Courtesy of Mirko Farina.

A Need Broken Open

"Fr. Accu said something along the lines of, 'Now I go to these meetings because I need something, I need to see Christ. Not to give them something I've thought up myself.'" Gabe recounts his experience meeting the movement and starting a GS group.

When I was a seminarian in Rome from 2007 to 2009, I distinctly remember finding copies of a very well-published magazine called Tracce lying about in the library. I remember being struck by what felt almost like a different language--and not just because it was written in Italian. I knew Italian. This was something different. Five years later, having discerned a different path in my life, I wound up as the campus minister at a Catholic secondary school in Greenville, SC. I started to hear the name "Giussani," and someone quite random and unexpected invited me to attend something called "School of Community" at a local restaurant called "The Turtle Shell.”

What first struck me about School of Community was that Giussani had a language and an understanding that matched the reality of people's hearts (my own included) better than any other language I'd ever come across in the Church. I then began to notice the vulnerability and realness of the man leading School of Community, Keith, and the strange, honest way of talking of the people in the group, the room for the messiness of life, and an understanding of faith that didn't censor anything. I got corrected by my friend Michele now and again as I learned to talk in first person about real experiences instead of abstract theorizing. I knew that Michele ran something called GS and occasionally saw flyers for something called "Beginning Day" around school. For my part, I attended School of Community for a year or two--sometimes regularly, sometimes sporadically.

In my work as campus minister I began to feel a great need for a group of students who I could really spend time with, really get to know, not just on a weekend retreat now and then, or at punctual school events. I shared this with my friend James as we walked in the woods behind my house. He said, "You need to start a School of Community with high school students." It seemed right. So, I invited eight juniors and seniors to my house, and we read some passage of Giussani that Michele had given me months before that I’d found lying around. Over the next year we would meet once a week at different kids' houses, and I would find different things to read.

It started as a group only for juniors and seniors, but my friend Michele said we needed to open the group up. "The freshmen need to see the seniors doing this work," she said. We opened the group up, and this caused a little crisis. Many of the upperclassmen left. It was no longer a "cool" thing. But all my time in youth work had begun to teach me not to trust "cool" things for very long.

I think it was around this same time--three years ago--when I attended a local diaconia and told the community that I thought I needed to start using GS resources for this campus ministry group. I began scouring the Communion and Liberation website for readings for GS, and Michele started attending the meetings with me and we would lead School of Community together. We would gather at a Knights of Columbus Hall near our school, sing two pop songs with a deeper meaning (usually John Mayer, Avett Brothers, or Coldplay), do School of Community for at least an hour, then share a meal provided by parents of kids in the group.

I started experiencing something I had never seen before: kids coming alive, being real, being honest, asking questions, and surprising us with their understanding of Giussani's often difficult language. Week after week I would look at Michele afterwards and say, "That was amazing." Week after week! Not just once! I would come home to my wife and kids with a changed face, full of energy even though I had been doing "work" for three hours.

None of these kids had ever heard of GS or CL. They went home and told their parents about these texts by a priest name Giussani, or a priest named Carrón, or a priest named Banna, that explained their life to them. I remember one mom telling me that her sophomore daughter would burst into her room at 9:30 p.m., sit on the bed, and tell her all about School of Community. In all my time working with kids leading up to this I had never seen such freedom and honesty.

This year we decided to invite some of the older kids to come with us to visit others who live and think and talk this way at the New York Encounter. We ended up taking around twenty students. It was their first encounter with the movement beyond a few of us in Greenville. When the music started for the opening presentation, and the quotes were projected on the screen, they saw that what they received every week at School of Community had an origin. We attended an assembly with dozens of other GS kids from around the country, and we realized that we were not alone. We gathered for an impromptu singing session at the GS exhibit. Our kids heard the song "The Things That I See" for the first time, led by a passionate girl from Minnesota. Our kids still say they remember her face and voice when she started leading that song and it makes them happy. We Face-Timed their new friend Sofia from Florida during one of our Schools of Community. They said when they saw her face everything from the New York Encounter came back. It was not something just for the past!

This summer we are hosting the GS vacation here in South Carolina--something that was born from the friendship formed at the New York Encounter. Some of the students are ones who met GS at the New York Encounter, but for many this will be their first encounter. I have never attended a GS vacation before, and I am eager to follow and be surprised.

My friend Michele gave me her notes from a meeting with Fr. Accu about the Knights, the movement's work with middle schoolers. We started a Knights group of sorts at our school this year. Fr. Accu said something along the lines of, "Now I go to these meetings because I need something, I need to see Christ. Not to give them something I've thought up myself." This is something I'm learning now. If I lead the School of Community, or lead Knights, or our advent or lent retreats with my need broken open, something happens. Something unforeseen.

Gabe, South Carolina, USA