There is a hidden Church. It is made up of young people committing for a better world; of believers that live the Gospel; of people who simply try to lend an hand to their neighbour. It is hidden only because big medias focus on gossips, power struggles and (true or false) plots and scandals. In fact, this hidden Church is the real Church, even if it is not much higlighted in the medias. Here follow a reportage about one piece of this hidden Church. It shows up that there are young people aiming at a United World. And it shows up that there is still a hope for a Church that – sometimes – is not 200 hundred years out of date, as the late card. Martini said in his last interview.

GenFest 2012

«Look on high, set your gazes far ». This is what Maria Voce, president of the Focolari Movement, tells the 12 thousand youngsters coming from about a hundred countries who gathered in Budapest for the GenFest. GenFest is the meeting of the “young” of the Focolari Movement, and it took place for the first time about 40 years ago. The last GenFest took place in 2000. But when Youth for a United World gather, time seems not to have passed by. They are committed to make it a fruitful experience. «Let’s Bridge!» is the motto of the Budapest GenFest, and the motto fits perfectly the geography of the Hungarian capital, made up of bridges linking different parts of the city. They launched the «United World Project», which is a «world pact for fraternity» which creates «a fraternity network», supported by a «permanent observatory of fraternity», to personally engage those joining.

An initiative which fully responds to the Pope´s message to GenFest. Benedict XVI encouraged the participants to «shape unity and peace to the city of man, making it in some ways a prefiguring anticipation of a city with no barriers to God.» GenFest anticipated and inspired the World Youth Days. During the 70s, Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolarini movement, thought of a festival to celebrate the birth of Gen (Generazione Nuova, New Generation). The first GenFest took place in Loppiano in 1973 and – given the success of the initiative – it was replicated in Rome in 1975. Pope Paul VI took part in the 1975 GenFest, and mentioned: «A new world is born.» Since then, nine GenFest events have taken place.  After a 12 year gap, the 2012 Hungarian event continues this tradition.

A page of the history of Christianity

In Budapest, Tarlòs Istrvàn, major of Budapest, addressed the 12 thousand young people assembly and said:  «Here you are writing a page of the history of Christianity.» And Maria Voce underlined:: «Travelling around the world, I met young people of yesterday and today; I have seen the transformation of social conditions in which they live; I have seen the breaking down of so many securities; I have seen the sufferings of those who could not find work, of not being able  to have more moments and places of  encounter if not the empty noise of the clubs and bars or the maddening sound of motor racing. I saw a generation grow with fear, a fear of being  deceived and disappointed, a fear of giving something of oneself and to remain empty-handed; fear of finding oneself alone though in the midst of a crowd.  But I have also met many young people, including many of you, who  despite everything, know that in order to build a more united world, changes are  needed, primarily personal ones, and therefore radical choices. And they make them.  And this is the generation that I now have in my heart and I would like to
help them raise their eyes upwards.   Yes, I tell all of you: look up. Look afar, it is there that you will find a sure hold. Look at love who is God. He is the only one who will not disappoint you.  And  do not be afraid! Be yourselves and enter personally in society, putting at the disposal of everyone your personality, expertise and talents. Your contribution is unique, unrepeatable, and different from that of the adults.».

Marching to the Chain Bridge

Maybe the most evocative moment of the last GenFest was the 7 kilometers march through the streets of Budapest, in the evening of Saturday, September the 1st. All headed to Meta, i.e. the Chains Bridges, symbol of the unity between the two parts of the Hungarian capital: Buda (hill) and Pest (plain). The 12 thousand participants took almost three hours to get to the bridge. They come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba, Congo, Sweden, Argentina… There are not young people from Syria since they could not get visas, given what is going on there. During the GenFest days, they all put on the table what they do to experience fraternity in their countries.

Michele Zanzucchi, director of Città Nuova – the Italian bi-monthly magazine of the Focalare Movement – wrote in his coverage that so many things were left unsaid.  «For example – he writes – young people from Yogyakarta, Indonesia told some anecdotes about their trip preparations for the Hungarian event. They did not mention, for example, what they did in Bantul, epicenter of the 2006 devastating earthquake: they built social centers with the Muslims of 42 rural villages, and now they are committed in a vast program to teach  English to children. Another example: young Egyptians tell about a wall they painted together with the inhabitants of a city neighborhood, so that life in this neighborhood would be more pleasant. They cannot tell stories about their participation in the Tahrir Square demonstrations, about their social networking, about their “being revolutionary”».

And finally, young people get to the Chains Bridges.  Above, the castle, symbol of Budapest. To the side, Parliament. Each delegation is greeted through music speakers. Then, everybody stops. And then – «Go», the speakers loudly proclaim, and the crowd mobilizes: they exchange colored scarves, on which everyone wrote a sentence, his name, a request. Everyone lives this exchange as a gift.

