Reports of the
I want to tell of a very special experience in connection with the World Youth Day. In the framework of the big event World Youth Day the Jesuits and other Ignatian communities wanted - according to the Ignatian tradition - to find a form in which individuals could go a personal spiritual way. From there ['magis] came into existence - the Latin word means "more", and is a central word of St. Ignatius, who wanted to love Christ more, and to follow him more.
To experience that 'more' of God's love personally almost 3000 young people had enrolled for ['magis']. They arrived in several German cities and were divided into groups of 20-30 people of three or four nations. These groups now went a spiritual way together for five days. Many of them went actually out on a pilgrimage, others approached the Ignatian spirituality from a creative or artistically inclined side, others again looked for God by experiences in the social area. Common to all of them was the daily spiritual exchange and the retrospect of the day.
I had the joy together with some other Germans to guide a ['magis]-experiment group with whom we made so-called street exercises in Fulda. In our group there were seven participants from France, seven from Taiwan, and nine from Texas/USA. For me those days were a deep spiritual experience. It was especially beautiful to see with what earnestness young people were looking for God in these days. We had our quarters in rooms of the parish St. Andrew, in a former small monastery of the Benedictines, where we slept in two rooms on the floor. The participants alternately prepared the meals for all of us - often with food typical for their country.
We began our days with a divine service in front of the prison of the town. The story of Moses at the burning bush stood in its centre. Together with Moses we learnt to be attentive, and to become curious of God's presence in things that are insignificant or even repulsive first (a thorn shrub in the desert!), and to listen where God is calling us, where our hearts begin to burn, at a place where we did not reckon with him at all. There in the thorn shrub God called Moses by his name, and bade him to take off his shoes because it was a holy place of God's presence. While we were standing there in front of the prison, we too took off our shoes and stayed in silence in the presence of God, for whom the prison is one of the privileged places (c.f. Mt 25). It was a very deep atmosphere of concentrated silence and prayer.
Outgoing from this common prelude all participants went into the city with Moses' attentiveness and curiosity, with the request that God might show them their personal place of his presence. There somebody, e.g., prayed at the so-called 'baby lid', a place where desperate mothers can hand over anonymously their newborn baby. And there she met her own longing for a homeland and for safety, and at the bottom of this longing God, who alone can still that longing eventually.
Or another one was deeply touched by the lot of flowers in the graveyard opposite and experienced thereby with surprising certainty how her faith in the resurrection became a living reality. A third one was invited by homeless people into the kitchen for the poor, and there, amidst their hospitality, he experienced God himself as the one who - independently of any performance - invited him into his love. And here, amid all those people, he took off his shoes in reverence of God's presence.
Every evening we met in small groups and everyone told about his/her searching and finding of the past day. We listened to each other, and helped one another to discover God's traces in our experiences. By sharing longing, pain, and joy - across all language barriers - we experienced this holy ground also in the sharing round itself. So together we went through those days on a spiritual path, which found time and again a culmination in the divine services, and on which we as group grew more and more together.
After five intensive days in the group, on August 13th we set out to the Loreley, a rock on the Rhine, where we met the other ['magis]-groups. There we lived another two days in a huge camp, and from the experiences of the about 3000 participants in 100 experiment groups we put together a gigantic mosaic which showed the living abundance of our encounters with God. This ending was beautiful and, at the same time, a big challenge, because it rained almost continuously, and the divine services had nevertheless to be held outside. But the joy in God and in each other, in that cultural variety, did not give in.
At the same time the rain showed us vividly that those who embark on God have to reckon with more than shallow sunshine-events. So beside exhaustion, everywhere could be felt great thankfulness and joy, when eventually all of us went in a big procession down to the Rhine. There we entered two ships, and sailed down the river for about four hours to the real World Youth Day in Cologne. There the personal faith experiences of the individuals joined the faith festival of hundred thousands.
