December 31 2016, at 10 PM…
Together we sat at the table after having a splendid New Year’s Eve dinner in a relaxed atmosphere, anticipating the New Year.
Like every year, our boys and girls have not stayed awake until midnight. It would be too exhausting. In addition, the majority of us were infected by flu, so we were pretty tired and not in the brightest mood.
Flame of remembrance and gratitude
Similar to previous years, we lit a candle and it traveled from one person to another. Anyone who received the flame in the hand, has shared one’s prayer or thanksgiving, or whatever it was in the past year that touched one the most.
Of course, Silva and I could not share everything that God has done in our lives in 2016. There was so much grace that we could only highlight a few occasions.
But let’s say that we are holding a candle in our hands right now. In this article, we’ll look back in time and reflect on our path which we have traveled in this past year.
Do the first step
People in their life make different decisions. Some of those mark us heavily, others less, but each one is important because it actually represents a new step.
Sometimes these steps are small, sometimes bigger, sometimes we progress, sometimes we go backwards.
In fact, it is not so much a matter how big a step is and in which direction, if it is made in good faith. It is more important, to make it in the first place and remain open. Any such step is done with Jesus.Flame of remembrance and gratitude Click To Tweet
We’ve done a lot of steps already in our lives. Each separately and jointly. I would lie if I said that they were all headed in the right direction. However a step, which we made on 31 March, when we went on a missionary journey around the world, was certainly the right one.
Path of witnessing
Initially, it was meant purely as our ‘personal project’, since we wanted to deepen our mutual relationship, a relationship with God and to do something good for the others.
But soon after the decision has been made, the project opened to the outside and somehow became of witnessing nature. Something that we both understood as God’s will – at a time when our attention is more or less ‘forcibly’ focused to the darkness and evil of this world.
Willingly or unwillingly, we have become stuck in the claws of the media. They direct us towards the thrill, show, and towards stories that leave us empty and dissatisfied.
We have become stuck in the fetters of an unjust economic system that is driven by greed and by destructive rivalry, which result in social misery and poverty.
On our journey we want to expose the other side, the more hidden one, but still very much present. It is God who can heal, save, revive and make sacrifice through other people. We wish to focus our view on Him, watching God’s play and share it with you.
We began our path in Assisi. Early spring, olive trees, hills turning green in the warm winds all invited us to look around with the eyes of St. Francis of Assisi.
This man – Francis, nearly nine hundred years ago rejected the society of greed and approached the most simple people with humility. He was praising God who is present in every earthly creature, in plants, animals and humans, right here. Read more about our experience in Assisi here.
From Assisi we traveled to Perugia, another city built on a hill; full of life, vibe, dynamics and young people. We were enjoying Marcus’s hospitality for five days in his apartment and had enough opportunity to explore one of the oldest Italian cities. We wrote about Perugia here.
Silva and me were headed to Rome, convinced that the Italian capital is an excellent base for our missionary journey.
On the way to Rome, we stopped in Stroncone, a small town built in 10th century. It surprised us by an ancient stone architecture, walls and stunning views over the countryside of Umbria. More on this here.
Ark community in Rome
Twenty kilometers from Rome, in the town of Ciampino, we were accepted to the first community. The Ark. We stayed there for almost three months – considerably longer than we originally planned.
We are still very much connected to the Ark Community in Rome. In fact, this has become our ‘Casa Madre‘ mother community where we can return from our travels and from where we can prepare ourselves for new destinations. God touched us both strongly through persons with mental disabilities, as well as through their assistants.
Meeting Pope Francis
Special confirmation for being on the right track was received by the unexpected visit of Pope Francis, the man who inspired us unprecedentedly and who we both highly appreciate.
Like Francis of Assisi, the pope for example, clearly shows by words and deeds what it means to be a Christian – how to reach out to the poor and accept them without bias.
Here you can read more about meeting the Holy Father.
Cottolengo hospital in Turin
From Rome we went to Turin, where we lived and worked a fortnight in the Cottolengo hospital.
The experience of working with elderly people was a very powerful and valuable one. Jesus was reveling to us through the people, who are on the brink of eternity, but really heavily dependent on the help of the others.
Gazing into their eyes in fact shows us our own future. With this awareness, one can approach them in a humble and human way.