From young people, a United World

Everybody is conscious that a united world can rise thanks to the effort of the youth. It is also the topic of the last Papal Message for the World Day of Peace, entitled «Educating young people to justice and peace». Also Chiara Lubich said it in a memorable speech at the 1990 GenFest, where John Paul II was a special guest. Chiara Lubich remembered the young people in Tienanmen Square, the young people at the forefront of demonstrations and political commitment that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the young people of the Prague, Budapest and Bucharest Springs, the young Poles that joined the Catholic Union Solidarnosc – and maybe today Chiara Lubich would speak about the young people in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and the young people at the forefront of the continuing demonstrations in European capitals, or even of the “angels of mud” of Genoa. Chiara Lubich finally underlined – and her words are still valid today: «It is not true that young people today are just going on privately and are generally hardly interested in the big problems of humanity».

Yes, it is not true. Proof of it is that GenFest did not finish in Budapest. 1,700 of the young people that gathered in Budapest then went to Castel Gandolfo, to meet for a sort of workshop of fraternity. They came from 41 non-European countries, and they were all very enthusiastic. They are young, professionals, full of ideals, and they all agree: «GenFest starts now.»

GenFest goes back to Lebanon

She says to be «very excited» for Benedict XVI’s visit to Lebanon. Lara, 24 years old, is convinced that «a united world is possible» and has the will to make it happen. «Us, Gen in Lebanon –she says – are engaged in many activities for a United World. One of these activities is trash recycling. In Lebanon, people are not very much aware of the importance of recycling trash. So we are committed to teaching people to recycle and to keep the environment clean. It is also a sign for young people. We must wake up, and try to solve problems.» Lara and his Gen friends also «try to reach marginalized people. We assist a group of children who live in a shelter. It is a fantastic experience. There are about 50 children, and they come from Syria, Pakistan, Africa. They had to leave the places where they were born, so we take care of them.»

Joe was another of the 106 Lebanese Gen in Budapest. Joe is self-assured and knows he can achieve anything he sets his mind to. «Our project is to promote a Youth Community of Dialogue. We work together, Christians and Muslims, we make practical activities, like trash recycling. Every year we organize a big dinner in the evening in the month of Ramadan and we organize several social activities.»  In Lebanon, he will welcome the Pope, bringing with him a bit of the Budapest spirit. «Looking at the GenFest – he says – it is fair to say that we have a different goal: we can be one. The people responded warmly: we were 105 from Lebanon. Not a big number, one could say. But it is a big number in a country like ours. It is a remarkable result. Now we have to spread this teaching of unity, and we are ready to engage in many initiatives. We want the ideal of a United World to be known in every part of the world.»

A new Generation for a United World

Gen stands for New Generation (GEnerazione Nuova). Gen is the youth branch of the Focolari Movement. In 1967, Chiara Lubich makes an appeal to young people and young boys and girls who are part of the Focolari Movement: «Youth from all over the world, unite!» She asks to gather the greatest number of youth possible, from all over the world, and «to launch an awesome revolution, to the cry of: Unite! A love revolution.» The Gen movement is born by the adhesion of thousands of young people from all over the world.

GenFest goes back to Brazil

Let’s jump a continent, and go to Brazil. There, preparations for the 2013 World Youth day are actively underway.  In the meantime, the WYD cross is touring Brazil. «There is an I-Phone app – Leandro, 30 years old, geologist, from Rio de Janeiro, says – and so one can see the WYD cross path.»  Leando is part of the cultural committee for the WYD preparation. He is convinced that «the visit will be good for the Pope,»  he talks of the enthusiasm of people that take part of the events around the WYD cross, he explains that, yes, there is a lot of talk about an «evangelical rise» in Brazil, but «from the inside, we who live everyday Christianity don’t feel this rise so much.» Rio’s Gens are engaged in many activities. On Saturday, they go to the shore to «become one with people and show by example that a different way of living is possible.» They also work in favelas.

During World Youth Day, three events will be managed by Gen. «We – Leandro says – will organize three adorations in a Church, and we are preparing an expo in Urca, a Rio neighborhood. Then, there will also be community moments, and there the Chiara Lubich ideal will be presented».

Leandro took part of GenFest together with 110 Brazilians. «In Budapest – he says – I become aware that unity is possible. I saw it. It is as if I do not speak alone. Everything I say is answered and repeated by many people from many diverse places. It is as if I had several nationalities. I am sure that there is a brother of mine living in the other part of the world and nurturing my same ideal.» This ideal is very strong during the United World Week. «We organize it also in Rio,» Leandro says.

