Return from Emilia Romagna

Maria Giulia Pace relates her experience with a Jesuit task-force tending to earthquake victims in Emilia Romagna, Italy, this summer

Maria Giulia with her volunteer companions

Each summer has its story, and this one certainly was no exception.

Having started a new working experience, the possibility of going abroad to do voluntary work was minimal. Unfortunately even plans I had locally were falling through.  I admit that this irritated me, I felt that even though I was willing to help out God wasn’t giving me the chances. 

As time passed and all replies remained negative my prayer turned from pleading into one of submission. I recognized that alone I could not decide how to spend my summer and tried to have faith that He had other plans for me. I know understand that God wanted to turn this summer into a lesson of patience and unconditional faith in Him. 

In fact once I decided to put the reigns in His hand, what I had forecasted to be a boring summer turned out to be exciting with unexpected events and friendships. In a matter of a few days I got to know about an opportunity organized by Rete Loyola – a group founded by the Jesuits, of youths going to help the population who suffered the earthquake in Emilia Romagna. In the same week I managed to obtain leave and also book the last tickets available for the flight.

Even though I was very enthusiastic, I was still quite fearful on my way to Bologna.  However I had decided to take the back seat and let God drive me through this mission and He repaid me with wonderful people who welcomed me and with whom I created a great friendship.

Upon our arrival in the campsite of Camposanto, we understood that the residents differed in ethnicity, religion and culture. They ranged from Moroccans to Indians and Italians. Albeit their differences, they had one thing in common; the need of having their normality restored. The earthquake has snatched away all their securities and so they need help to start rebuilding trust in everything and everyone.

From the material aspect we couldn’t do much, if not help hand out the food during meals and give out basic goods to the residents. However our role there was to give love and affection gratuitously, no matter what ethnicity the person belonged to. I also learned the importance of BEING with the people, a quality which is often underestimated in our society where action, doing and efficiency are vital. I also learned the power of a “good morning” and how a simple smile while doing your daily chores can change a person’s day. I’m sure none of us volunteers will forget the numerous meals we shared with the residents; be it dining with an old Italian lady while talking about her nephews or with a young immigrant couple speaking about the difficulty of integration.

Yet our main task was to organize a summer camp for the children. I was assigned the camp of a nearby village and so each morning we used to leave early to meet with the kids. Although the days were tiring due to the heat and all the running around under the scorching sun, the satisfaction of seeing the children happy made up for all the fatigue. Keeping them busy and occupied helped them forget just for a moment the fact that the places they once considered safe, like their house, school or church, was now damaged and dangerous. Nevertheless the conversation often rotated around this event, even if their way to overcome the trauma was often to joke and make a game out of it.

Even the volunteers, both of Rete Loyola and those of the civil protection taught me that no matter how different the ages and backgrounds of people may be, once they join forces and strive to help others they can make a great team which resembles a large family.

I left Malta for this experience with great excitement and a dread of not fitting in. I returned 10 days later enriched and with an extended family in my heart. Therefore for anyone who is considering a similar experience but is fearful of how it will turn out; I would like to tell you that it takes a leap of faith to make the first step, but once you do it you will find yourself safely in God’s arms. Such experiences are a great opportunity for self-exploring, self-growth and self-giving. Don’t Miss Out!

By Maria Giulia Pace

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