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AT THE ENDS OF THE EARTH!

04 May 2019

I experienced my Lent experiment in Albania.

Let’s take a step back: what is the Lent experiment? It is an experiment, first of all, that the second year novices undertake. It starts a few days after Ash Wednesday and ends a few days after Easter. The Novice Master sends us, alone or in pairs, to different Jesuit communities of the EUM Province. The goal is to get to know and be involved in the apostolic work of a Jesuit community. We could say a lot on this point, but I will stop here because the aim of this article is to go elsewhere.

I, together with another novice, was sent to get to know the two communities of Scutari and Tirana. I will not describe the whole experience, which would require much more than an article. I will focus on a particular weekend. I went, with the Spanish Jesuit father living in the Scutari community, to Tropojë, a region in northern Albania. An adventure “at the ends of the earth!” as the father would exclaim.

We left home at six in the morning. We took a small bus, a fifteen-seat van the kind of which is well known to whoever has been there. We took a road full of curves, which gave us some small nuisance. We arrived in Koman and from there we boarded a ferry. The journey on the Drin river lasted two and a half hours. Wonderful! We were in the heart of Albania, yet we seemed to be cruising in the Norwegian fjords. A beautiful sun shone above. Two high walls of hills and mountains were pressing in on the waters that cradled the ferry gently. But beauty was not my joy’s only companion . So was the reason we were going there: once a month the Jesuit father goes to that region to celebrate Mass and confess. I went there to meet that Jesus who takes care of people inhabiting three small villages, each made up of a few families, and taking part in that care that He operates. We went to meet the fragments of desire for the Absolute scattered in simple lives and the work of that same Absolute in those lives.

Having disembarked, we were greeted by three nuns, who have a small house to host guests. A Philippine, an Italian, an Albanian. Three women in a region of Albania difficult to reach. They were a testimony. Their apostolic work is impressive. As I mentioned, there are three small villages with three small churches. There is no parish priest who lives there. They are there to listen to and be with the locals. Every Sunday they administer the liturgy of the Word and distribute the Eucharist. They catechize children. They act as nurses. One of them is a psychologist and even plays the guitar. Crucified there, in a corner of an enchanting and lost world, they were an image of dedication. Crucified there, to support the faith of simple women and men and youth, almost entirely on their own as Atlas who alone holds up the world. And they hold up with serenity and joy, despite the various difficulties.

I learned, visiting that place, a small lesson that I had already been studying for a while. It was proposed to me the first time by a Jesuit father, and since then it returns to my mind from time to time. I go to serve, to do something for others, but in the end I find that others do something for me, those very same others that I go to help. And they do this by giving me the chance to experience a new feature of the face of Christ.

Travel notes

by Christian Lefta

On 24 May, the Society of Jesus in Italy celebrates the feast of ‘Our Lady of the Road’, a devotion so dear to Father Ignatius in his Roman years. In general, the image of the pilgrim has always given me a strange ‘spiritual joy’. Needless to say, for the Jesuits, ‘the pilgrim’ – par excellence – is Ignatius himself.

 

A few weeks ago, in the midst of a study time on Ignatian sources in the Cueva de Manresa, with the second-year novices from Spain and Portugal we retraced, actually backwards, the path Ignatius took from the sanctuary of Montserrat to the town where he would receive the most important spiritual illuminations of his life, Manresa. Walking towards Montserrat, I was thinking back to Ignatius’ journey, the physical one but above all the inner one of the thoughts he carried inside, the questions about the future, the remorse for a rather restless past.

 

Now, that I am here in Genoa, ‘in the middle of the road’ of everyday life, every now and then I find myself thinking back to that road I took, with gratitude and great joy, because I feel that that road was not just a ‘road’ but was and continues to be a recapitulation and an anticipation, in mystery, of every road travelled so far and of all the road to come.

 

 

XXIX
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino:
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

(A. Machado)

Christian Lefta

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