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Is this Spectacle Enough for You?

Small, often very young CL communities scattered around Australia and New Zealand – in Ashburton, Perth, Melbourne, and Sidney–tell us about their unexpected visit by Fr. Julián Carrón. A journey of pure friendship, with no official program...
Paola Bergamini

At the end of January, John Kinder and Fr. John O’- Connor received this email: “Julián would like to come to Australia and New Zealand in April, for a week, for Easter, to see you. Is it okay with you? If so, please get in touch directly with him.” Fr. John from New Zealand replies immediately: “Wonderful news, Raffaella!” The news seems almost like a miracle to him. There are so many important places with an impressive CL Movement presence.... yet that dear friend decided to travel to the other end of the world to visit them, a community made up of merely five people. Matthew andLucia live with their three children in Ashburton, A while several hundred miles away are Martin and Alison from Ireland, who have been here a year. And finally there is Fr. John, constantly traveling to the churches of the vast parish in North Canterbury that the bishop assigned to him.

Fr. John calls Matthew: “Fr. Carrón is coming to see us for three days. Maybe it would be worth organizing a public meeting to present the Movement. What do you think?”“We have never held one.There has never been the need for one.He is coming to live with us, to accompany us.” In Perth, Australia, Kinder and his friends start to plan the agenda for the journey.

Carrón can only stay for a few days. Which cities should he visit? Is this the best time? There are so many decisions to make. Nothing is taken for granted, nothing is formal. In the end, what prevails over everything is the desire to simply stay together, to show him that seed, which is still small but well established in the life of a few Australian cities: about 40 people in Perth, a small group in Melbourne, some friends in Newcastle, in Sydney.... Small communities, often very young, but within them is the only thing that makes life worth living: the encounter with Jesus.

Everybody awaits that friend, that companion, who is coming for just one reason, as Carrón said before leaving: “A friend feels the need to go and visit his friends, in order to share. Everything becomes more carnal.”

New Zealand
Tuesday, April 12th . Lucia is on her doorstep, looking at the sky: clouds are closing in; it is almost autumn. She has lived in Ashburton with her husband Matthew since 2009. This town of twenty thousand inhabitants is a necessary point of transit for those traveling to the south of the island. She is Italian, he is a New Zealander. They met in 2001 when Lucia accompanied her parents almost by chance on their trip to New Zealand. Through John Kinder, she got to know Matthew, who had very recently met the Movement. After that, it was a whirlwind of events: friendship turned into affection; Matthew’s decision to go to Dublin for work in order to be close to Lucia; the friendship with Margaret and Mauro Biondi and all the other friends of the Irish community; the wedding in 2003... and finally, the return to Ashburton.

For Lucia, who had always lived on the fringes of the Movement, this experience was now becoming ever more alive and was bouncing her from one side of the world to the other.

Her neighbor Fiona awoke her from her thoughts, asking, “Lucia, when are your friends coming?” A close friendship has developed with Fiona in these years. Fiona is not Catholic, but it does not matter. “Soon, I think. Are you coming to meet them this evening?” “Certainly, after dinner. Here they are.” The car is carrying Fr. Carrón with Margaret, and Mauro, their friends from Dublin, who were in the area for work and decided to accompany Carrón. A long embrace begins their visit. It starts to rain, and it will continue raining for the entire three days, upsetting all their plans. Joining the dinner with Fr. John are also Martin, Alison, Clara (from Italy but recently moved to Christchurch for work),a young seminarian from Vietnam, and the parish priest. They talk about everything; they talk about their lives. Carrón listens and asks questions. Fr. John watches and only one thought crosses his mind: “This is friendship in Christ–it encompasses everything.”

Fiona arrives and tells her story to Mauro: fleeing from Zimbabwe 10 years earlier, the death of her husband, her four children to bring up... and the encounter with Lucia.The parish priest leaves and thanks Matthew for the evening with real gratitude.“And to think that he has always been quite skeptical about the Movement–he thought that our spirituality was a bit strange,” says Lucia.

The following day entails a trip to where The Lord of the Rings was shot. These are beautiful places, if it wasn’t for the incessant rain. Fog envelops the hills and a nearly retreat is necessary. Carrón follows them, chats, and looks, especially at the friendship between Martin, Matthew, and Fr. John. He says to them, “You have all that is necessary to live.” While they are walking, Matthew tells him about his former employer: “Three years ago, when I told him I was setting up my own business, I thought he would get upset, as he is quite irascible. Instead, he asked me if I could recommend some books on faith, ‘because yours is clear to see.’ And I had never spoken to him about the Movement.”

They meet everybody: the last day they attend the Mass of the Lord’s Supper together. Then they take a coffee at the pub where Matthew and Fr.John meet for School of Community, a place half way along the road between their two homes.“WithMartin, instead, we do a three-way Skype connection!” Carrón laughs. Finally, before flying to Australia, they journey to Christchurch to meet the bishop. “It was a one-hour trip in silence. This is possible only among friends, when there is something greater among them,” relates Fr. John. Watching the car drive away,Lucia says to Matthew, “Do you know what Carrón said to me yesterday? ‘I came for you.’ Period.”