You will find more info and photos about ['magis] (in different languages) on the website:
Well, at the Loreley I arrived with the car. So I know nothing about the journey by train, only, that the inhabitants of St. Goarshausen gave out food at the railway station to all pilgrims who arrived there - just so, apparently. From there everybody had to climb the mountain with his/her luggage. Well, that was very exhausting. Above there were tents or they were handed out. (Very light construction, later they were sold, and they were not that tight. Fortunately there was no wind; otherwise the tents would have been blown away. When tested the tents doubtlessly had been blown away.) After the building-up the "Exgruleis" were thanked again. I can only pass on the thanks.
But in that short event I was time and again surprised by the open, clear faces. Right away I would have liked to get to know better almost every individual. That is true also of the participants. There was a relaxed (?) atmosphere, much joy. In the evening there was an event with singing of songs (I do not know details, I did not take part), afterwards the possibility to sit at the camp fire and to talk. Lots of people took that opportunity. Almost continuously there was a "Nicodemus"-offer (conversations, confession ... in different languages), a small circus tent as place of silence.
In the morning I went to take a shower. To do that, men had to walk a considerable distance over a hill. The compensation one got was to see the camp from above.
You may think about mass events whatever you like: the view from the hilltop upon that big camp, in connection with the atmosphere that prevailed there, and the memory of Fulda, of the participants who were earnestly engaged, of the episodes and presents from there, and the knowledge that the other groups too were earnestly on their way, that mass of serious and joyful, relaxed seekers, of the many organizers, group leaders ...: that was overwhelming.
The Morning Prayer was in an open-air stage. The participants sat on stones. It was raining, sometimes more, sometimes less. People who recited prayers, translators, a choir, and a band were sheltered and dry on the stage. It took a long time, and it was wet and cool. It was nevertheless quite a cheerful atmosphere. When afterwards the choir went out into the rain, and kept singing and dancing there, the mood was finally saved.
It went on in tents. All groups got the task to put together a puzzle, which again was a puzzle part of the complete work. Each group member wrote a prayer a wish or something else on the back of his/her piece of the puzzle, so that the picture became a sum of wishes, thanks ... The more groups had finished their work, the more there was singing and dancing.
Well, I had wanted to take part in the mass, but then I decided to go earlier, because I wanted to bring along some of the joy to my parish.
After mass in my home parish I told shortly about Fulda and the Loreley. May be I did not do it that cleverly, at any rate I did not see any spark jump over.
From Monday on the WJT continued in Cologne. I did not take part in any event - only by lodging guests. In addition I was twice in Cologne. And Igna visited me. I am glad about that even now.
Organisation was lacking everywhere. But that was not to be expected differently. Besides, many inhabitants were surprised by the joyfulness, and at the same time discipline, of the pilgrims. And that also had an effect on people who have nothing to do with the church. Someone of the KVB (Cologne's traffic company), "We are quite astonished. In the evening we need just sweep through the buses, and then we can use them again. There is no rubbish, nothing is wrecked. It totally differs from soccer or other big events." Similar reactions from the police, from inhabitants of the city, and also our town: Here were 1500 pilgrims lodged in a school (in other schools there were more of them), with only a handful volunteers. There was no stress. In Cologne and in the neighbourhood: no scuffles, no misuse of alcohol, nothing of the things one could really have expected.
Certainly there may have been a number of pilgrims who just wanted to see the pope, or to take part in a mass event. But the great picture looked different: serious young people who did not want to play 'halligalli', but were on the search for God, who got up in the morning to take part in the morning service, who appeared in groups to the talk with the catechists, and were in good shape. And by that they earned a very high respect in Cologne.
My feeling from the Loreley: There are many people who see: an awakening is possible, and by it the possibility of a change of the world becomes visible - so may many people in Cologne (and Bonn, and Düsseldorf, and in the neighbourhood) have felt. I suppose, this event has encouraged many people.
Long ago, when the planning of the Ignatian communities for a supporting program - it was named ['magis] - to the World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne began, I presume in the year 2003; - I wished spontaneously to be present in the directing of one of the experiments. Soon also others joined the party: Sr. Teresa, Sabine, Sr. Igna and others. We wanted to offer street retreats, without knowing how they could be initiated and directed in that new situation. So a pre-meeting in Altenberg with other people interested in ['magis] was quite disillusioning. There were a lot of conditions that could not be harmonized with our object. On the other hand we were very glad about the work of the ['magis]-team in Frankfurt. They had a different point of view to their task, and had to develop frame conditions for all experiments. In that frame work spiritual exercises seemed impossible.
