When, days ago, I was asked what I would have left in Tunisia and what I brought with me in Italy after this “adventure”, I could not give an answer in these terms. Maybe it was too early, maybe I should go home, make and metabolize experience so great. Probably today, after a week, seeing a bit ‘more distant, I realize what it was. I can say I left a part of me “beyond the sea”, a part of my heart and I brought with me smiles, joy, satisfaction, and much more awareness.
My first memory is the first night, in Tunis, where we attended the Mass. The first impression I got was strange, a bit ‘sad, actually: a very large cathedral, beautiful, but … all dark, illuminated only where the Mass was celebrated. It must have been a coincidence. Nothing more, but I was impressed.
Later there was a meeting with African youth (most of which is located in Tunis to study), with whom we have already had a first taste, thanks to their stories, of what it means to be Christian in a Muslim country.
It seemed full of hope and desire, despite the difficulties they face and have to suffer the humiliation that, living in a country that does not accept them for their faith. And that’s what also emerged from the many testimonials we have received, both by the bishop of Tunis, he is from Father Jawad and the missionary sister who we met in Sousse.
The fact that the Church lives in Tunisia is very difficult. It is a Church that works, evangelizes and is felt “silent”, “in the dark”. Just as the cathedral. His is an invisible presence: you can not see, but there is. And it has an extraordinary force that it shook. Western Christians because we have the great fortune to live in a state of freedom, we have the opportunity to live the faith that we want, but all this we do not know fully appreciate, we take too much for granted.
In Sousse, the church is amazing, it’s all white, stands and you can see anywhere in the city, as if to say to everyone, tourists and Christians living there: here is the Church, you are not alone. Come. Come to think of it is a beautiful thing. It is precisely in Sousse we have known the sisters in Egypt: a goodness and sweetness unsettling, that leaves no one indifferent. Little as I was with them, they loved all of us as their own. And what they do is admirable: in school are taught in classrooms without the crucifix, the kids are all Muslims. Do not teach religion, citing the name of any prophet of God, no. It ‘a school that “apparently” not at all Christian. Those that send the students are the core values of each religion: acceptance, forgiveness, brotherhood. And that’s what I tried to do too as the other volunteers: transmit fraternity, equality and respect. And we succeeded! We did it. We won when children crying asking us to stay. We won when parents asked us to come back next year. We won when we saw them smile, together, as they sang songs in Italian. Kids love the sisters, as their love children and it shows how caring for them, from as receive them, how they look, how we speak, how they care, like mothers.
And so does the Catholic Church in Tunisia: with small gestures of kindness that can forever change people and leave them in a drop, a seed which will bring with them all their lives.
Caritas volunteer who was in the field of volunteering and training in Tunisia “Beyond the Sea” in August 2014