I left Madrid to go and accompany the Cuban community during the Fraternity Exercises. It is always a joy to catch up with friends, even more so after these years when the pandemic has made any travel impossible. When we met on Friday afternoon, besides the embraces and getting to know the newcomers, I was struck by the fact that the topic of conversations was focused exclusively on the difficult situation they are experiencing.
My friend Alejandro, who is the responsible of the Cuban community, had been telling me for some time that the situation on the island had deteriorated significantly. It was something similar to what happened in the early 1990s, during the so-called "Special Period": shortages of basic foodstuffs, daily power outages, transportation problems... All of this, together with all the difficulties that lie in carrying out certain things that are taken for granted in most Western countries.
A question immediately came to mind, arising from the Gospel phrase that was picked up on during the Exercises: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." How can our Cuban friends not be worried and agitated about the situation they are experiencing? Is it not fair to fret and worry when something as basic as food is missing, and when the social situation does not show any sign of changing soon, and so the future offers little hope? I confess that slight skepticism crept into my heart that evening.
The surprise came on Sunday, during the assembly, although I had already sensed something the night before. Like every year, Saturday night is a time to enjoy the company of friends, where we could share what we had packed: chorizo, ham and Spanish pork, washed down with a good whiskey. There was a sense of joy in the air that evening that was not there on Friday. It was evident. It is a joy that you know comes from Another.
This joy was manifest during the assembly we had on Sunday where all those who spoke, grateful for what they had experienced during those days, spoke of how they had rediscovered that the real "problem" is Christ, and that the dramatic situation they are experiencing or their choice to leave Cuba is secondary to Christ. What prompts a group of 23 men and women living in a desperate situation to say that the only important issue in life is Christ? What has happened? Or better, who happened?
I returned to Madrid moved and with a greater certainty in regard to Christ and the path we share in the movement. A true gift! The fact that Christ happens can be seen by the fact that the sum of the factors does not account for what happened to my friends on the island. Fr. Lepori reminded us: "The encounter with Christ that changes your entire life happens when a man, a woman are in front of Him just as they are, with all the humanity that defines them, the good and the bad. The important thing is that you find yourself just as you are in front of Him, in His presence.”
Alejandro then forwarded me a large number of messages in which the joy among friends was evident. One of them said: "The experience of the movement is a way of living the faith as the first Christian communities lived it. It is going to the essential; verifying that the Lord is everything, every day; discovering that our morality comes from a yes sustained over time; from a beautiful life that the Lord gives us, without any merit on our part and in a companionship with whom we share a common destiny. To live the experience of CL is to go back to the beginning. I am happy because Alejandro one day told me about his experience and invited me to the Exercises."
Another friend wrote: "After these Exercises, which were the first for me, I felt different, with great strength to go forward despite the difficulties. Thank God for choosing me to be part of this journey."
Alejandro himself wrote me an email telling me about his experience: "When I tell my friends that “there is need of only one thing”, that only one thing allows us to face the terrible evil that affects us daily, what often happens is that I am seized by the fear that they will look at me as someone who says ritual formulas. Instead – and this became more evident to me during the Exercises – I realized that the Lord makes "the formula" happen, which is Himself. In these days He has happened. In situations like ours, speeches and formulas come across emptier than usual. There is no other way but to ask, to beg the Lord for Him to happen. And then go, follow the place where He happens. So the speech is an invitation to join the companionship of the Church, where we are given the only thing that is ultimately important more concretely.”
During the assembly, the theme of "what will I do tomorrow, Monday" emerged. It was the recurring theme of Mondays after weekends of beautiful gestures of the movement, of the return to the fog of daily problems, which in the Cuban case looks more like a black cloud covering the sun. As one of us said, we do not even have to wait until Monday, already on Sunday afternoon we will be back in the whirlpool of difficulties of all kinds. What I am experiencing these days after the Exercises, from Sunday afternoon to writing now, has swept away any idea of "post-Exercises" sentimentality; there is no state of mind that can withstand such a challenging situation. That weekend we tasted, in "syrupy" form, so to speak, the meaning of everything, that everything has an ultimate meaning, which is Christ. And we know that these difficulties do not have the last word, not thanks to doctrinal formulas, but mainly from the experience of having seen and heard the One who has the last word on the happiness we desire. I am not living from the sentimental memory of the weekend – as beautiful as it was – but from His Face in the faces of those of us who were there."
What I experienced during the Exercises aroused in me the need to look at these Cuban friends and those in other parts of the world. They are undoubtedly good for everyone. They are small communities, but they face real and unsolvable problems with a faith and hope that are not of this world.
When one says "yes" to the Lord in life, it always leads to good and positive consequences both for the person saying it and, God willing, for those around them. The CL community in the Dominican Republic bears witness to this. The "yes" of several students and university professors to the experience of CL through a priest, Diego Di Modugno , and the "yes" of a joyful and festive peoples, gave a "more" to life; they did not lose this joy but this "yes" brought it to its fullness.
Thanks to this journey, there is a small community today that continues to affirm a present good that allows them to have a great horizon in life. It is a simple community that imitates what they have seen (the singing, the order when entering the hall – and there are ten of them!). And the joy of receiving the book of School of Community. You cannot buy it there, you cannot find it in bookstores, and so they make do with photocopies. When I gave them the books I was reminded of the Lord of the Rings– my precious! On the whole a great desire to make this experience more personal.
Flying more than 8,000 kilometers, with the gift of making the trip with my friend Antonio who was going to accompany the Haitian community, and being in touch with my friend Rafa who was in Cuba, allowed me to realize that I was going to share and recognize the one thing necessary to live.
The peripheries, which are not normally thriving in terms of the economy and jobs, help us, by their faithfulness and joy, to recognize the present good that is Jesus. And the beautiful thing about Jesus is that he came to stay.