But we did not abandon our object, and we did not want to betray our experiences, that it is of great importance, in street retreats as well as in all spiritual exercises, that in the evening everybody tells of his/her experiences of the day. For that small groups are needed with directors - best two for each group. But so many spiritual directors per experiment were not planned by ['magis]. Besides, what would be the role of the leaders of the country groups in this experiment?
In spite of all those questions we remained confident and four of us met in the first days of January 2005 in Fulda, the place which had been assigned to us as place of arrival. There is a school of the Maria Ward sisters, where all the arriving participants should be lodged in the first night. We were cordially received by the sisters of the Congregatio Jesu.
But there was another quite hearty reception: In Berlin I had often heard about the parish priest Winfried Abel in St. Andrew in Fulda. The church is just opposite the city on the other side of the river. Church and rectory originate from an old Benedictine abbey. In that parish at Whitsun there is a meeting of about 100 people from High Churches and free churches, who have experienced in their lives a social, and mostly also a religious conversion. The Emmaus community gathers people with experiences from prisons, children's homes, drugs, alcohol, and many other life situations where one often is given up. Here they can - beyond all boundaries of confession or social status - praise God together, and help each other. In that hospitable place we too could receive people from different countries to spiritual exercises.
We visited Pastor Abel, and after a few minutes he understood our object, before we had expressed it yet. He opened all the doors of the parish rooms and said, we could use all of them. Then he took us to his flat, introduced Sr. Maria Veronica, who is living there, to us, and as a present he gave to each of us a cassette, which we could choose out of his 100 lectures to religious and ethical questions - a fine service, reaching wide over the boundaries of his parish.
But, the question of accommodation solved, how could we get ready for our ['magis]-experiment? The retreat shall begin with a divine service in front of the prison, we decided, before that big tabernacle where Jesus is definitely present, as he has said. As in a prison, in the church the tabernacle is a small cell too, that can only be opened from outside. Besides, we saw clearly that with up to 30 participants, so many were expected according to the ['magis]-program, we would need at least eight directors for four groups. We found them soon, without knowing if all of them could actually get leave in the months to come. The end of studying, unemployment ... made predictions uncertain.
In spring we met again in Berlin for a short time. That meeting too encouraged us. Amidst all uncertainties we found a great peace and transacted the ['magis]-formalities as well as possible. We simply had less expenditure than the pilgrim groups which had to look for different quarters, conveyances, etc. Sometimes that peace was amazing. Was there not a dash of arrogance in it? But it was not possible in a different way. We could not plan more things, if we wanted to take the retreat seriously.
On the day before the arrival of the '[magis]-groups a part of the directors - Mike and Claudia had joined us - was already in Fulda. They looked at the city, warmed up with one another, and prepared then on Monday, August 8th 2005, lunch for Tuesday, our first day in St. Andrew's parish.
In the afternoon and in the evening 150 participants arrived at the school. It was a great joy to see the many open faces. If I remember rightly, they were young men and woman from Croatia, Slovakia, France, Taiwan, and Texas. They were full of expectation, signed up in the lists, and got some material, like the pilgrim book from ['magis]. Especially the ['magis]-prayer (see the attachment) at the beginning of the book appealed to me. It expresses quite strikingly our own readiness to listen. Other helpful things reminded us of the greater ['magis]-community in which we went our way, and they were a goldmine for the personal praying.
The next morning after the mission service on the St. Michael Mountain the six experiment groups were free for their different ways. The gladness about that could be felt plainly. With a beautiful view over Fulda we said good bye to each other, and arranged to meet for the meeting on the Loreley on Saturday evening. Four groups went as pilgrims on different ways in the direction of the Loreley, and one group went to Würzburg to visit places of destruction, and of life in Würzburg.
