Round Table: Marco Pappalardo

Marco Pappalardo (EN)


Address for Spirituality Days


Marco Pappalardo

Sam: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something”.

Frodo: “What are we holding onto, Sam?”.

Sam: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for!”

(From the film “The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers”).

And I believe it: “That there’s some good in the world”and this is why I try to “fight the good fight” every day! I believe it and I’m telling you through a few sketches based on real life: young people who have helped me to grow (and are still helping me) as a human being and as a Salesian Cooperator, young people you can stake your life on. If spirituality is a way of living the Gospel and the Gospel is the Good News of how we encounter Jesus, for me his face is to be seen in so many youngsters who, to use the “Little Prince’s” words, have “domesticated” me.

I think of Stefania who died of leukemia when she was 20, but who, some days earlier, wanted to greet all those who had been with her. On her bed in her room, wasted physically by the disease, she never ceased to smile, told me not to be too tough on my pupils, and asked me some of the most difficult questions I had ever heard: “Prof, will I still suffer in Heaven?”.

Or I think of Giada who like on every Monday was helping me with volunteer work with migrants or the homeless, and was given 5 euro by a poor old man who was so happy that he had been offered some support, almost as if she were a grandchild. From then on that note was framed and hung up in her room to remind her what we should live by.

Or I think of Gianmaria who I discovered smoking in the toilets each day. I would have torn up at least 50 of her cigarettes; but then she never fails to ring me on any festive occasion to wish me all the best.
I think of Milena who after a difficult day at school in one class, came up to me in the corridor, thumped me on the shoulders and said with a big smile: “It’s OK, prof!”.

I think too of Gianni who one morning while the oratory were at camp, and seeing me worried because it was raining, said: “Marco, what are you worried about? What’s important is that the sun is shining inside us”.

I think of Mohamed, whom I got to know one night under a portico, and he had just arrived in a boat: seeing he wasn’t doing too well we offered him some extra hot pasta but after taking the first lot he wouldn’t accept the second, saying: “No thanks. God will still be around tomorrow!”

I think of Gaetano who was living in a rough part of town and was taking part in our oratory activities: after games were over I met up with his mother who would normally not come in. Her son had a bit of a reputation for being wild and she had little good to say about him. But when she came up to me I heard her say: “So what’s he been up to today the little ratbag?”. I answered calmly, smiling: “Well done! Your son has been excellent. We are really happy with him”. His mother couldn’t believe her ears, then began to cry and emrbaced Gaetano. I asked her why she was crying and she replied: “I am crying because it is the first time in 12 years that someone has said my son is a good boy and they are happy with him”.

I can think of so many past pupils who are amazed and can’t say thanks enough when I phone them to wish them happy birthday. I think of Rosario, known as Saro, who all the leaders had to tell off at the oratory, but nobody for months on end had ever asked him what is real name was. I think of night time hours spent chatting on social media with Chiara who felt that nobody liked her and kept bringing up everything she ate.

And I think of Giuseppe, a young past pupil who’s dad had died, but has a degree today and has published an anthology of poems, thus realising his own little dream.

So every life is a great story and one that really counts and in order to survive we have to have something or Someone to hang on to. This despite everything, there is always something good that it is worth getting involved with! Don Bosco chose to focus on the good he found in every boy, starting from those who were the least and encountering them with the face of the Risen Lord, a face that showed kindness and joy. Do we just look on and admire what others are doing? Certainly in some cases it is the Institutions that need to take care of things, but is it not also true that the first “institution” is the human being, and that it won’t be Institutions that go to heaven or some other place below? If we are not present there will be others ready to rob peace from young hearts, offering them something cheap and nasty.

In each of the “Education territories” we are called to be there with a ‘Risen’ look, the joy of someone who has met Jesus Christ, because – if we are sad – it would mean we have met someone else! Would Jesus have ever been a sad man? Would he have ever followed up a young man with a long face? Would he have never spent some time with him?

And me? Am I one of those who when someone asks “how are you?” answers “could be better” or do I say “Good! Thank the Lord for everything”? I am sure that good is more contagious than evil; I believe that a whole forest growing can make more noise than one tree falling; I believe that someone born round can die square despite all the laws of geometry; and I try to see that every dream becomes a project of life.

Allow me, finally, to speak of Heaven because our true mission is heaven starting from this earth! I think we all want to go to Heaven, though maybe not immediately. Me too! We will not go to Heaven because Pope Francis is a witness, lives poorly and is concerned about the poor, and it is not enough to say to St Peter: “We are friends of Pope Francis”. Maybe it will work a bit like in certain discos or places where we can only enter if accompanied, where women get in for free! We will get to Heaven only if accompanied by young people whom we have liked and helped save; they will be our pass, our entry ticket.

Best wishes for this new year and the rest of your life and keep your feet on the ground, your gaze on heaven, sleeves rolled up for work; our mission is to be happy but not to be happy alone!