Herbert Boeckl, Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, Angel’s Chapel, Seckau Abbey, Styria, Austria, 1952-60

"Here I am, send me!"

Reflecting on her encounter with the Movement in light of the audience with Pope Francis, Elisabetta discovers what it means to live a life of mission in her circumstances.

I followed the event of the audience with Pope Francis with the community in Northern California where I had gone on a “grandmother mission” to spend time with my first granddaughter, my daughter in law, and my son. I had met their community only a few times before but when I am there I feel that they become my community, like it happens with other communities I meet when I travel. It was moving to participate in the audience watching it with them, because even if we were not a sea of people like in Saint Peter’s Square, we were clearly a people brought together by the encounter each of us had and I experienced a great sense of belonging, familiarity, and affection with each of them.

In the past several months the question of mission had been strongly present in my heart. I pray the Benedictus during morning prayer and the Lord asks me to bring Him into the world; when He asks “Whom should I send?” I answer with all my heart “Here I am, send me!”; but then there is the question: How can this happen in my simple life?

While Pope Francis was speaking I was struck by his words about mission and the fact that he referred to the encounter of Philip with the official of the queen of Ethiopia saying, “Philip was instrumental in his conversion; he was the mediator of the encounter with Christ for that man in search of the truth.” I felt that the Pope was talking to me personally because the question about mission was so present in my heart and the story of Philip is part of my story!

For me this kind of encounter happened when I was living in Cleveland with my husband and children twenty years ago. I am Italian but I did not become part of the Movement in Italy, even if the Catholic faith was crucial in my life at that time. I moved to the US years ago and after many years of searching for a true friendship and feeling an increasing sense of nothingness in spite of having a beautiful and loving family, one day an Italian friend sent me The Religious Sense just published in English. I read it and felt totally explained, understood – saved! Through the words of Fr. Giussani I felt that Jesus was telling me “You are looking for me, and I am here!” There was no one in the Movement in Cleveland, but an Italian woman arrived in my parish at that time and I met her. She was in the Movement and we became very close. I asked her a ton of questions, opening my heart, and she always answered with enormous patience and mercy. And she would tell you that patience is not one of her gifts! She stayed only a few months and at the time I told her that she was my Philip and we both still remember that moment with amazement and gratitude.

For me, that time was the experience of recognizing the Lord concretely present through a person. It was the crucial “something” I did not know I was searching for, but I desperately needed and had missed for so long. From then on I looked for people in the Movement close and far, staying glued to this companionship in spite of obstacles, difficulties, and sometimes tears.

The Pope spoke about mission and about witnessing through our uniqueness and I remembered last year when I was ill with cancer. The great initial anxiety and fear of my diagnosis was conquered by belonging to our charism and the many friends who accompanied me to focus on my deepest need, which is to see how the Lord is concretely present in my life. I also felt that Jesus had prepared me for this moment through the work of awareness that Fr. Carrón and Fr. José helped us to do for many years. I was and I am immensely grateful to them, because as Fr. José once said, it is true that “even if I believe that I have a Father I can live like an orphan.” Some of my friends who are not religious tried to attribute the way I was living my illness to courage, but they know me – I am usually anxious – and I kept telling them that the reason was due to how the Lord was present and was accompanying me. This allowed us to have deeper conversations. I understood through this experience that living my life centered in Him for myself, to be alive inside, had been transformed by the Lord into mission.

Similar facts happened in the days following the audience. I met new people in the community and their questions made me realize how they needed to know what the Lord has done in my life and how He saves me. With each question and answer the Lord was right there, redeeming my whole experience through the years, for me and for them. I discovered that I was and I am sent every moment. If I am faithful to Him in this place where He generates me, then He makes me meet people and He touches them with His gaze in spite or even through my characteristics and limitations. I felt that once again He answered my deepest need of recognizing Him present and also my question about mission in my simple life. This gives me a great sense of peace, of being fully alive, and the gratitude is immense.

Elisabetta, PA