"Fulda", so our group was named, in which nine Texans, seven Taiwanese, and 7 Frenchmen/-women - accompanied by a young female theologian, a Jesuit father, and a novice - wanted to go a way together. Many had wished for exactly this experiment, and were glad that it had become possible. A young Texan thanked, by saying grace that they were allowed to make new religious experiences here in Fulda. It was soon obvious that the group leaders themselves wanted to make the retreat, and did not want to be pinned down to a directing task. They searched equality, and some of them wanted other speakers to be chosen. But especially Po-Jen Wu, a Jesuit from Taiwan, often had to translate in the meetings, and by that service was an important mainstay on the way.
We had loaded all the luggage of our group into Mike's car, and so after the mission service we could stroll, five at a time, through Fulda, to get an impression of the city. In St. Adreas we arrived for lunch - in the hall we had set the tables in a big square - and then moved into our quarters. In the afternoon the parish priest welcomed us, and everybody introduced him/herself with his/her request. It was a round of thankfulness for being allowed to be here. (I had had a similar impression of the participants and leaders of the other groups the evening before.)
The first day
Six o'clock p.m. we began the retreat with a divine service in front of the prison in Fulda. From the Municipal Office we had got a licence for a demonstration with the title "respect towards our imprisoned brothers and sisters" for a place that now appeared unsuitable. A woman kindly allowed us to come on her property. Now the whole building lay before us, and we also saw prisoners who waved to us. Soon the woman came and brought a chair for Sabine, one of the directors, who was advanced in pregnancy. What a fine sign of welcome.
Centre of that service was the Moses story: How Moses, while guarding the goats of his father in law, saw a burning bush. He went there, but then he was stopped, and was told to take off his shoes, because the place was holy (Ex 3). That story from the middle of everyday life describes the procedure of street retreats. It is about the question: Where might be the place for each individual, where God wants to talk with her/him? Where is God waiting for me? Which shoes of distance, superior attitude, flight, ... should we take off? As we all then stood barefoot there before the prison, it became absolutely still. After some time of meditation some people began to speak out, and described the thorny place upon which we were standing. The own misery was expressed, but most of all the pain of the violence of exclusion, that is so tangible at such a place. It was a prayer in many languages. By that cautious visit of the imprisoned behind the wall the ['magis]-prayer had a special sound.
Then our hostess came again to take back the chair. She thanked us - also in the name of her 92 year old mother, who had been with her on the balcony in our middle while we prayed -, that we had celebrated a divine service here, and that they were allowed to take part in it.
After this entry into the retreat we went to a park in the neighbourhood and looked for a place, where all of us could lie down. By doing that, we had to go across a small path, occupied by some people who were drinking there their beer. The men addressed us, and some of us stayed to talk with them. When they followed, we asked them about their experiences with those men, captured by alcohol. What shoes had they to take off in the encounter with them, to be able to listen to them? They told us in detail, and we could already catch a glimpse of what our sharing would be about in the three retreat groups in the evenings. We introduced ourselves as directors of the different groups, and explained the schedule of the next day. In order to enable the three parallel sharing groups to start, everybody had to make up his/her mind for one group. Besides we asked the groups to find volunteers to prepare the evening meals for us all on the next three days.
At home the corresponding lists were soon filled. On the first evening the Frenchmen/women wanted to cook, then the Taiwanese, and on the last evening the Texans. Next to the prison we had already found a shop for Asian food.
From the cloister we had access to the beautiful old parish church day and night for personal prayer, but also for spontaneous singing of religious songs. Especially the leaders enjoyed doing this.
The second day
After breakfast we met at nine o'clock for Morning Prayer in the church. In the centre stood the text Ex 3, which we had acted before the prison. After prayer we handed out a list that should help the participants to find holy places in Fulda. At one of them we had already been together: in front of the prison. The handout pointed out: meeting points of homeless people and drug addicts, the soup kitchen, the social welfare office and the employment exchange, the brothel, the geriatrics, the baby lid, a home for old people, the psychiatric hospital, a home for disabled people, the plague pillar, the Israeli graveyard and others. Of course, we could not tell them those places where their hearts would be moved. God's invitation cannot be planned. Usually we stumble on them seemingly by chance, and we may find them in the openness of prayer. That hint had been underlined by us firmly. Apart from all those possible places that can be found in the city map, there will always be a holy place in us, too, where we are asked, in respect for God's presence in us, to take off our shoes. That place too was pointed out on the handout.
