Photo: Raffaella Mazzeo

Why are we still here?

An invitation to take part in the Spiritual Exercises in the local parish hall, regular meetings on the book "The Religious Sense" by Luigi Giussani, and the discovery of something unknown that everyone was looking for
John Kinder

Raffaella lives with her husband and three children in a beachside suburb of Melbourne, looking out on the bay of Port Phillip towards the picturesque Mornington Peninsula. Her involvement in the local parish and school brought her in contact with many people and she longed for a way to give new friends a taste of the experience that motivated her own life of faith.

The weekend of the Spiritual Exercises seemed the perfect opportunity so, as well as members of the Melbourne community, Raffy invited new friends from her area. The format was simple and accessible. A Saturday and a Sunday in the local parish hall, the days spent together and everyone returning home in the evenings.

The invitation spoke to all, old friends and new: ‘Why are we still here? The search for what is true, beautiful, and good, and for happiness is never-ending. This is Christianity: not a kind of training for life, the adventure of life’.

Logistics? Raffy is modest: ‘Meals were shared together in the parish centre, friends from different backgrounds came together, we used recorded songs because we are not good enough to sing … a very basic organization’. But everything sorted itself out as the number of registrations increased in the week leading up to the event. ‘So many living and practical and concrete signs of Christ present amongst all of us.’

The weekend was presented by Fr John O’Connor, who flew in from Christchurch (New Zealand). It seemed incredible that he had flown all the way from Christchurch (New Zealand) just to be with this little group, but there he was.

Raffy’s new friends were fascinated by the material of the Exercises and even more by the new approach to life and faith they glimpsed through it. Fr John unpacked the ideas through ‘concrete, everyday life examples’. It was all so down to earth and close to home.

After the days together, Raffy suggested a regular meeting for people in her area, through personal invitations and a notice in the parish bulletin. They have been meeting every fortnight to read through The Religious Sense. Raffy loves this ‘diverse group of people from different backgrounds and age groups’. So many different personalities gathered together in friendship thanks to the most diverse encounters with Jesus.

This is a new experience for most people, almost impossible to define. Not always easy, either. The text is challenging, the conversations require patience and respect for other people’s approaches and, above all, the biggest challenge is to take Fr Giussani’s invitation seriously and begin to judge our own experience through the desires of our heart. This is something unfamiliar but what all were looking for.

Eager for more, the group has invited Fr John to cross the Tasman again. Raffy has discovered a new talent in designing flyers to invite her friends and now the invitation is to spend another Saturday and Sunday exploring the ‘religious sense’. This notion is not familiar in the normal parlance of Australian Catholics but the Melbourne parish is intrigued and curious.
So another beachside gathering is planned for 21-22 October. A new beginning.

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