United World Week

The idea of the United World Week is launched at the end of the 1995 GenFest. One week a year is dedicated to create relations of pacific cohabitation, a mentality of reciprocity among different people and culture, respecting the dignity of each human being and the identity of every community or people. The United World Week takes place concurrently in several places in all the continents: from the Philippines to the USA, from Russia to South Africa, from the Middle East and other “hot” places in earth.

The apex of the week is a world phone conference that connects the over 70 participant countries. It is a planetary conference call to tell each other the common actions that are organized in each country.

GenFest goes back to Burma

In making a world unite, even simple actions help. Thomas is 24 and he comes from Burma. «In Burma – he recounts – there are just a few Gens, but we are very united with the Popis (the leaders of Gen Unity), we carry out some activities with orphans and blind children. When we Gen are together, it is easy to understand one another, but when we are in school, it is more difficult. My school mates are almost all Buddhist, we do not speak so much about the Christian faith.» Jerome, 18, also comes from Yangoon. After the experiences in Budapest and Castel Gandolfo, he spent a year in Loppiano. He recounts: «My father is Buddhist, my mother is Catholic, and my choice was to be a Christian. In the beginning, I felt a sense of unease. Then, I deeply lived the ideal of loving first and every sense of unease disappeared.»

GenFest goes back to Philippines

Nikko, 24 years old, comes from Manila, the Philippines. He came with 125 young people, a remarkable amount of people, considering the distance and the expense of the trip. Philippines Gen did not give up and they were able – through several activities – to collect about 6 thousand euro, which they invested to go to Budapest for the GenFest. «From Budapest – Nikko says – I carry with me the outpour of many young people making a world unite. This reality is not foreign to me anymore. I liked what Maria Voce said, her appeal to be united and to dedicate ourselves to one another. It is very difficult to bear witness to our faith, but I think that it is sufficient to work seriously and be pleasant with people, smiling at them at the right moment. This is spreading the culture of humanity.» Nikkko also talks about the difficulties of keeping in touch among Gen in a country – the Philippines – made up of hundreds of islands.

GenFest goes all the way to Thailand and Malaysia

It is the same difficulty Wen experiences. Wen is 21, and comes from Thailand. «Our Gen unity – she says – is divided among 5 States: Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. In our countries, everything is very different, and we really need to stay in touch. We do many activities with poor people. The biggest problems are with languages: there are 5 different languages, but when we are together everything goes very well, we feel that there are too many differences, that we can live together.»

The GenFest´s motto was «Let’s bridge». And Mary, a young 27 year old Malaysian, feels this need very much. «Malaysia – she says – is made up of different cultures. There, Christians are a minority, and building bridges is a must. What I can say is that there are many people we can build bridges with. We are doing it, even if in fact we cannot do it in a very public way. We can go to Holy Mass, but it is more difficult to live our faith publicly. On the other hand, Gen lives when there is a Gospel to be lived.» True, it is difficult to live in a country with a majority of Muslims and Indus. It is also true that «GenFest – Mary maintains – lets me understand that it is really possible going on building bridges, and this really means to know the other, to become one with the other.» So, it was worthy to work hard and collect funds through several initiatives to let everybody who wanted to go to Budapest to take part of GenFest. «In my country – Mary says – I feel very small and insignificant, we are very a few. Seeing a huge number of people making all of this together feeds my desire to go on, not to fear, not to feel alone.»

GenFest goes back to India

Elaine, 25, had the same feelings. She comes from India, and she works for Bloomberg. «In Budapest – she says – we were aware of being in something larger than our thoughts. We took part of workshops, learned how to build bridges and how we can be with one another. We discovered that building bridges is our vocation of Gen». Elaine tells that «bridging began in India, where coming together is very difficult. In GenFest, we Indians performed a ballet in order to tell our reciprocal experiences.» It is not an easy situation. «Life – Elaine says – is very extreme in India. We went from poverty to richness, with no middle stage. We conducted some activities to prepare our GenFest. For example, we did some wall painting focused on bridging in neighborhoods where people of different cultures and races lived, so everyone passing by could see that there could be bridges.»

For Elaine, everything starts now.  «GenFest – she says – is not over. It was very meaningful; it let us realized that we are not alone. But now it is the time to go back and be always more united, to carry that spirit with us to our homelands. We are going to see now how to spread this idea of Unity through the World United Project.  In India, we have several projects, diverse experiences, we work through different cultures. We have to mix up.»

In the end, this is what Benedict XVI – «addressing the GenFest participants that took part in the General audience of September 5th – told them. The Pope asked them to promote the unity of the human family, building bridges courageously. May the simple joy, the pure love and the profound peace coming from the meeting with Jesus Christ be the sign of your joyful witness of the Good News to the young people of your countries.»

One Response to «Look on high, set your gazes far». The Church’s heart is young. And aims at a United World

  1. You could definitely see your expertise in the work you write.

    The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe.

    All the time follow your heart.

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