We invited the participants to go through the list in their language groups, and to sense where each one, alone or together with others, should set out. We were ready to go along for an hour with small groups, if that was wished, to help them find into the practice of meditation on the street. Two small groups made use of that offer.
At half past three p.m. we met in the church to celebrate the Eucharist with Po-Jen Wu from Taiwan. As gospel we chose the text about the mission of the 72 disciples, and explained the different directions. Among them can also be found the leaving behind of shoes (Lk 10,1-6). The experiences of the day could rub with that text, and find confirmation.
In the evening the French group had put the tables in two rows, because they wanted us to face each other during the meal. They had cooked marvellously, and then at the end there were even Crêpes for everybody. As decoration the French colours had a central place.
Afterwards there was a lot of time for the sharing groups. All of them consisted - without our shoving - of participants of the three language groups. So there had to be translations time and again, even if many were able to express themselves in English. Nevertheless some things remained incomprehensible for me. But surprisingly this did not hinder the directing. I explain this by the fact that on the one hand spiritual exercises are the "Chief's matter", hence God himself is going a way with the individual. On the other hand it becomes clear that the nonverbal communication always has a much greater part than the verbal - in directing retreats too. The openness of the heart is decisive, as well by those who practise as by the spiritual directors. By that attitude the missing verbal understanding will be compensated, and a fruitful directing is possible.
How important a directing with the heart was became apparent especially in that situation. We could let us more and more be carried by this melody of love, and often jump unnoticed over obstacles of our intelligence. Well, love knows many ways to express our relations before God - sometimes in a question which will help on, or in a story, or in a helping prayer of the sharing round. In that linguistic poor situation our eyes could speak especially plainly.
My attention was particularly attracted by four places in the narrations:
The baby lid: Here the respectful distance, which has to be found in meditation by everybody anew, could be practised particularly well: on the opposite street side, on the steps there, quite near. The receiving child bed could be seen from far. Leaflets were put out. Where will the nearness become depressing, my behaviour touristy, how can I behave in a way that God here at this burning bush can uncover something in me, and tell it to me?
The brothel: Several looked for that place, but they did not find it. When that then was accepted, they could often go on with greater liberty - to be really taken by surprise.
Beggars in front of the cathedral and somewhere else: Many moving experiences happened In their surroundings, when the participants sat down in their neighbourhood. Pictures were given to them, they were invited to a meal in the soup kitchen, and on the last day but one they invited some beggars to us, to the divine service and to the meal. The distance had been overcome, and they could recognize each other as God's messengers.
The graveyard: "You make graveyards to be a garden of God with a lot of flowers; they remind of the paradise", said several people. That was experienced especially plainly on the graveyard opposite. On one side there are bare graves of the bomb casualties of World War II and on the other side lots of flowers blossomed on the burial places of the last years. This experience of nature was challenging, so that some people stayed there, reading in the Bible, and finding deep peace.
During the day many participants had gone in groups of two or more. Then in the evenings they were often in different sharing groups. But by a few examples it became clear: they had experienced quite different things at the same places. Astonishment and respect about that fact grew.
On the first day people of the same language had mostly accompanied each other. That changed conspicuously, and we saw more and more small mixed language groups, and many people set out alone in surroundings unknown to them. Accompanying one another did not hamper the retreat process; it gave certainty to find back, if one had lost the way. Of course, that happened now and then, when they had allowed themselves to be led by their hearts.
After the sharing in the groups the two who directed a group mostly took a longer walk to look further into the things they had heard. But there were also meetings for all of us. Three of us had never directed retreats before. So there were questions, and the amazement about the motions in our own hearts. How similar are they in this service to those directed by us. We too had to discover anew the art of letting go. But together we could also find the specific impulses that were on the agenda. It was an amicable exchange, where also grief and our joy became evident, too.
