A Different Face
For the first time in years, Pietro and his family attended a CL Summer Vacation and were surprised by what they discovered in themselves and others
My name is Pietro and I live in Pittsburgh (PA) with my wife of twenty-five years and my (sometimes) beautiful five children. This year, my wife and I decided to go to the Lower Midwest Communion and Liberation summer vacation with our two youngest children (aged 16 and 13). In the past few years, we experienced tough moments, including the death of a parent, issues at work, medical conditions of family members, and let’s not forget, a world pandemic. The decision to participate in the summer vacation was complicated and we approached the trip with very low expectations. But we went!
Although it had been about eight years since we went to a CL vacation with this community, my wife and I have been with CL for decades, first in Italy and now in the US, and we are not new to these CL people or events. However, for this particular vacation I was struggling with the “why…?” With everything going on in life, why are we going on this vacation?
After all this time I wasn’t sure if Fr. Alex or anyone else would still remember me. My two teenagers were ferociously against our decision to attend. They asked me multiple times, “Why are we going?” And, as I pondered on the same question, I lamely replied: “Come on guys, it’s gonna be fun!” They relentlessly countered “Yeah so fun, spending 4 days with a bunch of strangers." In protest to our decision to go, my kids prepared alternative activities to bring to the vacation to occupy their time. Alternative activities that I’m glad they never ended up using.
The first night we arrived a bit late after the long drive, and we rushed to the main room where everyone was already gathered for the first assembly. We walked to our seats and the “why?” was still haunting me. There were a lot of unknown faces, an explosion of kids, and even a Benedictine monk. There was also a big poster that said “The Master is here and is calling you”. I must admit that I read it superficially and initially didn’t pay much attention to it. The morning after, I encouraged my family to meet the others for morning prayer and the hike while I was stuck in a board meeting in my room. I later met with my family for lunch, and I noticed with surprise that my kids were not complaining. It was quite unexpected, and although I didn’t give it much weight at the time, it did catch my attention.
The vacation was organized without hotel meals, so the vacation organizers asked the families to volunteer for either cooking or clean-up duties. The first evening, I volunteered my son and I for cooking duties. We were assigned to the grill with others, where we cooked for 170 people in weather conditions that were less than ideal. And there, with my son, grilling for over 3 hours in the rain, I heard no complaints!
The way we were all there, present in the moment, helping each other out was something different. Something was happening. Those strangers were becoming less unknown and new friendships were beginning to form. We felt the arms of this community wrapping around us and making us feel part of something bigger. Instantly, I started to remember the reasons why I was attracted to CL and the lessons of Fr. Giussani.
I felt very naïve with my original motive to come to the vacation “to have fun”. On my way to the vacation, I didn’t consider the possibility that reality could be different than what I had imagined. I ignored the true desire of my heart and allowed the disorder of our lives to muddy my perspective on reality. What I imagined to be just another vacation with kids complaining and playing video games, turned into a very different reality. Instead of complaining, my teenage kids were interacting with people. My family was present in the moment. We were connected and open to an encounter with strangers that soon became friends. Once again, I was reminded that reality is not something that you can just imagine, that you can create, or that you dominate; reality is something to embrace, to live, to surrender to. The vacation was full of these moments. The hikes, the silence, the singing, the presentations, and the meals together were all organized to make me feel free to dwell in “the purity of the profound and true desire of the heart” as Lepori said.
After a couple of days, we were different, we had a different face. I would have never thought to witness a similar beauty. It was unexpected. In hindsight, my journey in search of a “why?” turned into encounters with individuals like the Benedictine monk, Br. Angelus, with whom we exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch beyond the vacation. What was becoming evident is that there was a Presence that was greater than any prejudice that my kids and I had before coming to the vacation. “The Master is here, and is calling you!”
The last day of the vacation was the perfect epilogue to the journey we had just experienced. We had an assembly in which friends shared what they encountered during the vacation, but to my surprise, my 16-year-old son also stepped up to the microphone to speak about his experience. My son has a huge fear of public speaking, yet he spoke from the heart. I suspect that he was able to do so because the public that he was speaking in front of, did not feel any more like a bunch of strangers, but rather like the familiar faces of friends. He stepped up to the microphone having abandoned his reluctance from the beginning of the vacation and embraced the need to express his joy and gratitude for coming and meeting all his new friends. He even felt free enough to admit that he didn’t want to come to the vacation, but was glad we dragged him all the way to Indiana. What a gift!
My family and I are grateful to the Lower Midwest CL community for embracing us, and we recognize that we have been touched by His presence and the love of Christ. At the end of the vacation, the “Why?” was much more evident. During those days I felt love and friendship that was clearly made by the presence of Someone Else. The real grace was granted to us by the Holy Spirit which gave us the openness of heart necessary to receive His grace. Going to the CL summer vacation is not only “for fun”, but it is a moment to remind us that we are connected through Christ and that with openness of heart, His presence passes through the faces of our friends.
Evviva la compagnia!
Pietro, Pittsburgh, PA