Visit to the parish of the Immaculate Conception (Tor Sapienza) 3-7-1982
St. John Paul II
Rome. March 7, 1982
Presentation of the communities by the parish priest Don Ricardo:
“Holy Father: here you see a marvel that the Lord has done in our parish. Yesterday, while we were eating with you, Your Holiness, I talked to you about this, you know the story: 10 years ago this parish was truly destroyed. The Lord has brought a way here. In this Way, there are now six communities and these are the brothers. They are truly within my heart because they first converted me (they have converted me, right Giuseppe? – It was hard! Hard, very hard! And even now). And so the first year, in ’72, the first community was born (stand up, the first community) and then every year a community. These, Holy Father, since last year go house to house announcing Jesus Christ and bringing peace. There is a knock on the door, they present themselves in the name of the parish priest and they announce Eternal Life, because people do not believe in Eternal Life; and they announce the forgiveness of sins, because people, unfortunately, do not believe that God forgives sins, but think that God is unjust, that he punishes. Well, these are the brothers of the community and among them there are many catechists of confirmation and of first communion, and they also do the preparation of marriages that are going to baptize their children, going to their houses.
Then, immediately after, the second community was born two years later. They are at the moment of the Way in which they will shortly begin to pray the Divine Office, they will also begin to pray the lauds every morning; they are at that moment in the Way. Among them are many Confirmation catechists, and some for First Communion. They have many children and we hope that among them will emerge a priest who will continue the mission of Jesus Christ, as a priest does, as sign of Christ, head of the Church. Then the third community was born a few years later. They are now at a point in the Way, making a scrutiny where the Lord will grant them the grace to give a concrete sign of completely abandoning themselves to God, and not anymore to the money and goods of this world. Also here are some who give catechesis in the parish, in the sacramental catechesis. The fourth community was born last year from the union of two communities, because they were very few, and now the two are joined. Also here are some who give catechesis. And this year we have had the gift of giving catechesis and 90 people have come every night, that is, twice a week for two months.
Then they had a convivence and two communities were born because they were many, 80 people. So, we had to divide them into two communities: the 5th “alpha” and the 5th “omega”. Among these, Holy Father, more than half were completely removed from the Church. Many, in addition to being involved in politics, some were Marxists. Well, the Lord has granted them the grace, through this path, to rediscover the Church, to see how only Jesus Christ can truly proclaim to us the good. The world announces to us all kinds of goods, all kinds of advantages; but only Jesus Christ can give us Eternal Life. I would like him, now, briefly, our catechist, who brought the first announcement 10 years ago and is now married and has been itinerant in England and in the United States, who will give his experience, and then the head of all the communities will give it, which is César, who has 3 children.”
Giuseppe Gennarini, itinerant catechist, then rose: “Holy Father, I just wanted to say two words. I am happy for this visit. I came here to catechise the first community 9 years ago. But the ways of the Lord are truly incredible because I was thinking, Father, that before I made this way 15 years ago, I was a Marxist, I had distanced myself from the Church. I studied Hegel, Marx on whom I had written a thesis, and came to this same place, here to Tor Sapienza – near here there is a factory, the Voxon, where there are many workers – I came to preach violence, I came to invite people to rebel against injustice and to fight. And I have seen the mercy of the Lord that has rescued me from how lost I was; who knows where I would have ended. He has made me find a way in my parish (which is that of San Luis Gonzaga), He has made me start a way with some brothers and He has made me return to the Church, He has made me rediscover the Church. I did not understand what were the bishops, the Pope, they were distant realities to me: I even felt hostility because I had all these ideas about the world. Through this way, the Lord has given me back the Church, has led me to love my parish priest, to have a feeling of gratitude towards him for having allowed this way in my parish, which has rescued me from this terrible loss in which I found myself. It has led me to love the Church, the bishops, the Pope; to feel that all the Church is my mother who is leading me to Life. And it has made me find Jesus Christ. It has also made me, Holy Father, discover the liturgy. It has made me discover how truly the Church is like a mother who nourishes me with a Bread that is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.”
Then César, head of the First Neocatechumenal Community of the parish, gets up to speak: “Holy Father, my name is César, I am married and I have 3 children. I have a lot fear … I too, Father, if I had not found about 10 years ago this way, I don’t know what I would be doing now. I also come from Marxism, militarized by the extreme left in the ideology’s movement, I did sociology because I thought that in this generation, justice was lacking. In entering this Way, I have discovered the true justice, which is the forgiveness of sins. I have discovered in this Church, which I had always judged, life, and I see that the Lord is making me discover life together with these brothers, not as something for me but so that this life is announced to this generation that is suffering, Father. Going to the houses, with my brothers, we see that this humanity has no hope and the only hope can come from proclamation of the Gospel, can come by seeing a seed of life. We see how in this parish the Lord is blessing us, how there are many people arriving from far away, people destroyed by drugs, people who no longer had hope, marriages destroyed.”
