Enrique Arroyo, Director of the Colegio J.H. Newman in Madrid

Madrid: "My adventure with Newman”

The encounter with the movement at age 17. The "yes" to Christ, the choice to teach and the birth of a school that today welcomes more than 1,500 students. Enrique Arroyo's testimony at the European Diaconia.
Enrique Arroyo Orueta

I was always struck by Fr. Giussani’s affection for Christ and the clarity he had about life being a vocation. He said that no man has ever spoken words so full of esteem for others, for the destiny of others, as when Jesus of Nazareth said, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

This became clear to me when I was 17 years old. I had met Carras (Jesús Carrascosa, one of the first to experience the movement in Spain) at school and he had become a friend and a reference point for me. So a year later I took my parents to meet him. My father was in a moment of great crisis. Coming out of the meeting, I asked him what he thought. "I am envious." At that moment I looked at Carras in his house – which was more or less a shed –and his certainty of the meaning of life, and my father who, although he had many important things in life, did not have what is most fundamental: meaning. I thought, "I do not want to give my life to something that can end."

Full of gratitude for my encounter with the movement, over the years I joined the Memores Domini and devoted myself to teaching. The educational challenge was and is great: that each person may discover that they are in the world for a good destiny. I started working with a great ideal momentum, but it was short-lived. After two years, great difficulties arose in my relationship with some colleagues. I was suffering because I could clearly see my own limitations and, at the same time, I was struggling with the disappointment of my own expectations and the freedom of others.

At that time of difficulty, the Lord became present in two facts. I went to talk to a friend, Carlo Wolfsgruber, telling him that maybe it was time to change schools. He answered me in a way I will never forget, "Maybe it is not time, first you have to see that Christ wins. Christ conquers the world if he first conquers us."

Also at that time, when I was involved in many things – even with responsibilities in GS and in the movement ¬– I had the opportunity to talk to Fr. Giussani and to tell him about the great disproportion I felt, between my strength and all that I had to face. I also said to him that it was better that I give up some things. But he replied, "Do not give up anything. Thank God for the disproportion you feel, love the disproportion, love the things in which you feel more disproportion. That way you can experience that it is not you who makes things, but that it is Christ – who won – who builds through you."

At that moment I realized that if happiness depended on changing circumstances, life would become a perhaps noble, but stifling and sad endeavor. I decided to stay in that school, to see if indeed Christ wins. Thus I was able to experience that, assured of His strength, we can look at our small attempts with hope, because the Lord works through us. Even today, after so many years of teaching, I cannot get rid of a deep and beautiful pain. It is not a despairing pain, but the pain of those who, looking at the other, long for their lives to be full. It is the pain of one who perceives the disproportion in the face of this infinite task, because they realize that it is not in their hands to accomplish it. This is the drama and beauty of education. The knowledge that I am Christ's caress for the world, and that He calls me there, has allowed me over time to love the freedom of others: pupils, families, teachers, friends.

All this is deeply related to the birth of Colegio Internacional J.H. Newman because my involvement in its construction, which began in 1998, is not separate from the awareness that life is vocation. That is why in 2004-2005 I made the decision to work part-time at the school where I was in order to devote time to the Newman project. Aware that if what we have in our hands, no matter how great it may be, is not a step toward fulfilling our destiny then it can be a tomb. The work coincides with the vocation, the work is the self-awareness of being called. This alone gives dignity and historical value to what we do.

I realized that I had to get involved with this school for many reasons: the importance of an educational work; the possibility of not being alone; the beauty of starting a project that can have enormous relevance for young people and their families; the history of friendship with those who were at the origin of the school (Juan Ramon, Javier, Marta, Kiko and others); the support of Cardinal Rouco Varela, who from the beginning considered it a contribution to the Church of Madrid... However, none of these reasons, while real, would have been sufficient to sustain me during these almost two decades of adventure.

The history of the school clearly shows that at all times we have had to trust in the Lord, because nothing was in our hands. Let me give a few examples. In 1999 we delivered an application for the transfer of a piece of land we had identified to the City Planning Office of the City of Madrid an application to transfer a piece of land we had identified. We did not receive a response for months. We decided that if we succeeded, the school would be named J.H. Newman (whose bicentennial it was in 2001). At that time, the media and some sectors of the left began to make our project a flag to fight against, because we were trying to build a non-state, Catholic educational initiative on public land, as if only what is owned by the state is public. In spite of everything, on February 21, 2002, the Madrid municipality approved the free transfer of the land to the school for 75 years. That date coincides with Newman's anniversary. Because of some coincidences, for us a sign of the closeness of the Mystery. We prayed made a novena to Newman for the land.

More obstacles soon came our way, as we were asked for a guarantee of several million euros for the land deed, something we had never seen before. We thought of stopping everything but Cardinal Rouco supported us by making it clear that the Church needed such an experience. We got back to work, with confidence. After a short time the request for the guarantee was withdrawn. However, we lacked the necessary funding to get going. On February 11, 2005, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the day of the recognition of the Fraternity of CL, the Bank's Board of Directors approved a mortgage loan of an amount sufficient to cover the first phase of the work. Thus, in September of that year, 25 teachers and 450 students began classes. Today the school has nearly 1,500 pupils, from kindergarten to high school.

Economic and political problems have alternated over time, and I have often experienced a certain aridity because I have had to take away hours from teaching, which for me remains the most beautiful thing. But the path undertaken so far has taught me that it is a mistake not to love and expect anything from what is most arid at work or in other circumstances. They are part of life. When one lives everything as an offering of oneself, things come together. When you live for a project and that is it, you are continually torn and unsatisfied. Living to participate in Christ's work is corresponding, even if it involves restlessness and sacrifice, because His measure is never our measure. If we accept this, even if the circumstances are not as we would like, then we see that what happens is always greater than we can imagine. I am not afraid to say that over the years we have seen miracles.

Our presence affects the world, families, those who work with us. One of our teachers, who is not part of the movement, once said to me, "The reasons you give for working, the starting point you propose for looking at the students is determining the way I too look at my family and my son."

None of this would have been possible without unity with Juan Ramón, the school's dean, and the many friends involved in Newman. In fact, this unity is at the origin of everything and is also a miracle. Juan Ramón and I could not be more different. Unity is not born from the work we do together, it is not born from sharing a project. If it were so, coexistence would be a smoothing out of differences, a knowing how to adapt to each other.

Read also - "The possible embrace"

Unity is born from the awareness that the other is, first of all, someone who is given to you. Their humanity, their human experience, what the Lord allows to happen as a result of daily work, is the possibility for me to know Christ. This has meant that no difficulty, difference in criteria or discussion – and there have been a few – has been an occasion for division. On the contrary, it has been a chance to deepen what unites us and, therefore, why we work together. This has always allowed us to begin again, to listen to each other, to obey each other and to forgive each other. Mysteriously, this friendship is at the heart of the school and challenges everyone. Giussani said that "the real new subject that changes the world -- according to the rhythms that the Father establishes – is my relationship of communion with others. It is not your companionship that must change, but it is you who must be with the people the Father gives you."