The third day
In the Morning Prayer in the church the text of Jesus' question to his disciples: For whom do you take me? (Lk 9,18-20) was in the centre. There was a prayer impulse: how could everybody find that name of God that was lying in her/him, to address God with it in praying. (In detail: Korrespondenz zur Spiritualität der Exerzitien, Jahreshefte 2005, S. 19ff) Some people were able to take in that consideration (of the fundament). Well, many of the participants had never made spiritual exercises, and were mostly under twenty years, one of them even just fifteen.
At three o'clock p.m. we met again in the hall to a divine service. We sat in a circle. We read the text of the Lord's Supper according to the evangelist John (13, 11-17). A great attentiveness for this completion of the known texts about the breaking of the bread by the first evangelists could be felt. It was not only an intellectual attentiveness, because in the round the beginnings of the 'risus paschalis' (Easter laughter) could already be sensed - a joy that comes from our inside. We directors too were quite curious, if we were able - in view of the Asian culture - to notice the boundary of respect, because, how little did we know it. More and more we became aware of it.
Then I took off the shoes of the first woman and washed her feet. Two of lady directors took soap and towel and followed my example. Everyone had his/her feet washed, and washed then his/her neighbour's feet. After that intensive time of washing intercessions followed, the Our Father, and the peace greeting, in which we approached each other barefoot. When we sat again in a circle, two Taiwanese women arrived, who had lost their way in the city. I thought: How let we participate them in this celebration, now when they are sitting in our round? Suddenly a young woman from Texas, and one of Taiwan, arose, went through the circle, and washed the feet of the two - without getting any hint from us. I was astonished, and saw how good it was.
In the next hours many of the participants expressed how grateful they were, amid all their alarm, about this Eucharist, as they said.
The evening meal was prepared by the group from Taiwan. By them four table groups were set. They divided themselves up, so they could attend everywhere. Up to now the Taiwanese had always eaten together, since many of them talked English badly. That did no longer matter now. They, the people so obviously strangers among us and in the city, had become hosts. Beside each plate there were transfer-pictures with the Taiwanese banner, which can only be seen very rarely, because of the conflict with China. Also other small things were given by them as a present. This change from the edge to the centre changed a lot in our social intercourse. Although they needed much time for the cooking, it was for them a full retreat day, too, on which many things for everyone had happened, because each of them had looked also for a time for her/himself.
In the evening the retreat process in the exchange groups went on. Some stumbled on obstacles that seemed insurmountable, others found surprisingly peace, and in the directors the pain and joy about the things in which they took part began to become apparent. In them too happened a process of opening, with all the personal obstacles, similar to their own Spiritual Exercises.
The fourth day
The Morning Prayer was held on the place before the church. Claudia had drawn a big spiral on the ground. It is the sign that reminds her of the joy of the last retreat. She took off her shoes and went slowly into the spiral. Time and again she stopped and told us of her experience while she went into the middle of her person - cautiously, faltering, remaining silent, and nevertheless more and more circling around the centre until she arrived there, in union with herself and with life as a whole. It is a huge liberation, to accept the given life there in that centre. She did not have to talk much about it. Her whole body, first of all her eyes, spoke of it. But then the time came, to go the way back into everyday life. That process too she could explain and make plain by walking. She wanted to live out of this experienced centre also in the future. With a dance of joy on this place of the spiral, around which rays were drawn in all directions, the prayer ended.
One of the lady directors was asked by a Taiwanese woman to accompany her into the city again. The other lady directors sat together again, exchanged their experiences, and asked how the external program of the retreat could go on in their group. This round was always a big gift for us, because surprising things happened for us as well: we understood hints of Ignatius in a new way, were able to articulate our helplessness and to accept it, Bible texts illuminated situations of our everyday life here. We ware amazed about the retreat process, assessed by us as almost impossible, in a group from three continents, and about the experiences of the world church, as a lady guide said.
Again at three o'clock p.m. we celebrated the Eucharist in the hall on a long table. We heard again the Moses story (Ex 3) and a paragraph from the Emmaus story: After the stranger had become host, and had broken the bread for the two disciples, he had disappeared. Our situations on the street are often like that, too. "And they said to each other, 'was our heart not burning?'" (Lk 24, 30-32) Where was our heart burning today, and in the last days? About these things we wanted to talk again in the evening, and also tomorrow morning in the great group. To make this mutual telling across group boundaries easier we suggested bringing along a symbol.
