Jesuit Novitiate
Novitiate of the Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus



13 Aug 2018

In these months I’ve been asking myself where I will be in a few years’ time. Where will my work be and what will my responsibilities be? Where will I live? Will I have to learn new languages?

Many years ago, journeying on foot towards Santiago de Compostela we met a pilgrim with a white beard and a series of strange objects hanging from his neck. He had glasses held together with tape and an eye which was covered, like a pirate. In a mixture of French and Spanish, he explained that the difference between a beggar and a pilgrim is in the destination. He saluted us saying: “Ultreia!”, which we later discovered to be the ancient pilgrims’ motto which means “move on!”. After saying goodbye, I felt the desire to look back to see if he was still there or if he had been an angelic apparition.

Eighteen years later something made me recall that episode between the plates of trofie (a type of pasta) of the feast of San Marcellino, in the square in front of the church. My spirit mingled with people’s stories. There were Jesuit novices, employees and volunteers from San Marcellino, guests to whom we offer shelter and homeless people who were passing by so as to eat something. There were so many different tales that were recounted. Among these, I was struck by the stories of the volunteers regarding the world of work, a world that I know very well from direct experience. A continual reduction of personnel and costs with the increase of working hours. The closure of businesses and the fear that their own company will close. Unemployment at fifty is not always accompanied by a social safety net. All this mixed with stories of the homeless, their continuous search for a place to stay and a warm meal to eat, hours and hours walking around the city without a destination, waiting for the right time to enter a meal center or dormitory . I saw a precariousness of the world in which we live. It is a precariousness that touches different people on different levels, from work to the search for a roof over their heads, from the search for the ultimate meaning in life to the increasingly difficult reconciliation between one’s own desires and the reality of things.

Then came the experiment of “the pilgrimage in poverty”, once again on pilgrimage after many years, once again in this great and symbolic journey that represents our life. In the  difficulty and tiredness I remembered the episode of the pilgrim who told me “Ultreia!”. We did not know where we would sleep and what we would eat but we knew for Whom and for what we were walking. We were trying to follow the footsteps of the great King and nothing could have given a stronger flavour to our progress and a more profound answer to my questions.

New Year’s Eve and Pink Floyd

by Giovanni Barbone

4 February 1974 In the new Pink Floyd album “The Dark side of the Moon”, the singer David Gilmour in the song Time sings provocatively “every year is getting shorter”, leaving behind them a melancholy atmosphere, in front of the inevitable pace of the days lived in an empty way.

31 December 2019 It is around 19.30 when together with another novice I am going to ring the Crocicchio bell, a homeless hospitalization of the opera S. Marcellino of the Company of Jesus, to celebrate my New Year in “an offhand way”.

As usual, the operator opens the door to us smiling and, after greeting us, assigns us the room where we would have spent the night.

After settling in quickly, we went down to the refectory where a large table was set up to spend our New Year’s Eve dinner with all the guests. Our neighbors were those people who silently accompany us every day in our walking in the cities where we live, without we really realize it.

Sitting around that table, the days of mid-November seem far away when, in front of the fateful question “What are you doing for New Year’s Eve?”, that feeling of anxiety arose spontaneously inside me to have to try to give an adequate answer to such a general expectation . As if it were fundamental not to have to “throw away” not even an opportunity of one’s youth to fully enjoy one’s life.

Yet, this coping with the repetition of this question, with the hope of finding the right answer to not waste the umpteenth opportunity proposed, has never prevented the sun from “continuing to sink and then coming up behind you, while you run to catch it up”.

In the simplicity of our lives, I realize how truly “every year it is getting shorter”, indeed, also that “the sun is the same in a relativel way but I am older, shorter of breath and one day closer to death”. Yet I really don’t feel like saying today to “fritter and waste time”.

Of course, as novices, we employ it in an unconventional way. But we do not squander it.

Christmas, which we celebrated a few days ago, in fact, reminds us that we have already found “Someone or something to shows you the way”, or perhaps better, has already found us and the way to fill our days with meaning.

Faced with this awareness, albeit partial, not immediate and painless, the moments of anxiety disappear when it seems mandatory to have to go back to optimizing one’s time. The time that before seemed to me that I do not have and that I employed to save my plans and prevent them from leading to nothing.

It is true that “no one tells you when to run”, but the starting shot is not somewhere outside of us, but within our history.


Time is gone, the article is over.

Happy new research year.Happy 2020!

Giovanni Barbone, novice of the second year


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