Since being elected, Pope Francis has been vocally supportive of the charismatic movement within the church, memorably participating in an enormous rally at Rome’s Olympic stadium last summer and praying with the various groups present. I recently attended the annual convention of the Communitá Abramo, a dynamic lay charismatic movement with its roots in Northern Italy, but now also with a presence in Spain, Malta and Ireland. Over 2,000 people attended. The weekend included prayer groups, study meetings, youth events and talks, as well as a sort of mini-pilgrimage around various sites of the Veneto region, including Venice, Vicenza, Padua and the group’s center in the Arzignano and Chiampo valleys. This area was once called the “sacristy of Italy” because of the flood of religious vocations that came from there. Priests and bishops from many countries attended the convention to pray, dance, participate in Eucharistic processions, share meals, and laugh with the community of lay people, many of whom were under 30, who had flown in from around Europe to participate.
The pope himself sent a message with an apostolic blessing for the convention, which he described as “an initiative to highlight the important contribution of the laity in the evangelizing mission of the church.” The weekend included some memorable moments, including liturgical celebrations led by the Prefect of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, and a once-in-a-lifetime private Mass at the tomb of the great evangelist St. Mark in Venice’s most famous landmark, the Basilica San Marco, under what are perhaps the most beautiful Byzantine mosaics in the entire Western world.
Academic and meditative reflections, ethnic dances from Israel and Nigeria, and various “testimonials” of gratitude for a relationship with Jesus Christ rooted in a lived experience of the church contributed to the vibrant and unique gathering.
I was able to speak with Elena Tadiello, a member who has found spiritual fellowship and a profound sense of joy in the Communitá Abramo for over 20 years, and a leading organizing force in its initiatives today. She has participated in evangelizing missions geared toward youth ministry in each of the European communities in the network, and to areas as far-flung as China, Africa and Arizona.
“The lay founder of our community, Elena Vaccaretti, and her husband have been great witnesses of the faith for us. Our motto translates into English as ‘carrying the Word of God forth to the world.’ I can say very honestly that in my time with the Communitá Abramo I have come to meet not only ‘God alive,’ as it were, but also to be immersed in the fullness and joy of the Gospel message in its entirety, along with meeting life-long friends.”
It was evident that many of the young people shared Elena’s sentiments. One moment that will remain with me was the infectious enthusiasm on the traghetto (water taxi) home through the Grand Canal in Venice, as the group, which includes some very talented vocalists, sang everything from O Sole Mio to “He has Risen” to modern hits, all in response to the wild cheers and waves of everyone we passed. A group of Muslim women boisterously dancing along in their hijabs on the docks received warranted applause back from the boat.
Information on the community is available both on their website and mobile app (www.youhope.it).
Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum), Rome.