The vigil in the Church of Santa Maria Segreta in Milan

"The freedom to say 'Here I am'"

The desire to start over after a year of restrictions and exhaustion. Universities are slowly being filled again. Sofia shares her questions and the Archbishop of Milan's provocation during the vigil for university students.

Milan, May 5, 2021. The universities are slowly being filled again and face-to-face teaching is beginning again. I took the opportunity to have lunch with two classmates that I have met recently. Lidia, while ordering a sandwich with schnitzel, was thinking about a presentation she would soon have to give in front of the other students on her course and confessed that she was afraid because of her insecurity: "In order to be free in the face of these challenges I should learn to be less shy, more self-confident, chase away all negative thoughts". Nicola spoke of how he was tired of the restrictions that are still in place: the curfew, places remain closed... "After a year, I would like to be free again.”

I think about myself. I will never be able to free myself from the wounds that this dramatic year has introduced into my life, just as I cannot silence the question about meaning that arises from it, the "negative thoughts" that Lidia spoke of. Nor can I pretend that the restrictions Nicola mentioned are no longer there. How can I be free? What does "being free" mean to me?

An intuition pushed me, a few hours later, to get on my bike and cycle to the Church of Santa Maria Segreta to participate in the "Night of Nicodemus," a prayer vigil for university students, proposed by the Church of Milan and presided over by Archbishop Monsignor Mario Delpini.

Before entering, I heard a voice calling my name: "Hello, Sofia". I turned around: it was Giovanni. We do not know each other well, I attend the State University, while he is at the Catholic University. He knows my name, and I know his, because we are both involved in the life of the movement, and we are part of the secretary team for the university students. We often exchange e-mails. That greeting immediately made sense to me. I watched him walk into the church and I thought: you can say my name and greet me, to become friends, because our serving the movement has the same origin. We have met friends, a companionship, that is worthy of our truest questions. I looked around: hundreds of young people, together with Giovanni, entered in an orderly fashion. I discovered them to be friends: they are all here because each of them, even and especially after a year of pandemic, has found a companionship - the Church - that measures up to the drama that has arisen and that arises.

We began to pray and this awareness, thanks to the Archbishop's words, became clearer and clearer to me: "We live in confused times", says Delpini. "Not because questions do not arise, but because we do not know to whom to ask them. We do not know what answers we can trust (...). Mary is full of grace not because she has no questions, but because her way of asking herself about the meaning of things is a dialogue with a You, instead of a withdrawal into herself; it is the offering of love, instead of the hesitation to love. (...) Mary, the young woman of questions, says "Here I am". She knows the mystery of love, the depth of God, and from Him she invokes light".

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That evening, like Mary, each of us with our own story, with our own restlessness, said "here I am." On the way out, Tommaso said to me, "I am 22 years old, I could be anywhere right now, but instead today I decided to go to Mass, attend School of Community, and then I came here." And I thought: this is the freedom I was looking for, not a solution to my often unanswerable questions, a smoothing over of my restlessness, but offering myself to the mystery that, by manifesting His Love through the companionship of the Church, allows me face my drama, to discover more and more who I am. I think back to quarantine, to the four walls of my little room and the apparent deprivation of all "freedom." I say to myself with certainty: this companionship can never be taken away from me, and my freedom to say "here I am" can never be taken away from me.

Sofia, Milan, Italy