Pastoral visit

Pope in Nomadelfia: a journey among “a people of families”, where fraternity rules

After having gathered in prayer at the tomb of Don Zeno, on May 10 the Pope will meet a family at the “Poggetto.” During the festive meeting with the community, the children will present Francis with their drawings, and 114 people –from 3 to 70 years of age – will hold musical, dance and theatrical performances, followed by the address of the Holy Father

foto SIR/Marco Calvarese

(from Nomadelfia) Nomadelfia, the “fraternity law” stands out in large white letters on a monolith of dark stone, in Greek, in Hebrew, in Arabic and in Cyrillic. It’s the welcome to all visitors –notably the most awaited and esteemed guest, Pope Francis, expected for May 10 – placed at the entrance of the community, symbolizing a people that wants to restart from early Christianity, from the first communities where nobody was considered “miserable.” The expression “extended family”, in this remote corner of the coastal area of Maremma, that blossomed thanks to the determination of a visionary priest who half a century ago began to reclaim it making it fertile with the help of the first families, means the exact opposite of the “politically correct” understanding propounded by western culture. For the Nomadelfia community, extending one’s family means living out the Gospel “sine glossa”, under the banner of brotherhood and egalitarianism, which includes blood bonds and adoption bonds, bonds between “natural” children and the children of abandonment, between the young and the old, between the disabled and the victims of violence, ex-convicts and refugees. Thus in Nomadelfia everyone is called by name, surnames are banned, for they could become signs of discrimination separating a wide spectrum of faces and personal stories, those who were born here and those who arrived bearing the indelible scars of suffering.

On May 10, after having gathered in prayer at the tomb of Don Zeno and before the meeting with members of the community in the hall that bears the priest’s name, Francis will pay a visit at the “Poggetto” compound to three families composed of 23 people, in the building where communal activities are held.

The surrounding environment is embellished by pastel-coloured houses, reflecting the colours of the flowerpots that adorn the external perimeter, where the community returns only in the evening. Alessandro e Valentina, with their 10 children, will welcome the Pope in the area outside the largest building; they will accompany him inside the central house to offer him breakfast and pray in the small chapel with the Eucharist present in each of their homes. Here the Pope will have a private meeting with two mothers.

300 people live in Nomadelfia, in an area of four square kilometers, along with 30 people from Rome’s community.

It’s a self-sufficient open oasis – with 120 hectares of vineyard, 3000 olive trees, 150 cows, a carpentry and a mechanics workshop – where no money circulates and everyone carries out the work that serves the community, not always the same. Every morning Silvia’s school-bus picks up preschool children, aged tree to five.  They are the youngest residents and just as their older peers, they are preparing to welcome the Pope in their own ways. In fact, in Nomadelfia, education is shared from kindergarten to high-school. Of the 100 minors present, 20 are in foster care.

“If you could take the Pope by the hand, where would you bring him?”, is the theme proposed to children for the drawings they will give Francis during the festive gathering. “Each one of them has depicted their favourite places to serve as a guide for the Pope”, Silvia said. In the Don Zeno hall, 114 people, aged 3-70, will be the protagonists of short musical, dance and theatrical performances for the Pope.

Ada is a “mother by vocation.” We are received in the external garden of the wood and stone house, that existed before her arrival 50 years ago. Her initial shyness, due to the fact of not being used to long conversations, is quickly overcome when she starts telling us about her children and about her peculiar vocation. “I have never regretted it”, she said explaining her decision, as when she started fostering Roberto, 2, affected by cystic fibrosis with a prognosis of six months of life. He lived in Nomadelfia until he died,  when he was 11 years-old. He used to say: “I was born in Nomadelfia when I was two years-old.” Or like Rita, 17,  already devastated by heroin, who died ten years later as a result of an accidental short-circuit in the campervan that brought her to her son. She kept a note written by Don Zeno in the pockets of her jeans. It said: “Wherever you are, remember that I am always your father.”

“Integral, not fundamentalist.” Sandro thus described his community. He’s in Rome now but he met Don Zeno, and the woman that was to become the love of his life, at the age of 19; he lived in Nomadelfia until he turned 23. He now lives in the community’s premises in Rome, in the outbuilding of a Benedictine monastery in Rome’s Montemario neighbourhood, a gift of John Paul II to the community. Raffaele, his son-in-law, 29, and Susanna, his daughter, have chosen this life and chose each other as spouses. Children’s freedom is the most prominent feature of the Nomadelfia community. Theirs is the serene gaze of someone who undertook a path without constraints or blackmail – such as the involuntary attitude of parents who give everything to their children on the condition that they follow the path they decided for them in advance. After their high-school studies, the youths of Nomadelfia take State exams as private candidates. They are then free to leave or remain. Most of them leave, others continue living in Nomadelfia to attend university courses or to work in the community, or they put themselves to the test with a one-year sabbatical. Stefano will be taking his final high-school exams before the summer and then he will work for a year in northern Italy. Then he will decide… In the eyes of Alessandro and Valetina, his parents, there is no anxiety or fear of detachment, in Nomadelfia children are not their parents’ property but a population that will flourish. “Nomadelfia is ours but it’s part of humanity, it conveys a message to the rest of the world”, Don Zeno used to say. From “utopia” to “eutopia”, from May 10 – 29 years since the visit of Pope John Paul II – this undertaking will have another “testimonial.”