The Evangelium Summer School was, by all reports, a resounding success.
I joined the ‘graduates’ for an Australia Day barbecue in Carlton Gardens last night. The feedback was unanimous. Fr Nicholas Pearce and his organising partners are to be congratulated.
The barbecue itself was a joint initiative of Evangelium and Theology @ the Pub. The participants, therefore, spanned a generation — from school-leavers to thirty-somethings. It was great to catch up with old friends, and even better to meet so many new people!
In the course of the evening I met someone who has initiated a very simple and highly successful apostolate. It’s called Verso L’Alto, which is the Italian equivalent to our English expression, “Onward and upward.” The expression is commonly associated with Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati, who is co-patron of the Verso L’Alto apostolate.
Basically, Verso L’Alto Melbourne is a walking group. Three or four times a year, the organisers send out an invitation to their friends — and others — to join them on a walk of several hours, which culminates with Mass. You can bring your own cut lunch, or stake out a nearby café or restaurant.
A couple of priests, who are available for confession or a chat, join the walk, but mostly it’s a “peer apostolate” — that is, an opportunity for young Catholics to spend time with other young Catholics. The explicitly religious content might be limited to praying together at Mass, but the everyday experiences of enjoying the walk, swapping iPod playlists, and commiserating each other’s sore feet and blisters can be formative.
I vividly remember the shock, when I started university, of meeting people my own age who loved Jesus, who prayed, who practised their faith . . . but people who were (apart from all that) normal! By that I mean I could have a normal conversation with them. That impacted me. Religion wasn’t just for ‘Jesus freaks.’ It could be a part of an ordinary life, lived well.
Sometimes, of course, religious matters were the subject of conversation. But still, it was natural conversation. Earnest. Sincere. Respectful. Some of these people became my friends, at which point they had a much greater influence on my faith than probably any of them realised.
That’s the beauty of the apostolate of friendship. The Holy Spirit performs the heavy lifting, and He requires only good will and open hearts on our part. And also, in the case of Verso L’Alto, a willingness to walk five or ten or fifteen kilometres!