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We are God's instruments

Chiara Oltolini

My name is Chiara, I'm Italian and thanks to the MilONGa project, I spent three months as a volunteer at the Associação Nossa Senhora Rainha da Paz (ANSPAZ), one of the 23 communities in the Uirapuru Spiritual Condominium in Fortaleza, Brazil. We planned my experience six months in advance, because I was sure that the timing was ideal. The day I bought the tickets, I felt a strong sense of joy and wanted to tell everyone what was going to happen in six months. The wait was long, but I remember that every day my thoughts traveled to this community, I began to imagine the children, what I could do with them, and at no time was there a feeling of fear, I felt that it was exactly what I wanted to live at that moment in my life. The goals I had in my head were many. As well as becoming one with the missionaries in the community, I wanted to take part in as many events as possible and get to know the people in the neighborhood, the reality of their daily lives. I was also thinking of creating everlasting bonds with the children and the neediest people I would meet. Through it all, my main goal was to add to my faith and get to know the charismatic faith of Brazilian Christians.

When I arrived, I saw the first scene that made me understand how graceful I was at that moment. I arrived at the airport and didn't expect what I saw in front of me. Lots of children were welcoming me with songs, small Italian and Brazilian flags, and the most wonderful smiles on their faces. It was truly Jesus who said: "Welcome to Brazil" and He did it through the purest creatures that can exist: children. It was a night full of surprises and simplicity that immediately opened my heart to meet these people.

The place where I lived was truly happy. The house of the missionaries who took me in is right in front of the project house, where ninety children arrive every day in two classes, morning, and afternoon, bringing love, joy, questions, a desire to learn and play in a safe place, far from the dangers of the neighborhood and the family sorrows they are forced to live with once they return home.

In those months, the people of the neighborhood community and the project volunteers were able to give me unconditional and free love, so that within a few days I was feeling at home, free to take part in the activities, to coordinate the children's rooms, to pray and play with them and to serve in the cafeteria. There was no fear among us, everyone recognized our union in Christ, in an atmosphere of peace and daily prayer, gratitude and mutual respect. The community's neighborhood is a poor one just outside the favela, yet I was never afraid to walk down the street. People recognize the work of the missionaries, who act with charity and without any prejudice.

It's very difficult to organize my memories and decide which one was the best because every day I felt loved and had the opportunity to love, and that's always wonderful. I can say that one of the moments that made me happiest was the day we got into a car and drove around the neighborhood delivering basic food packages to the neediest families. The heartfelt "thank yous" from the men, women, elderly people, and children that night entered my heart and awakened this strong desire to do more for them.

This experience of encountering the purest of people, the children and the poorest, has taught me that there is no greater joy than giving oneself to others, sharing life stories, talking about one's frailties, and finding oneself similar to this person you had never seen before, but who is now there in front of you and has just become your brother.

I will always be thankful to the great family of CÉU in Fortaleza for welcoming me with so much affection and for showing me the beautiful works of God in the form of communities and charisms, a world that I didn't know before and that I can now see so close to me, and I want it to be part of my life. In my future projects, I see the dedication to others, the fraternity I experienced with the Focolares, and the pure love I learned from the children.

The last few days I spent in Fortaleza were full of joy as I took part in the Halleluja festival and was able to sing, dance, and pray with many brothers and sisters from CEU. At the same time, a feeling of sadness and emptiness began to creep into my heart when I thought I was going to have to leave everything I had built up over the previous three months. It happened one of the last nights that, during a conversation with a brother, I was sharing this feeling of mine with him and he said this to me: "Chiara, I'm sad because you're leaving, I've found a true friend and I don't want you to leave, but look, I'll tell you that I'm happy because meeting you has given me more strength to continue with my mission because I was going through some difficulties in my vocation and you managed to give me the motivation I needed right now. Now I feel firmer, and I want to make an effort to continue." After that conversation, I understood that we are God's instruments, he put me there with one, or several, missions, and the people he puts in our path are never casual. That's when I began to understand that my time was running out and I was impatient to know what other mission he had planned for my life.

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