“We’d like to let you know that you are our family, to share this year’s experience with you, and to say thank you.” This was the invitation to the citizens of Loppiano, from the young people who attended this year’s Gen School, to attend the closing ceremonies at the Auditorium on Saturday, June 19, 2021.
They came to Loppiano from different countries: Poland, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Germany, Croatia, Italy and more. When we asked them to tell us in one word what the experience was like, they all had something different to say: Agape, going out, God’s love, continuing, family, starting over, trust, fernweh, a German word that expresses a desire to be somewhere else, far from the daily routine and what is familiar, somewhere in that vast world outside. They also mentioned courage, and they had plenty of that.
They came at a time of pandemic and restrictions, and they all came for different reasons. Some came to have a nice experience with people from other cultures, some to know themselves better, some to grow, some to make the year fruitful for their lives, overcoming discouragement and fear, trusting and even entrusting themselves to God.
Mariela from Mexico recounts: “Living so isolated, frightened and closed in during the pandemic made me reconsider my values and look at my life from a different perspective. So I questioned myself about several things including my relationship with God, and I decided to leave my comfort zone, to get to explore the roots of my faith, to understand the real motivation behind many of my questions and to check on and verify my way of relating to others. . .” Miriam from Italy felt that she was lacking a sense of direction, very few clear ideas about the future. And there was also that heaviness of heart: “Mabye because of having to stay home I was drawn away from seeking God in church or in other places. I didn’t find Him in myself anymore. Mabye my soul was lacking the spiritual oxygen and lymph to strengthen me and keep me moving forward with courage toward whatever the future would have in store for me – which is still uncertain.”
In other words, they took off for Loppiano without a lot of expectations. How did it go?
Radoslaw from Poland recounts: “I had an experience of getting to know myself better, of understanding a lot of things from my past, of forgiving others and myself. I discovered the freedom that comes from God.” The root of this conversion was a precise moment: “During Confession I discovere that God is Love and loves me immensely, that He doesn’t judge my past. This was the fundamental experience for me, and it was a 180° turnaround in the way I see God, others and myself!”
Maria Fernanda from Venezuela confides: “I learned that everybody is different, that every person has a story and even though I can solve problems alone, with others, with all my new sisters it’s better! Making sure that we are really building unity among us!”
Clara from Germany confessed: “I had a marvelous experience! Not only did I grow in the faith, but also made new friends and met many people who have a very strong relationship with God. It was something I never experienced before. So, through them, I was able to understand better who God is. I still have many doubts about His existence, but I’m very happy that I was able to face up to this!” Julianny from Brazil says: “I had a beautiful experience of personal growth, I learned to see many things from the other person’s point of view, giving myself inasmuch as that was possible, and finding Jesus in everyone around me.”
In all the days between October and today moments of crisis were inevitable, especially since it was a a growing experience for everyone.
Julianny continues: “The beginning of the Gen School was the hardest moment for me. I came to Loppiano in January, and everyone else already knew one another. I felt a bit alone at times, but I tried to put aside my insecurity and make unity with them.”
Mariela remembers that one of the biggest difficulties for her was understanding other people’s point of view even when it seemed absurd. Like, for example, when one of them decided to cook a rather exotic dish instead of a simpler meal that was cheaper and healthier. “Another hard thing,” she says, “was learning to see the beauty of the other person, before rushing to judgement.”
Disunity, falling short of love, misunderstandings healed by love, the necessary darkness to come back stronger and better were all the external elements that went into creating their experience together. “The best moments were when we took time just for us,” Miriam confides, “whether to play, have something to eat, watch a film, chat, go to look at the stars, or share stories. Especially, the ‘unit meetings,’ as we call them, when we go deep. During those moments, time really stopped, there was nothing else, only Jesus in our midst who made Himself felt in our deep listening to one another and in our deep sharing of the things we had in our hearts.”