Our fond memories on the self-sacrificing sisters and volunteers, who have ended their shift completely exhausted. Read about how we were touched by the Cottolengo – here.
Food distribution in Paris
After Italy, there comes Paris. God opened us the door to Slovenian Catholic Mission, where we could stay for free for almost a month and a half.
Unburdened with finances, we were therefore able to devote to an organization that distributes food to the homeless in Paris.
This rich and tourist city is facing several social challenges. The homeless and refugees are among the most pressing ones.
One big happy family
If I had to describe our experience of work on the project Août Secours Alimentaire (August’s assistance in distributing the food) using a single word, this would be the word ‘multiculturalism’.
Volunteers who joined the August campaign (and distributed 700,000 food packages in one month) were gathered from all segments of society, of different ages, nationalities and cultures. This is a special richness in itself. But all of them have worked and participated so smoothly, as if they belonged to the same family. Learn more about this experience here.
From Paris to Spain by hitch-hike
From Paris we went to Spain. Since we wanted to gain another experience of trust in people, we were to travel a 1500 km long way by hitch-hike. Trust was well paid off. We managed to get to Torderoa in two days time, exactly as we planned.
Of course, this path was not without problems. We forgot the bag with our computers in the car which drove us to Girona and then drove away to an unknown location.
We wrote here about how we tracked down the driver and went on a hunt for computers.
Barcelona and Madrid
Barcelona and Madrid will remain a beautiful memory, although the doors to communities stayed closed here. Obviously God had other plans. At this time, general of the Lazarists, p. Tomaž Mavrič wrote us a letter and encouraged us to head for a mission in Ukraine.
We didn’t think twice. One and one was still two and we quickly recognized God’s will. In one week, we were already back in our Roman ‘Casa Madre’ and met with p. Tomaž, who gave us a more detailed view on the situation and described us the needs in Kiev and Odessa. In mid-November we were already en route to the Ukrainian capital.
The journey to Ukraine
We knew that the situation in Ukraine was different from other European countries, but only when being there, we could see and could understand what troubles are facing the largest neighbor of Europe.
Homeless people, dying of cold and hypothermia in the streets, low-wage workers, which do not make enough for a living without receiving additional assistance in food and clothes. Streets full of soldiers who are going to the war zone in Donetsk and Lugansk, and the war itself, which is emptying state’s budget.
Hope is the last to die
Kiev and Odessa have open our eyes. God sent us to the poorest and most neglected, the homeless, the sick and addicted to alcohol. He revealed to us through people who have lost everything, but still did not lose hope.
In the middle of this apparent misery, a strong light shone anyway. Sisters in the mission, volunteers and organizations such as DePaul, did not give up. On the contrary, we really felt strong faith and hope that was present in Ukraine – a powerful testimony that God wants to meet us most through the poorest!
Jesus can multiply our belongings
When homeless people came for help, ragged, shivering with cold, often with open wounds on the body, these were taken care of, even if it initially seemed hopeless and impossible.
Jesus has also not turned away, on the contrary, he multiplied the ‘bread’, which they had available and distributed it to all.
In these circumstances, we both felt the power of His message when He urged his disciples to go to the poor and help them in their distress.
Why Jesus encourages us to do the works of mercy? Not only because this helps our neighbor, but also because our own religion and contrition is at stake here! Having faith that what we can offer to the poor is good enough, no matter how modest or small it might be.Jesus can multiply our belongings and make everyone richer. Click To Tweet
This might sound strange, but we felt the most joy and peace in Ukraine, where poverty is most prominent. How can I explain it differently but due to personally meeting the Lord and enjoying His grace there?
More on our life and work in Kiev and Odessa here.
We are not alone
From the start of the way, we were strongly surprised by your sensitivity to vulnerable people in Europe. Incentives, acknowledgments and donations, which we receive day by day from your side and then deliver them further, testify the fact that God works.
With your donations in the past year we could help people with intellectual disabilities in the Ark community, help the underprivileged in Paris and especially the homeless in Ukraine, for which we collected €783.
When today in Lithuania we are holding a candle in our hands and remember on the last year, we can gratefully say, we made the right decision. Especially since we are not alone from the very first step of the way.
Operando never was and never will be our ‘personal’ project, but our common mission for all, who want to look for God in action and witness the fact that He is present in this world, and therefore can be trusted, even during difficult trials.