The GS vacation of the Luigi Giussani High School

GS Uganda: With eyes wide open to beauty

An account of the vacation of the young people from the Luigi GiussanI High School in Kampala on Lake Bunyonyi in the south of the country. Unexpected events, games, breath-taking scenery... And “a prince's wedding” lunch.

Sunday, May 5, 8 a.m., Kampala. The elementary school parking lot near the Acholi quarter, where most of our students live. Until the night before, we had received phone calls from the young people who had managed to scrape together the money (about 12 euros each) to sign up for the GS vacation. The rest of the donations came from friends at the Regina Mundi school in Milan, young people of GS from Brianza in Italy, and Rose’s women, who worked to support the children “of our Luigi Giussani High School tribe.” As always, they give all of themselves to serve what they love and what saves their lives.

With Stefano, we had arranged to travel to a location near the town of Kabale. We were ready to leave. Rose had been awake since 6 a.m. “We have not had a GS vacation in five years,” she had told us, “but have you seen how they looking forward to it?” On Friday, 51 of us were registered, 67 on Saturday, and we had two buses with 35 seats each. There was even room for latecomers. But it only took a glance to realize that there were actually many more of us: we were 78! The latecomers are frightened at the mere thought of being able to stay at home; but with the help of Andrea's car, crammed in like sardines, we manage to leave.

Father George, the Nuncio's secretary, teased us, “Good thing everything was ready!” “The unexpected is the only hope,” I replied a little overwhelmed, but carrying in my heart the words of Montale’s poem Before the Trip. It was a wonderful nine-hour journey that took us from the chaotic heart of Kampala to the green hills of southwestern Uganda, between songs, an obligatory stop on the equator, a roadside picnic, and moments of silence charged with wonder at the beauty of this land and amplified by Rose’s enthusiasm, who at every turn pointed out something beautiful for us to look at.

“Thank you,” the young people keep repeating. Two words that usually come at the end of a good vacation. They, on the other hand, were experiencing this disarming gratitude from the very beginning, because they did not take the vacation for granted. It was quite an event. Looking at them, I was reminded of the words Monsignor Giovanni Paccosi used in the introduction of the Fraternity Exercises to describe the poor in spirit, who “cling to the great grace and beg for it every day; they follow as if it were a prayer, or rather, they pray following, because they need to do so to live. And so they experience the hope that blossoms in apparently impossible situations.” A few months ago, before arriving in Kampala, I would have never imagined what they young people experience in their daily lives.

The adults who led the GS vacation in Kabale

The theme of the three days was Pavese's question that Giussani quotes in the fourth chapter of The Religious Sense: “Has anyone ever promised us anything? Then why are we waiting?” The next morning we did not even have time to introduce it because, before the prepared introduction could even be read, questions and interventions were immediately triggered, as always happens at meetings with them. Rose added fuel to the fire, challenging them to get to the depths of their desire, until they recognize the infinite value that they are, acknowledge that they are loved, wanted and called by name.

With reawakened hearts we reached Lake Bunyonyi, where two small boats were waiting to ferry us to the small island where we would spend the rest of the day. For many it was their first time on a boat. With a mixture of fear and excitement, we made the short crossing and were greeting by a breathtaking view: a beautiful field, which would later become “battlefield,” and a terrace on the lake where we celebrated mass. We asked the restaurant across the street to prepare us “a prince's wedding lunch,” as one girl called it, for us. I had never seen anyone eat with such gusto and speed, not least because the young people never have chicken and beef together in the same meal, not even at Christmas. Then straight to the field for the afternoon of games. At 5 p.m. we met again on the terrace, for an assembly. Moshe spoke, describing his amazement at the two days spent together, and the fact that his mom had asked him to leave his phone at home and enjoy those moments: “I, who usually do not obey and on Sundays hide in the internet cafe instead of going to Mass, discovered that I was free and loved during these days, following what my mom had suggested and opening my eyes wide to the beauty in front of me.”

Father George instead spoke to us about silence, which is necessary to face reality and grasp it in all its depth: “While crossing Kampala, as I was slowing down to get over one of the many potholes in the road, I noticed a beautiful house that I had never noticed and I thought: you see that even within the chaos, if one pays attention, one can glimpse the beauty that the Lord gives us.”

Winnie, 19, then intervened. On another occasion she had compared her experience of the School of Community to her relationship with her boyfriend: “Someone you always miss.” “For me, the School of Community educates me in this silence that I need in order not to become entangled in my complaints and difficulties; and that allows me to realize my true self, my heart that longs to be embraced by Jesus and to whom He said, ‘You are mine.’” Rose jumped on her chair and said, “We are this infinite desire that is not satisfied by the Internet café but wants happiness, fulfillment. At the same time, nothing and no one can separate us from God, because He is in us and we belong to Him, within a companionship, this companionship.”

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It began to get late (the sun sets in Uganda in a flash at 7:15 p.m), and after the boat ride back, even more exhilarating because fear had given way to excitement, we arrived at the youth center that hosted us for the night, cared for by the missionary sisters of Kabale. In the evening we decided, with Rose and Micheal (the principal of our school), to let that “You are mine” strike again, and so, after singing Vuestra Soy, we watched an episode from the series The Chosen together, in which Jesus meets the Magdalene and frees her from demons, which ends with the woman's smile and these few words, “He told me that I am His.”

On the bus

We returned to Kampala the following evening, after more than ten hours of travel, with hearts overflowing with gratitude and a renewed awareness, “He told me that I am His,” words that, just as they won the Magdalene's heart, resonate and overwhelm the hearts of each of us.

Alberto and Fredy, Kampala, Uganda