few tears all the way around as he said goodbye to guys that he loves and prays for. This was community at its best and I treasure the gift of Loreto in which I was able to experience it.
The missionaries are an amazing group. Strong yet humble, and all having 4 or 5 years in community except Glauco’s 21years. They know it will be difficult in Africa. But they were chosen by community for a reason – they all have a deep understanding in the need to pray. It is a testimony to what Community is about and an example of how our prayers are answered. Having the missionaries come to Loreto was especially important for all the young guys there to experience. To go to Mass and pray with these men in the Holy House of Mary in Loreto was special. To see the example of guys who only a few years earlier were struggling on the streets just as they were. Now they are being asked to open a new mission in a very difficult and different place and the young guys see with their own eyes how God works.
One morning about 3 or 4 days into the Loreto/ Glauco experience I woke up and realized everything was not falling apart, I had a feeling of peace and trust growing in me. It’s me I need to worry about. I started focusing on Community and not on things at home. I am learning again to trust in our Lord. That this is what God does. He takes care of me. He loves me. He answers my prayers. He listens to Our Blessed Mother. When will I learn? This is about accepting God in my life not giving something up.
I began to settle in with the guys at Loreto, to hear their stories and tell them mine. We spoke enough broken Italian and broken English to make sense. I was becoming their “papa” and they were becoming my sons. They told me about their fathers crying and embracing them when they saw each other for the first time after entering. There were many years of anger, fighting, lying and not talking to each other. There were years of sadness, loneliness, pain and guilt. And now their story became my first meeting with my son after some months in community. Each of us face to face with eyes that again showed joy and love again.
Now I realize that it wasn’t only my son’s eyes that were empty before community. Mine were also. The fathers eyes. There was an emptiness somewhere in myself before and it contributed to that of my son’s. Yes, this was my story too. Mother Elvira and Don Stefano ask our sons to look deeply and envision their fathers as little children themselves. When maybe they were wounded, ignored, left sad or lonely. He tells them and us too look at our fathers as Mother Elvira looks at her father. With compassion, love, forgiveness and gratitude. I spoke about this to the guys at Loreto after my last meal with them. I told them about my own tears of joy and thankfulness. I told them I know how your father feels and how much he loves you. I know how he forgives you, and he, like myself, may need strength and time to ask for forgiveness from you. I know that all he, like myself for my son, wants is for you to know he loves you and always has even though he did not always show it. This is all I could share with these guys whose hearts are beginning to heal. I love them because when I look at them I see my son. When I watch them suffer, hurt, cry, laugh and long for a hug I see my son. So how can I not love them, pray and laugh with them and embrace them? I know them now. I ask them to forgive me and I forgive them. I tell them I love them and they tell me the same. They say for me the most beautiful Hail Mary’s in the worst English but its the best English they have and I know these Hail Mary’s say “I love you papa”. I feel the embrace of Mary in these heartfelt and genuine prayers of theirs. I can feel it now as I write this. I can only hope my prayers for them are as powerful. I hope they can feel the love and thanks that I have for them. Please Mary, wrap your loving arms around these sons and daughters of ours in Community. Hold them gently and ask Jesus to help heal their wounds and those of their families.
I ask them to remember the joy that Augostino, Sabina and their family have brought to them as a family visiting from Saluzzo. To pray that they will one day return to community with their own children and wife like Augostino did and bring joy to the new guys in Community. To be able to tell their children that “Here in Loreto is where I learned to pray, and where said my first prayer that I would be a good father to you”
My last meal with them was beautiful. I told them when I got back to America people will ask “What did you bring back? Where are the gifts? What did you all see? How were the restaurants? Did you fall in love? “ I told the guys “This is what I will tell people: I brought back the prayers and love in my heart of the men and women of community. I learned to accept Gods help and not be worried of what I am asked to give up. I saw young men and women healed through faith and devotion to God and the Blessed Mother. I saw young men and women that learned to be honest and help each other. I went into the heart of Community and saw inside myself things that I need to pray for. And there is not a better kitchen or a better table in all of Italy that the one I just got up from. And Yes, I fell in love. After I spoke with them and went to sit down, they all stood up to give me yet another gift. They all walked to the front of the room with paper in hand. One of them spoke a few words to me as another handed me a wrapped gift. Antonio, my amazing friend and guardian angel in Loreto played guitar and all the guys sang a song in English, not knowing the words or what it was about but just remembering I had mentioned “Che Sara Sara” earlier in my experience to someone. They completely butchered the English words but when they came to the Italian words “Che sara sara” they all thought they were Luciano Pavarotti! But I heard every word they sang clear as a bell. I hope one day they will know what the words of this song translate too. And what it meant for me to hear them sing it. I have not heard this song since I left but when I do it won’t come close to the version I heard my last night in Loreto. I will think of these 20 guys on the Adriatic coast in Loreto who at one time were living on the streets and in shelters, surviving on lies, drugs and sadness, and the the most beautiful gift that they gave me to take home to America.
I left that night humbled. Why it is that these guys, who don’t have a penny in their pocket, no iphones, ipods, steroes or flat screens, no designer sunglasses, motorcycles or cars can offer a gift greater than anything that any amount of money could buy in the finest stores anywhere? How many times do I need to hear the message of Mother Elvira and Community to get it?
I realize how similar these feelings are to my first experience with my son 7 years ago. I am exhausted, full of joy, thankful to God, thankful to Community and I believe more than ever in prayers being answered. In the miracle of the Holy Eucharist. There is one more thing now that I can attest to even deeper– the importance for our sons, our daughters and ourselves to keep prayer in our life, to keep listening to what God wants for us.
As much as we sometimes think or expect it, our sons and daughters won’t be saints when they exit community. Their walk in in community will need to continue. And so does our walk as parents. Its not always easy for me to realize this – especially when things seem “good”. The reason that Community and Mother Elvira are in our lives can’t be forgotten or ignored until we feel we need them. There will still be times when our sons and daughters need our example to pull them up, to remind them, to keep them from falling back. None of us can be a reason the sufferings, tears prayers and sacrifices made by our sons and daughters go unanswered. Because it isn’t only for themselves that they suffer, pray and sacrifice while in community. It is for us.