The participants had spontaneously invited three or four people they had met on the street to the divine service and to the meal. They had become important for them. They practised the hospitality experienced by them.
For the meal the tables were arranged to a big T. The Texans spoilt us with baked turkey and many more things. The entirely relaxed atmosphere underlined clearly that we celebrated a festivity. The inner joy that united us became tangible.
In the exchange in the evening many people gave thanks for the past days, even for fierce pains on the way, and told of their experience of peace and happiness in the soup kitchen, on the graveyard, on the place in front of the cathedral etc. But some few people, mostly older ones - also sensed that the retreat process had just begun, and that they would need some time yet, to understand in front of which walls they were standing in their lives, walls which were hampering them, and did not let them see ahead. They hoped to go ahead in the days to come on the blocked way.
The fifth day
The Morning Prayer and the sharing of experience between the retreat groups happened in one of the places that had been experienced as holy: on the graveyard opposite the church. There we went almost as a procession, with the song of the eagle setting out. When we were sitting in a large circle, we continued reading the Emmaus story - how the disciples at once went back to Jerusalem, now listening to the other disciples. Only the day before the women could have told them about the resurrection as much they wanted, the disciples had not endured it. And now they reported about their own experience. While they were doing it, Jesus was in their middle and bade them peace. Hence, in their telling he was back again, and he could be recognized by the peace that became perceptible. Nevertheless they were frightened. Can it really be possible what we experience now again? (Lk 24, 33-40)
We invited to share the experiences of the last day, now in the big group. After a longer silence somebody put a plate into the middle and told us how he had been invited by a homeless person to go with him to the soup kitchen, and how he had looked after him solicitously, and how he had passed on his meal ticket, to really accept this present of his host. Not he had given help to a human being, but he had been invited by him. With much gentleness he told us, how he was allowed to sit at the table of the kingdom of heaven, invited by a homeless person. He had given him the filled plate, and offered a place.
Somebody else set his shoes in the centre, which he had taken off before a female participant. Then they told us about an episode on the graveyard and pointed at the place around us - you did not need a symbol. Quickly two people ran back to our lodgings and came back with things, put them into the centre, and explained them.
We, the directors had bought dish towels and painted a foot upon each one. Those towels were distributed to everyone with a little commentary: in everyday life the towels might remind them of the retreat, and spur on talking about them, to feel by doing so again the peace of the burning heart. The towels could also be a memory of the feet washing, and could help to repeat it occasionally in some way. With the towels in our hands we danced to the melody of a song, and waved them. Well, all the things that happened then can be imagined now by everyone her/himself: photos, further lettering of the towels, telling, laughing, telling...
Three of the lady directors had to say good bye now. Swiftly we went back to the quarters: Loading of luggage into the car, eating of the warmed up food rests, and of all other food possible, saying good bye to the parish that had taken in a group from France for the World Youth Day, and celebrated with its guests - and then quickly to the railway station. Claudia had gone ahead and had drawn a big spiral on the forecourt of the station, before she went back to Berlin. This farewell gift needed no explanation, and many people went the way into the spiral and out again, and then, two o'clock p.m., they went to the Loreley.
A rearguard of four people stayed in Fulda, put in order the abandoned quarters, and followed by car. Thanks to their help we could go free and easy.
From there I cannot tell. I heard that it was a joyful reunion, and that everybody just told joyfully of his/her own experiences in the language of his/her country. About the Jesuit from Taiwan we had already heard before: "News is spreading swiftly in our small Catholic community on the isle. Hence in some weeks everybody will have heard about the street retreat in Fulda, and then I too will offer such retreats in our place."
I too have told about those days, and I am curious how impulses of that time will be working on.
God our father,
you are always near us:
in stillness and activity,
in loneliness and encounters,
in things familiar or strange to us.
Let us discover more and more:
that you are there for us,
and that we can search and find you in all things.
As sign of your nearness you have sent us your son.
Let us recognize him deeper and deeper:
that we see the world as he sees it,
jugde as he judges,
act as he acts.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit,
that we love Jesus more and more
and follow him more and more.
