Paolo and Elena and their three children

Greece: "Our vocation is the world"

Paolo and Elena live in Athens. Charitable giving, dinners, meeting with other movements and associations up to the Spiritual Exercises. "To rediscover, in the gaze of the other, the beauty of our charism."
Maria Acqua Simi

Paolo and Elena arrived in Athens in 2019, after 11 years in Rotterdam. With them are their three children Roberto, Maria Chiara and Teresa. Their landing in the Greek capital was a natural continuation of a brilliant career as a naval engineer that led Paolo and his entire family to move. Both from the movement, of Ligurian origin, the couple, however, had to leave an established companionship of friends in the Netherlands, and small or large daily certainties that would have to be rebuilt in Greece. The capital is indeed huge, with five million inhabitants and "a fair amount of disorganization that we were not used to," says Elena. "The first thing we did was to ask the CL international secretary if there was anyone in Greece. They put us in touch with Rosaria and Nikola, who live in Larissa." They looked at the map: Larissa is 400 kilometers from the capital. But distance was not an objection.

"From the very beginning a familiarity was born between us, certainly originating from our common history, made up of many phone calls and meetings whenever possible, resulting in a friendship that still sustains us today. They, for example, suggested that we meet Fabiola and Filippo, a couple from the Pope John XXIII Association, which cares for single mothers, refugees and the homeless in Athens, thanks in part to the help of Support, AVSI's German partner."
Indeed, in the heart of the city Fabiola and Filippo have a family home and apartment, called "The Hut," where the poor and homeless come for a hot meal, a shower and a clean bed to sleep in. The best thing about these three and a half years in Athens is precisely the friendship born with these people. A friendship, Elena explains, that has also given her and her family a restored appreciation for the movement. Reminding her of this, in an unexpected way, are the very friends of Pope John's or those of the Heart Point Association with whom they find themselves working to help the homeless.

"One day we invited those living in Fabiola and Filippo's foster home to our house. They were about 15 people. They were amazed that we invited them all at all. For us it was a normal gesture. For them it was the first time. One maybe thinks that those who welcome have no need, but instead they too have a desire to be wanted. That evening was the beginning of a relationship that led us to follow them, to do charitable work with them and to propose it to our eldest son as well."

During their first Christmas in Athens Elena and Paolo were invited to a fundraising party for the homeless. The event was also attended by two volunteers from Punto Cuore, Aneis and Roki, who help the Sisters of Mother Teresa with after-school care for children and assistance to disadvantaged families in the capital's most difficult neighborhoods. "During the evening we were asked if my husband and I are also from the Pope John XXIII Association. I was a bit hesitant, but answered that we are from Communion and Liberation." A smile spread across their faces. They said they were very familiar with Fr. Giussani's texts, often meditating on his books and in particular on The Religious Sense.

"In their eyes I saw an enormous esteem for our history, which made me rediscover in a moment the essentiality and beauty of our charism," Elena tells us again. "They, too, soon became a permanent presence in our home. And when we asked what they needed for their work, we expected material requests. Instead, they just asked if they could come and spend some time with us every now and then to rest their hearts. Think of their freedom! Each person we have met since we have been here has truly been a gift. Each of us has been touched by One who has made the relationship between us so familiar. Because the other, even if from a different association or movement than ours, is always on the journey as we are."

Read also - Nicaragua: The sacrifice of freedom

But that is not all. Other relationships have been born in these three years. From friendship with the current Bishop of Athens (who in the past edited the translation of The Religious Sense into Greek) and with Fr. Rafi of the Armenian community, to friendship with friends from the Focolare house. "They follow elementary school children and teenagers. Again, we invited them for dinner. In fact, in us, there is a growing desire to build places of humanity wherever we are. For us, to invite to dinner is this: to share our home, food and thus Christ, who has done nothing but bring a fullness into our lives. And we receive so much in return. Human companionship, first and foremost. An example? There are no Knights or GS here, and today our youngest daughter, who is 10 years old, attends the focolarine group. She is an invaluable help for us."

In recent weeks, after a discussion with Rosaria and Claudio Bottini, they wanted to propose the CL Spiritual Exercises to all the people they have met over the years. "So we met in Fr. Rafi's small parish where we listened together to Fr. Lepori's Saturday morning lesson and discussed it in a brief assembly before Mass and dinner together. Everything that happened was beyond our imagination. At one point one of our focolarine friends said to us, 'Today I had the opportunity to go deeper into belonging to our charism, thank you.'"

Elena is certain of this. "We did nothing special. We were simply facing what already exists and is very much alive in various parts of this metropolis: the body of the Church. The Exercises and the life of these years, from Holland to Greece, reminded us that our vocation is openness to the world. And the faces of our friends from other movements and charisms testify to us that the Spirit blows in a way that is mysterious but beautiful to encounter: a free grace."