Address of the Holy Father:
I think first of all, something must be said about your parish priest. I think that the parish priest. like any other priest, should always be one of us. And your priest is this; he is not the only one, but I see him so more than others, here too in this environment he is one of us. And there is another thing: to say that a parish priest is in love may seem like a contradiction. But I tell you that he must be in love and I see that he is in Love, in love with all the group, but perhaps a bit ‘more’ with your group. This could have led to favoritism. but it has not. I see this because it is fairly clear, and it seems to me that through your community, he has fallen in love with the whole of his parish. And the parish is larger than your community but that’s the way Jesus arranged things. He spoke to us of leaven: the dough and the leaven, and the leaven is always a part, something small, and the mass is the mass – but it needs leaven.
I think that the parish priest and his collaborators have found a leaven in your community, which I have also seen in other groups, but perhaps in your group in a special way. He has “walked in this Way” as you say in your language – I already know you a little from meeting you in several parishes in Rome and not always in parishes, but mostly in parishes. I think that your community in this parish is very well organized. It is growing together with the parish priest and together with the parish. As he said, ten or fifteen years ago he saw the difficulties of this parish, what there was and what was missing and together with you took on the appropriate apostolic commitments.
What is most significant, particularly in your communities in general, and in your community here, could be said in two words. One fundamental word which always comes up when listening to someone in the Neocatechumenal Way, is the word discovery. Discovery is always something great. If you make some scientific discovery, if you discover a new continent, like Christopher Columbus did, then what a discovery that is. But without a doubt, all discoveries of a physical nature cannot be compared to those of a spiritual nature. For you, ‘discovery’ is the word which sums up each one of you and your community. It is the discovery of the reality of baptism, which is a wonderful reality, an amazing reality. Even in theological terms, if we listen to what St Paul says in his letters, it is an amazing reality. If we then take it existentially, as a way of being, the rediscovery of baptism is even more wonderful, more astonishing than baptism in general. It is a sacrament of the Church, yes, but I mean my baptism, my reality, the gift given by the Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ to me in person, the source of new life, divine life in me. We ought to speak at length about this, and look at the texts of St Paul word by word and apply them to existential reality.
Let us return to ‘discovery’. This discovery is all the more profound when it comes, as an affirmation, after a situation of contradiction, of negation. It could be said that the preceding negation makes the affirmation that follows it stronger and deeper. As there are ex-Marxists here, we might be inclined to think of dialectics, of Hegelism in fact. the yes and the no, the no and the yes. But this is now transcended, we pass from no to yes, and this ‘yes’ is much more dynamic.
We have a splendid example, an example, let’s say, of the first order: it is Paul who has discovered Christ, who has discovered, we can say, his Baptism. ‘He has discovered Christ’ means he has discovered his Baptism. He discovered it after being a persecutor, a anti-Christ we can say. If not an anti-Christ, an anti-Christian since Jesus says to Paul: ‘Why are you persecuting me? Not to my brothers, to my faithful but to me.’ So the first thing, discovery, is a gift from God, it is a grace, it cannot be explained otherwise. And then discovering your faith, your Christianity, your ‘Christian being’ at this point of departure, one begins to see all the other elements: a new life, a new vision of life, all the elements of life are presented differently. It is a new world, because it is so. We have today contemplated in the liturgy the Transfiguration: a new world. Well, I did not want to be… I have to be rather concise, so this ‘discovery’ is enough.
There is also another word which is heard more and more often in contacts with Neocatechumenal groups. It is the word ‘itinerant’. Iter means way or journey, as we know well, but here it means an apostolic way, and the itinerants are those who set off on a journey, begin a way to take their discovery to others.
We find ourselves once again in the footsteps of the Apostles, of Christians, of all Christians, of every generation. Christianity – the Gospel – is not a theoretical method which can be transmitted as something abstract or something that can be deduced. Not at all. It is an existential system: you must be a Christian by conviction. A Christian who has discovered the value of his being Christian, of his faith, of his divine sonship, of his likeness to Christ, has finally discovered the reality of Christ in him, he has discovered his Baptism. Then such a man is able to transmit, not only is he able, but he is driven, he is driven; he cannot remain silent, but he has to walk, he must walk, it is, we could say, a natural motion. There is a propulsion which is found within, and the movement follows, it is propelled. That is enough, no more. It’s enough or we would go on too long. May you continue in this way in this parish well organized, well organized in the life of this parish. May you remain leaven, because it seems to me that this word – we are speaking of the way you are organized in the parish – is the most important: be leaven. The mass of dough is great, twenty thousand parishioners. I think that nearly all of them are baptized – so there are many baptisms to be discovered. Therefore be leaven, continue to be leaven.
Enough. A blessing and then you can go home. Sing another song. For you, to sing means to pray. We can sing the Our Father together once, because the Pope knows it too.