I would like to give a testimony about what happened to me in this Magis experiment. The first day, I thought I was called to go and pray in the places of prostitution of the town. But at the end of this first day, after seeking god in these places without finding peace, I met an old beggar at the door of the Cathedral, to whom I gave a banana. We spoke a little together. In the evening, I noticed that my day had been very complicated and that I had finally found what I was looking for in the simplicity of this old beggar.
That is why I decided the second day, to go in the town, in places where I could find some beggars and speak with them. A young Texan man from Magis was accompanying me. We went to the station but found no one there, except two young people who seemed to be drug sellers. Then we turned all around the town, looking for beggars without finding them. After a while, we decided to go to a garden where beggars are used to go. The first beggar we met did not want to speak to us. We proposed to give him fruits, but he refused. He accepted that we sat on the next bank to have lunch. But after a few minutes, we felt very much ill at ease to eat in front of him without him joining us. Then, we went to another bank to have lunch. We spoke together about these experiences and about our lives.
It seemed to me that this sharing was more than sharing of bread. After this peaceful moment in the beauty of the garden, we went back to the Cathedral to speak with the old beggar. He was as kind as the previous day. He did not want my American friend to pay for him for new shoes. After a while, we did not know what to say any more, and decided to rest a little bit on the grass next to the cathedral, with our French friends from Magis and their new beggar friends. Most of their beggar friends were very agitated, and I felt disappointed that we could not enter into relationship. But surprisingly, one of them sat just in front of me, looked at me straight in the eyes and said: "you seem to be someone that has lived very much" I answered : "what do you mean ?". He said: "I mean that you had many experiences in your life, this is visible".
I was very astonished by this compliment and spent the end of the afternoon thinking of it. In the evening, we had a celebration where we washed the feet of one another. It made me realise, that it was far more difficult for me to be served than to serve the others. And thinking of it and sharing in small group in the evening, I received an understanding of the meaning of this day. During this day, I had given far less than I had received. I wanted to give things or words to the beggars, and they had given to me words of love.
The third day, I wanted to go on with this experience with the beggars going to the soup kitchen. But I had many doubts about this and could not be sure that this was the place I should go. Before the kitchen soup opened, I walked alone in the town and entered a very old church next to the Cathedral. There I started to pray and in the end I was feeling determined to go over the fear that prevented me from going to the soup kitchen. I went out of this church, and I got the strong impression that my prayer was going on in the street as it was in the church. That is to say that real life was a prayer. I went directly to the door of the cathedral to speak a little bit with the old beggar. One other beggar, called Alexander, arrived suddenly and proposed to the old one to buy bread for him. We started to talk and surprisingly, he invited me to come with him to the soup kitchen. We went there together and found two other beggars that were drinking Riesling wine before the kitchen opening. They were from Eastern Europe and Russia. Another man from another table gave me a ticket to have lunch without paying. I tried to refuse, but I could not.
When the kitchen opened, I went to the bar to get food with Alexander. I told him someone had given me a ticket but he replied:" I have already paid for you". I started eating with emotion, because I was realising that this moment was a prayer. I had the feeling to be adopted by these men. Two more details spoke to me deeply. First, they had not given me any water to drink with the food, and they were drinking wine directly from the bottle, which I did not want to do! I was reflecting about this when Alexander noticed it and gave me a cup of tea with sugar! Then I had no bread to eat with my fish. The man in front of me, called Dimitri, had two slices of bread near his plate. He guessed that I was missing bread and gave me one slice of his… To me this became the symbol of what happened to me: I recognised him when he shared the bread (see Emmaus Pilgrims, Luke 24). As a confirmation of this, the Gospel that has been chosen for the evening Eucharist was the one of the Emmaus Pilgrims. I made the experience to be consoled by the Lord as the pilgrims on the way to Emmaus.
All these three days have been a path to go over my fear and enter into relationship with the beggars. It ended with a great moment of friendship with them. Therefore, the last day for the testimony prayer in the cemetery I brought a plate in the circle, to symbolise this moments of communion with Jesus Christ found in the beggars.