Games during the celebration

Malaysia: At the origin of a friendship

Games, songs, a testimony, and good food. The chronicle of a day spent sharing themselves with other families, parishioners and colleagues, rediscovering a sense of true freedom.

Over the past few years in Malaysia, my family has become a small point of attraction for people from different backgrounds: people from the parish, people from work, people from the apartment building where I live, my former catechism students and their families, and of course the CL small group.

Taking advantage of Fr. Michiel’s visit – who came to preach the spiritual exercises for us –, I had thought of organising a time of celebration, inviting all the friends we have met over the past years. The invitation said, very simply, “At the origin of a friendship.” The subtitle was: “Games, songs, a testimony, and good food.” Although only a few of the invitees were able to come, for various reasons, more than thirty people, including adults and young people, gathered with me and my family in a large gazebo we had booked from local administrators, which had a beautiful view of the lake in Putrajaya.

My idea for the event arisen from my desire to be able to show all these people who my family and I are. Also realizing how many times I have, in many circumstances, self-censored.

After much worry, first because of the “threat” of the administrators not to allow us access to the identified place (the day before the event in fact they had remembered that they were not supposed to give us access because of a public holiday) and then because of the incessant rain on the day of the event itself, everything was finally resolved. The local guards even worked overtime for us and the rain almost miraculously stopped falling just before the start of the celebration.

I decided to begin the celebration with these words: “If we are all here it is because someone invited us and we freely said our yes. Let us try to find out then what or who put us together today.” The games, masterfully organized by my wife Toni, immediately began, with both adults and young people maximally committed to winning. Already during the first game, people who had never seen each other before were laughing and joking together as if they had known each other forever.

Then it was time for the songs directed by Fr. Michiel: spirituals and songs from our tradition. Not everyone knew them, but everyone was committed to singing along. Then there was a moment of testimony; my wife and I gave a witness, beginning with our meeting the movement in Brazil, about 25 years ago, which had started from the simple invitation from a work colleague. It was an invitation that was then repeated on many other occasions in our lives, until we reached that 30 or so people. I felt free: no more censorship and invited everyone to the community school to deepen the origin of this friendship.

After three intense hours, the wardens arrived to remind us that they would have to close the place. People just did not want to leave! And here are the first surprises: one of my catechism boys, now a young man who had decided to follow other paths, says to me, “I am sorry for the many nos I told you. Thank you for not giving up on me. Now I want to spend time with you.” This young man will begin the path for preparation for baptism.

The following day my wife and I received many messages of thanks on WhatsApp. One mom, worried about her son, wrote, “Thank you for the thought and love you dedicated last night. And thanks also for the special invitation you extended to my son and his girlfriend. My heart was warmed to see both of them so present yesterday. The Holy Spirit was certainly present working on each of us in different ways.”

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A friend of mine, on the other hand, wrote to me, “Yesterday was very good, it recharged me a lot and reopened my horizon beyond my self-centeredness towards my problems. My wife and son were also happy. There is a different atmosphere at home this morning. Thank you!” I wrote back to him as my teenage daughter bid me good morning with a long hug, “Thank you! There is a different atmosphere here too.”