(Photo: Archivio Meeting)

Who am I?

“Rose’s women” from Kampala, Uganda, were the protagonists at one of the most visited exhibits at the Meeting in Rimini, entitled You Are Worthy. Here is what they experienced in their days at Rimini. From October Traces.

Anifa. With what I have seen in my life, I never would have dreamed I would come here. Nobody in our clan has ever left Kampala. I believe they’ll write about it in the newspapers. The people amaze me with this Italian heart that I saw first in Rose (Editor’s note: Rose Busingye, founder of the International Meeting Point of Kampala). I was amazed by a little 11-year old girl. At the exhibit she watched the video of our stories and cried. I thought, what a heart God must have given these people! I’ve never seen people who offer such friendship that comes from the heart. I’m used to people liking you because of what you have or because of your appearance; nobody considers who you are. Now that my certainty is getting stronger, the question “Who am I?” is growing within me. When I return home, I’m going to tell my children that we’re not alone; we’re not rich, but we’re not alone. We are loved. If everyone had this heart, the world would change. I’m Muslim and many ask me why I follow people who are not of my religion. They ask me why I sell Traces if I can’t read it. I sell it because I know that the things written inside have value. There is beauty inside it. I‘ll never stop selling it. Those who criticize me because I journey with Catholics are backwards, but they help me rediscover what I’m following. I know what I have gained inside me. I do it because it makes my life better. It increases my being. I follow the meetings with Julián Carrón even though I don’t understand everything. I watch him and feel that what he’s saying enters my heart. In the morning, too, I think over that man’s words. They continue to give me life and being. If I didn’t follow, I wouldn’t still be alive. What we talk about in the exhibit is small compared to what we’ve been through. It’s like a speck. We’ve lived a life that is fearsome.

Akello Florence. This is my first time in Italy and at the Meeting. I arrived here and I began seeing something I‘ve never seen before. Rose always tells me: “Don’t reduce yourself because you are of great value.” If you do not reduce yourself, God willing, great things begin to happen. I’ve met faces here that have slowly given me answers. I’m experiencing the certainty that there’s always Someone with me. All the affection I receive is a call from God: “Come closer, come closer to Me.” The people here look at me with love. I can’t even describe it. This is what I am bringing home with me for the people I love, not just for me. I return knowing that there’s this call; that where I am living is the right place.

Agnes. All the people who saw the exhibit were moved and touched. Before I arrived here, I wondered if there would be people who would come to see all this. I thought that nobody would come up to say hi. Instead, as people left the exhibit they asked if they could hug us and they were crying. Nobody knew us and they were touched anyway. For me, this is the proof that what Rose says about our value being the same as the value that the people who came to the exhibit rediscovered in themselves. This is why people can truly identify with the pain we’ve suffered. I’ve seen this reciprocity of love, not only received from but also given to the people we meet. This is why people who saw the exhibit have felt my pain; they were at my side, even if they didn’t suffer everything I experienced. Even now the question presses me: “Who am I?” And all those with this question are able to understand.

Claire. It is a gift from God to be here. Before arriving, I had many questions, above all about friendship. I sensed that God was telling me, “Come, I’ll give you the answers in Italy.” I found that the people who asked me real questions, not just polite questions, were sincerely interested in us. It’s surprising: I went to lunch and dinner with people and shared many important things with them, and they shared a lot with me too. I discovered a friendship that I’ve never experienced with other friends. I
went to the exhibit Living Without Fear in the Age of Uncertainty and I understood that Christianity is a thing that attracts us and is not just talk about rules. What I experienced here is something truly interesting. I don’t believe that anyone said to
these people, “Be nice to the people you meet and try to have deep conversations.” My experience has been challenging and interesting because it has generated a lot of questions in me. I feel loved. But who am I to receive all this love from people I’d never met before?

Apolot Florence. I am discovering that I’m not alone. For me it was a dream–day and night I thought about it: Who am I to go to Italy? Why does Rose hug me even though I have AIDS? When I met her, I had all the signs of the sickness but I was embraced anyway just as I was. Here too, I’ve found the same embrace. For me it was incredible just to be able to take an airplane–me, a person from the forest, with everything I’ve gone through. I was isolated because I had AIDS. They didn’t let me have treatment, but when I met Rose, she welcomed me and didn’t ask about my ethnic group, but instead said, “You are worthy.” I didn’t even know what “worthy” meant. I thought worth was something only rich or educated people had. I didn’t know I was of worth because I have AIDS and people were continually telling me I would infect them. Rose took my children and brought them to school where they receive the same love. When I accepted Christ into my life, I understood that my worth is greater than poverty, disease, or education. Now the more I live, the more I feel Christ living inside me.

Ketty. The first thing I experienced is that the people showed me love. I was told that people here are distant because they’re afraid of COVID. Instead, what happened was something amazing that set back into motion what I had inside and is “pulling me up,” giving me so much. The thing that surprises me the most is that people call out “Ketty, Ketty…”–they know my name. After they see the exhibit, they ask me many questions. “Why are you happy? Why are you laughing? What you’ve lived through is unspeakable, but you dance and sing.” At times I answer crying because these questions are deep in my heart. Then I think that if they ask these questions, it’s because they’re suffering too, so I’m surprised at myself and ask, “Why are we laughing?” They ask me about the Luigi Giussani High School. Before, our children went to school in a place where they hated their lives. I didn’t want them to experience what I experienced. The school has literally saved our children’s lives. This is why we sing–to give thanks. We can’t thank you in a different way, but with singing, yes. The question is “Who am I?” and the answer is that I am what I’m experiencing now.

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Rose. These last two years of isolation have been difficult because I couldn’t meet with people or even go to visit the women. I was surprised when I told them to be careful not to get another virus and one of them answered, “We will be what God wants.” I was taking God out of the moment, out of the fact of COVID. This year two of our young people died, one from leukemia and another because he didn’t accept treatment. I was angry. Then I heard Carrón talking about a person who died, who was better off than us. What a slap in the face! He said, “You’re judging reality without faith, as if God had nothing to do with reality, with the moment.” And then I said, “I haven’t lost You. With Him I can say, ‘Danielino, I haven’t lost you. Mark Trevor, I haven’t lost you.’ We don’t lose anything if we have our gaze on Him who is greater than us. I’m happy, even if things leave me breathless. I’m still breathless, but as the women say, we have a place where we can ask our questions. I don’t lose the moment because my friend lives in it. He lives in me, lives in the moment. I’m very happy about the Meeting because it renews my way of looking at things and my faith. It renews my certainty about what’s at stake now: it’s not so much the exhibit. Maybe Anifa’s life will fill the Exhibition Center. And even more, I get a knot in my stomach when I ask, ‘Who am I to be so favored? I’m nothing, but You love me so much. Who am I? Who is God that He takes care of me? If I measure myself, I don’t find anything left over; the more I go forward, then nothing is left over. Why does He care for me?’” It’s not that we’ve found the answer, because it’s still moving to ask, “Who am I?” It’s not so much that someone should give me an answer; it’s a crying inside myself, and asking, “Who am I that you take care of me?”
Because I’m nothing, I know.