When you hear the word missionary, evocative images of Africa or Latin America come to your mind, images of distant lands in need of help. Yet, the Old Continent has plenty of evangelization missions too, like the one run by the Community of Pope John XXIII in Portugal, close to the shrine of Fatima. The volunteers who carry out their service in this community are not priests nor religious people. Yes, because besides those for whom becoming missionaries means fulfiling a dream or to satisfying their thirst for social justice in the service of the Church, there are also many families.
Fabrizio and Raffaella had lived in Liguria till 2012. He owned a bar, she was a nurse. In 1997 they meet the Community; their lives change forever, because helped by the Community, they transform their home into a family home. Together with their four children, they share their daily life with the poor, especially with the victims of human trafficking. One September morning receive a surprising phone call: “We have never had a missionary spirit ad gentes – Fabrizio says -, we were happy to stay where we were, but when we received that call from the Community for this mission, we said yes straightaway”.
They interpreted the invitation to be missionaries in Portugal as an answer to a prayer raised to Heaven. Fabrizio had just come back from a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. “The day before I was kneeling before the Virgin for help, and the next day I called the district manager with the proposal to go to Fatima.” The couple sees it as a sign from God, because that day (2 September 2012), in the message Our Lady gave to the seers we read: “I will call you because I need you. Accept the mission and do not be afraid: I will make you strong. I will be with you”.
These words remained carved in Fabrizio’s and Raffaella’s hearts. They decide to make this journey together with their two teenage daughters and a son who has just turned eighteen. Their fourth son, an adult, decides to stay in Italy. Portugal is a country of huge contrasts: “You can see some beautiful villas and houses with goats in the garden next to them – Raffaella said -. Many families have economic problems; the average salary is 400 € and a lot of teenagers work after school to help their families. It is like living in a different world, but it is still Europe. “A slap in the face of all those people who still believe that the lands of missions are far from us. It is a nation that has long suffered from an economic crisis which has affected most of the globe, but not so long ago things have begun to visibly improve.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Portugal is “a good student among the Eurozone countries forced to harsh reforms by the international institutions.” According to latest economic data available, in fact, unemployment is decreasing, growth rate is high and there are good predictions for the future. The presence of a family home in this part of the Iberian Peninsula is a symbolic testimony, because custody is a completely unknown practice here. If children do not have parents, or there are problems in the family, they are sent to institutes. “The first year has been rather shocking: who is driven by missionary desire, departs full of dreams and enthusiasm, whereas we were simply inserted into the social context”.
The Family Home has welcomed also Italian volunteers, children, victims of trafficking, and disabled. Although located ten minutes away from one of the most important Marian shrines in the world, every second week, Fabrizio travels for 150 kilometers. His destination is Lisbon. There he talks with prostitutes, transgender and young women (sometimes even minors) forced to sell their bodies in the street. His assistance gives some comfort to these young women. Gradually this testimony of sharing is spreading around them, “Bishop loves us and even the locals have started to bring us a bit ‘of providence: salad, potatoes, all sorts of food … a way to tell us that they appreciate what we witness”.
Taken from Always