Francesco with two Australian friends is waiting for them at the airport. Francesco is a mechanical engineer who came to Melbourne on a three year research project. He met Margaret, got married, and never left. “I was happy in Italy. I just followed the signs that the Lord put in front of me: first a job and then a wife.” These were signs like Carrón’s unexpected–but desired–visit.When he heard the news from John Kinder, Francesco contacted friends in other cities. At first they were a bit worried: he’s only coming for one day, what shall we do? They decided to meet all together, including their children, in Melbourne.

They get to Francesco’s house by late evening in time for a coffee, a slice of cake, and a bit of chatting, for being together.

The following day, they have an appointment at the Seabrook Community Center with the friends of the CL communities from Melbourne, Newcastle, Adelaide, and Sydney. Some of these communities are made up of as few as two people, mostly young foreign couples, many of them in Australia just for a temporary work period.

Carrón talks to all those present in the big hall. He asks questions and jokes. At around 10:00 am, they say Morning Prayer, then the children go out to play. Fr.Julián tells them about himself, about the Beginning Day, about the Fraternity Exercises. After coffee break, it’s time for witnesses and recounting of personal experiences. “Without the path of the personalization of faith that you are helping us to travel, I would not be able to live Christianity”–in Australia as in Italy, in a community of two people or a hundred. Carrón is moved by listening to the testimonies and by looking at each and every face. “The Movement generates people who know how to stand on their own two feet. There is a seed here, young and sometimes temporary, and the fruit will be seen.”

They have lunch all together, young and old. Fr. Julián, with his fork in hand, stops and asks everyone, “So, what do you do?” He never tires. A friend is always eager to know everything. And then comes the surprise: a man enters the hall with his “portable” zoo. Out come an opossum, an iguana, an owl, and even a koala.The children cheer, and everybody poses for pictures, including Carrón. There is time for a short assembly and then, at dusk, while a small group accompanies Julián on a walk along the river, the others set up a potluck dinner before Mass. Everybody has brought something, and it’s a feast. At the end, a gift is presented: a crucifix with aboriginal paintings. After dinner, there are songs, but Carrón retires to bed. Among friends one can have the freedom and humility to say: “I’m sorry; I can’t do it–I’m too jet-lagged.”

Easter Sunday. On the way home, John asks Carrón if he is happy with the plan for those three days. He sees him smile. “Is there something wrong?”, John asks. “I’m here for you all; I trust you. John, follow what is here.” It is a liberation, because all you have to do is... That day they have Mass with the friends of the community and then an Australian Easter dinner: lamb with mint sauce.

Monday 7:30 am. Morning Prayer at King’s Park, watching the newly risen sun. This is a great spectacle. Everybody is there–families and young people, mainly students whom John meets in the university where he teaches.“They are here for that hunger for meaning that they feel,” he says. They enjoy breakfast in the open air. Anna approaches Carrón,. “Hello, are you the one from the video?” Julián laughs and they start to talk. All possible formality dissolves.

The breakfast is followed by an assembly in the parish hall of St. Thomas the Apostle, Claremont. Two hours of non-stop questions. “How can we not stop at simply the human friendship?” Carrón answers, “It’s like with the beauty that surrounds you, like the sun from this morning. Is it enough? If it doesn’t recall you to something else, to the love of Jesus, you feel empty inside. Of course, in such ‘perfect’ conditions as these, you don’t miss anything, but your desire can get misty. What is it worth living for?” Steve thinks,“He has come to reawaken our thirst, not to quench it.”

Lunch is in the same room and then all go to look for kangaroos. At 6:00 pm, a walk on the beach, fish and chips for dinner, and then to Trish’s house to sing Australian and CL Movement songs.Ash looks at his friends and at this new friend: “Here is our heart.”

At the assembly, the day after, a seemingly provocative question is asked: “Why do we always read the same texts? Wouldn’t it be better to open our horizons?”A murmuring could be heard in the room.

Carrón thanks his interlocutor: “This is a fundamental point. I can only start from my experience. I understood the value of my studies when I met Fr. Giussani. This implies a total openness. There is a starting point. We are on the same road.” While they drink coffee on the riverside, John approaches Carrón: “We have booked a Vietnamese restaurant. We need to leave shortly.” Julián looks around: “This place is so beautiful. Why don’t we stay here to eat? If it’s possible.” And he carries on talking to some students. You follow what happens.... Lunch is ready soon after, then a final visit to the cathedral before departure. John talks about these days to his wife Silvia, at home: “These were days absolutely normal.We expected this or that, and instead we encountered a friend. And that’s what Mauro and Margaret were, too: discreet friends. A pure friendship, full of the presence of Christ.”