The end is the beginning, or vice versa?
Indeed, the end is another beginning. The end of Bossey students’ itinerary, not only in Rome but also in their community life at the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, somehow coincided with the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which we celebrated at the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside-the-Walls. For the twenty-eight Bossey students coming from various nations, racial-ethnic groups, Christian denominations, geo-cultural locations, the study visit to Vatican and Rome was also marking the very last stage of their brief yet intense community life at Bossey. They all knew that the end of community life was very near.
Except several Master’s level students who would spend five more months for their thesis writing at Bossey and University of Geneva, most of them were now expecting and anticipating another beginning back in their home in Asia, America, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. For everyone of “us,” however, “we” were near the end at which “we” now would say farewell to each other. The farewell was not the end of our friendship, though, but still part of its beginning.
Unity in diversity, and vice versa!
We students have spent an intense and intimate time at Bossey, learning ecumenism not only by reading texts but also by living as the very texts speaking in numerous languages with varied accents. Therefore, not only via unity but more via diversity, the students have been immersed and incarnated into the concrete, material life of ecumenism.
It may have been only five months, but a good number of these students would agree that it felt like many years which by the way fled like an arrow. Coming from various global and local – thus glocal – churches and Christian organizations, Christian unity is for us no longer just an abstract idea. Christian unity manifested within the diversity is rather a concretely lived-out reality we have experienced through daily chapel services, class discussions, three meals a day, and the living room social at “Petit Bossey” literally every day for the last five months.
The voice of the Pope, the voice of others
On site, most of Bossey students couldn’t fully understand the message of the Pope, Catholic hymns, or its elaborate liturgy, as those were delivered in either Italian or Latin. Some of us only learned of the contents of the Pope Francis’ message translated via the website of Vatican News. However, for the last five months, most of us have been communicating with each other not just with verbal, oral languages, but also with various “body languages” (in addition to WhatsApp emoticons.)
With such experience, we have now gained a certain level of “gift of tongues” which enabled us to understand the untranslatable gestures of the Pope on the site of the Vespers. All of us were fully immersed to the Vespers with the utmost feeling of humility.
Most importantly, our daily chapels which were frequently delivered with various languages had trained us to understand and feel the “voice” of linguistic others, even when they are not articulated in their own mother tongues. Although we couldn’t understand the message delivered in Italian, we could hear the voice of the Pope Francis filled with grace and mercy, and with that “justice” which the Pope emphasized in his message. As much as the voice of each Bossey student is no longer that of a stranger, the voice of the Pope was not a stranger’s voice to us.
Thanks to …
Partaking in the First Vespers at the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside-the-Walls was indeed serendipitous, but the event could take place thanks to Father Sauca, Father Lawrence, and Father Andrzej who organized, guided, and accompanied Bossey students’ study visits in the Vatican and Rome. Thanks to them, Bossey students could have an unforgettable experience in their last study visit.