Meeting in Portici: a joy more intense because shared

Portici is a small town on the Gulf of Naples, not far from the ancient city of Herculaneum, destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Today it is a locality of some 60,000 inhabitants crowded into 4 km2, which makes the density of the population almost the highest in the world. The population, active in commerce and the liberal professions, wishes to be self-sufficient, but in fact the town is for the most part a dormitory-suburb of Naples, situated immediately to the north.

Portici has all the problems typical of southern Italy: poverty and unemployment which are on the increase particularly at this time of economic crisis, organized crime, under-development. The cultural and tourist attractions are scarcely developed. Finding solutions to the problems is complicated by the silent but ubiquitous presence of the camorra, the Neapolitan mafia, in commercial and political life. In short, it is a place where the human and natural treasures, although very real, are unable to blossom as they should.

For twenty years at least there has been a relationship between Portici and Taizй, made up essentially of reciprocal visits. Between 1990 and 1997, an itinerant prayer using the chants of Taizй linked all the parishes of the town once a month. After the Stuttgart meeting in 1997, a group of five young adults decided to meet each day to pray. They brought the monthly prayer to the Agorа, a youth center located close to the sea. Then at Easter 2004, the idea came up of preparing a larger gathering to go further on the road of mutual trust and communion.

There were many reasons for this desire: to take a concrete step forward in the search to live out what many had experienced in Taizй and the meetings elsewhere; to open up the experience to a new generation of young people and to others from the South; to create greater unity on a local level among people committed to living out their faith; to invite young adults from northern Italy to discover the reality of the South. The small organizing team received a warm welcome from some priests of the town, and so they set out to find families to offer hospitality to the participants. The response exceeded their hopes. They found places for over 350 participants, and the only disappointment of the entire meeting was that some families remained without guests.

On Thursday, June 2, some 150 young adults from all the regions of northern and central Italy arrived in the Agorа center where they were welcomed and sent to the families, followed by a supper distributed in a park and evening prayer in the largest church of Portici. Friday and Saturday, after Morning Prayer in five different parishes, everyone came together for a Bible introduction given by a Taizй brother present for the occasion; this was followed by small-group sharing. The meals and the midday and evening prayers were all in common. Each afternoon, people could choose one of two reflections on specific topics: on Friday the choice was between a group on the mafia and legality, and one on ecumenism; Saturday, the topics of immigration and respect for the environment. Sunday morning, the meeting ended with a beautiful Eucharistic celebration and a meal distributed before the departure.

As could have been expected, the participants were impressed above all by the quality of the hospitality shown by the families, their openness and their human warmth. Some even found it difficult to leave their host families to take part in other events, since the people wanted to keep them in their homes! Many host families came to the evening prayers. The church was packed with young and old, and this gave more intensity to the prayer around the cross on Friday and the festival of light on Saturday evening. Many also appreciated the fact that the meeting, although relatively small, involved a great many people and had a very broad outlook thanks to the efforts of the preparation team. There was a good mix of intimacy and openness.

For some young people from the North, the meeting was an important discovery of another reality within the same country, with a more relaxed rhythm and a greater attentiveness to persons rather than to timetables and results. But the discovery was reciprocal: in the “festival of regions” held on Saturday evening, the Neapolitans could hear people from Friuli and other regions of the North sing in their own dialects, and thus realize that local traditions remain alive in other places too. Through singing, laughing, and sharing in people’s homes, mutual ignorance or even mistrust gave way to a shared life. The days spent together offered a provisional but very concrete image of another way of being together rooted in the Gospel, where differences do not divide but contribute to a joy which is all the more intense because shared with others.

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