My wife and I have now lived in Helsinki for three years. I work as an engineer in the factory of an Italian company. We make power cables that go under the sea to connect islands, wind farms, etc. One year ago, my son, Alessandro, was born.
This summer, my HR manager asked me to meet her to talk about the factors that make operators happy to work in our factory. I was surprised that she asked me this: we don’t speak the same language and I have only recently begun to work there. She said that some operators had recounted that they were surprised that I go to greet them every morning, shaking their hands and asking them how they are doing. Of course, there is a cultural difference: physical interaction is not usually welcomed in Finland. But my HR manager said: “the operators see that you do it to greet each of them, personally. Those few moments of shaking their hands are a moment you reserve for them”. Through that feedback, I had the chance to look at myself with truth. It is actually very true that I wake up in the morning desiring, longing for those 5 seconds of hand shaking, which shows a clear act of preference for my life.
As you said in the Exercises: ‘What is the most necessary beauty? It is the happening of a preference, the ultimate preference all of us are waiting to experience. Preference is the method of every reawakening, every redemption, every generation of the human, of the “I”’.
Finnish operators are waiting for this same experience. They recognize when a small crumb of that preference happens to them, to the extent that they talk about it when they have the chance.
There is a place where I constantly experience this preference. And it is the Church, the companionship of the Church.
Last semester, several students contacted us through the International Secretary to ask us for support, since they were coming to Helsinki for a period of study. We were enthusiastic about these new friends; with them, our small community would have doubled. However, right before their arrival, we found out that most of them were not actually following the movement in their universities and that they were contacting us because they needed help in finding an apartment. At first, my enthusiasm dropped. But I had to look truly at these last years: the constant faithfulness of the Mystery who showed Himself to us through unexpected events, never through what I had in mind. Thank goodness, because it always turned out much better. So, the day after, we invited two of these students to go for a hike with our family. From that moment on, they have never left us. It was impressive to see their faithfulness towards the School of Community, even during the exam period when they barely had time for Mass. Marianna, one of the students, said at School of Community: “When you welcomed me, I felt so happy that I wanted to stay with you”.
We meet every week for School of Community and we have dinner together. We meet at our place, even if our community is growing, as it is easier because of our little son. Unfortunately, I do not always manage to come out of work on time, so I join for dinner. One Monday, I was late and, opening the door of our house, I was impressed by something I saw: two guys were playing with my son on the carpet, another three were setting the table, another two other friends were cooking. They all looked up at me and greeted me: “Its great that you are here, come in”. They were welcoming me into my own home. It was weird. But I realized that it was true: that was my home, it was more than the four walls, my wife and son. My house is made of those friends, those poor little ones, poor sinners like me, that make the companionship of the Church.
Now that Marianna has gone back home, she has insisted that we meet her family. Her parents thanked us for the friendship we have with her. I was surprised to see that she had told them about us and that even though her ‘material need’ had ended (she is now back home), she is still amazed by a friendship that claims to be for her entire life.
So, to conclude, in Finland, my wife, my son and I need a place that we can call Home, just like the Erasmus students. And this house is made of friends that invite me to have dinner with them, it is made of the neo-catechumenal priests that welcomed us in the Parish, and the ‘trustworthy companionship’ of witnesses, the Church.
Giuseppe, Helsinki, Finland