Naples, Italy. Creative Commons CC0

Finding the Way on Via Materdei

Amid the side streets of Naples, the first Fraternity group was born in 1999. Over the years it has met and involved others in the simplicity of a friendship
Cristina Terzaghi

New Year’s Eve in Naples is legendary, a night of never-ending fireworks, dishes, and household whatnots thrown out the windows, when you’d better not be out walking, or leave your car unattended on the streets. Via Materdei is right in the heart of old Naples. There, on December 31, 1999, a group of friends was celebrating the New Year in a young couple’s home. In the midst of explosions and firecrackers, Cesare, at the urging of Marcello and Tonino, proposed giving a new and more complete form to the beautiful and joyful relationship they already had been enjoying for some time. The road gave a baptism name to the newborn Fraternity group: what better patroness than the Mother of God, Mater Dei, whose feast is celebrated the first of the year, and who “has given us numerous signs of closeness and protection”? Fiorella and Gaetano, the hosts, are both teachers. “There are five people in our family, four here and one in heaven.” Last year, they lost Flavia, a child of two and a half. “If it we hadn’t been ‘inside this story,’ we wouldn’t have been able to live all that has happened to us without dying inside. God’s face is that of dear ones who have died, and those of our Fraternity friends.”

Exceptional encounters
Gratitude for mutual friendship is a continuous refrain for the members of Mater Dei, who have come a long way since that New Year’s Eve. First of all, the number of friends has grown: Dorota, Marcello, Daniela, Maurizio, Renata, Lina, Paolo, Francesco, Patrizia, Gennaro… To hear them talk, it seems that the side streets of the city center offer limitless opportunities for encounters. Annamaria is a beautician. “It was a very delicate moment in my family, with two children to care for. At work, I was chatting with a client, and she proposed the Movement to me. That friendship has become fundamental for my life. After two years, my husband also started getting involved in our companionship, and so now we have also recovered our family life.” It is evident that this has shaken up Annamaria’s life, because she can’t help but talk about it with everyone. The mother of one of her son’s classmates would always come alone to pick him up from school. Annamaria wondered who she was, and what her life was like. So, she invited her: “Come on, come to my place, at least for a coffee.” Tonia had been working for years with the elderly, but that was her day off. Her son refused to be separated from his friend, and so she agreed to stop by Annamaria’s to get him. The quick coffee lasted all afternoon. The following week, Tonia hosted the whole Fraternity group at her house for School of Community. When someone read that the Apostles had experienced an exceptional encounter with Jesus, she exclaimed, “That’s what happened to me. An exceptional encounter!”

Promises kept
Once again, Annamaria was the one to have an encounter, this time with Luisa, a ceramist, with a history as a “flower child.” When she became Annamaria’s friend, Luisa began to get together regularly with the group, notwithstanding the jabs of her husband, who wondered what was happening to his wife, and wasn’t exactly eager to meet these new friends. Christmas came around, and the Fraternity group did things in a big way, with a lunch for a hundred guests, counting relatives, friends, and friends of friends. They ate, sang, and talked or listened to something beautiful. The help of Rosario, Luisa’s husband, a cook by profession, was urgently needed, and at least in the matter of cooking, he couldn’t hold back. However, from the kitchen he observed a great deal of what was going on. From that day on, he never left the group, and in the course of a year, was baptized, had his First Communion, was confirmed, and celebrated his marriage in a church ceremony.

Returning from the Retreat
Lello is a factory worker, and being with the Mater Dei friends daily has helped him stop drinking. At the Fraternity Exercises he didn’t know how to act or what to do, so Cesare told him, “Take this piece of paper and write whatever strikes you.” At the Saturday evening gathering in the hotel, and after a lot of prodding by Lello, he showed what he had written, just one line: “It doesn’t matter what sins you’ve committed, because Christ forgives you and you can always begin again.” When he returned home to Naples, Lello embraced his wife Monica, and with a voice full of emotion, told her, “You know that I have an ‘I,’ and you also have an ‘I’?” How many times has Fr. Giussani repeated that Andrew understood who Jesus was for him when he returned home to his wife and embraced her as never before? Nothing exceptional, say the Mater Dei friends. “What happened to the Apostles can just as easily happen on a Neapolitan side street. Fr. Giussani’s charism is for everyone. Why should Naples be any different?”