Federica is a part of a Catholic community, similar to the Catholic Worker Movement in the United States, called the Pope John XXIII Association. Pope John XXIII inspired Vatican II among other reforms, aiming to bring new life to the Church while strongly emphasizing Jesus’ call to live with the poor and marginalized. Federica’s community was named in his honor by Don Oreste Benzi, a local priest hoping to gather the faithful to live with the poor, support the sick (particularly disabled young people), and offer radical hospitality in family homes. Federica has participated in many different projects of the community, from communal homes in Italy and Russia to service for orphans and disabled people in Romania and Zambia to the peacebuilding project in Israel and Palestine where we met in 2008. She and I stayed in “the Joy Village” in 2010 when we first tried out living in Italy, a compound of 3 large homes hosted by 3 families of the community. Off each main house were smaller rooms and apartments where parents at risk of losing their children (either due to illness or chemical dependency or poverty or various reasons) could stay with their kids in a large and boisterous family atmosphere. Each home had between 13-15 “family members”, including foster kids, disabled adults, adopted children, unemployed chain-smokers, immigrant philosophers, and the like. The emphasis on non-professional, loving albeit slightly chaotic support made a big impression on me. You can read a little more about my impressions of “Village” life from my personal blog linked here.
Each year, members of the community are encouraged to take a prayerful break from their daily lives, especially since mainly of their daily lives resemble the “Joy Village” to some extent. These retreats are called “Deserts” and can be either private time on one’s own or more organized prayerful group sessions scheduled regularly. Though Fede and I have been living far away from community life, we did definitely appreciate the need to take a moment to rest and reflect. And when the opportunity to check out a desert in the Alps came up, all the better.
So we spent the last several days in a truly picture perfect valley in the eastern Alps, the Dolomites, called Val di Fassa. The rocky peaks are relatively new projections from an ancient seafloor, pushed up as the Italian peninsula crashed into the European continent, creating what my coworker refers to as “the boot with the fur” (the fur being the Alps). When I have trouble sleeping at night, I often picture a serene sub-alpine mountain valley filled with wildflowers. While up until now I half-consciously considered that valley to be in the Cascades, my dreamy landscape now has a name and a place.
We trundled through this beautiful place with a crew of folks in less orthodox silence then I’m used to, but I suppose if I wanted Protestant-style silence I know who to call. We stayed in a hotel built in the 60’s by Don Oreste using money he raised in the US to host disabled teens and give them access to natural beauty. I spoke with deep-seeking people and listened to early morning birdsong and drank cold, clear mountain springwater. I learned how to say “goodnight” in Mandarin, did not eat an atomicsourfizzybluemouthvampireball despite being offered, and generally thought a lot about fatherhood in this community. Of course I can only speak from my own experiences, because really you’d all just LOVE to hear from Federica, now wouldn’t you?