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Living stones. Religious art, "mediator" for the encounter with God.

"If a pagan comes and says to you: 'show me your faith,' take him to the church and, presenting to him the decorations with which it is adorned, explain to him the series of sacred pictures." This phrase of St. John Damascene summarizes the service that this initiative aims to provide, giving visitors the keys to read in order to recover the message of faith written on Christian monuments.

Carlos Azcona-January 31, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes
Attendees at the international Living Stones meeting in Assisi (November 2019).

When, in 2008, Jesuit Jean Paul Hernandez Di Tomaso took the initiative to gather a few young university students in the city of Bologna for his ordinary pastoral work with them, he may not have been aware that he had started a new project. something new. From the desire to communicate Jesus Christ through art -and from the anger at seeing how badly this Christian art is so often explained- arises a new way of evangelizing through art, while at the same time taking into account prayer, formation, service and community life, always in the key of living gratuitousness. A novelty that, however, is already a reality in many countries and cities of our immediate and distant surroundings.

Origin and start-up

Temples are sacred places, in which the divine presence is felt through the deep spirituality that oozes from their walls. Architectural elements that have witnessed many centuries of history, culture and art, but above all the necessary encounter of the soul with God. How often this perspective is missing when visiting churches! Perhaps we have lost sight of their consideration as the place where the Christian community prays together and where the heart is set on fire to serve others as Christ desires to serve them. This path of service is a two-way street.

For this reason Living Stones (pietre lives(in its original Italian): to bear witness to the fact that our churches are alive and give birth to life. In them we are born to Christian life and they are privileged places for an encounter with God. One cannot enter them as one enters a museum. This, however, is so frequent nowadays. In the words of their initiator, "the less you go to church, the more you go to churches.". However, from the point of view of faith, the visit to a temple is based on the experience of God that one has had with him. And this is what these Living Stones They try to do this through prayer, service and community life.

Target

As is evident, it is not a tourist visit to the use. Nor is it about giving a lecture or a class in history, art or theology. Rather, it is a matter of offering the necessary reading keys to recover the message of faith that is written in sacred art. Although, as is no less evident, in the explanations that are given there are -necessarily- historical, artistic or theological data. It is necessary to know well the object of the explanation; but above all it is necessary to have lived it previously. And of this, of experiences, these guys understand a little bit...

International communities

Each community of Living Stones begins where there is a minimum of interest among young people (usually university students aged just over eighteen and into their thirties) who, in general, have become acquainted with this community of communities in some of the cities where they serve, to which they may have come as part of an exchange program for their studies. But this is not the only channel: the social networks (where their presence is becoming more and more notorious) are also a source of information.its website is worthy of being known-, the sensitivity for the art lived from the faith and, above all, the face to face is what has made this reality, in just ten years, to be present in more than thirty cities (and those to come...) throughout the wide world.

It has a major presence in Italy. But it is also present in Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela and, incipiently, in Burgos), Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Romania, England, Slovenia, Canada, France, Czech Republic and Malta, as well as in Chicago and Mexico City.

Organization

The organization and the number of members of each community is something that depends a lot on the circumstances of the place. There are communities of only two members and other more extensive ones that reach up to twenty. Their meetings are usually fortnightly (in some places, where they are more established, the meetings are even weekly). Their content varies (each meeting has a different theme), but always revolves around prayer, formation and service.

However, there are places, such as Madrid, where the pace of life makes it difficult to have a proliferation of meetings. For this reason, the local team decided very early on to have a single monthly meeting. As Sofía Gómez Robisco, the coordinator of the Living Stones In Madrid, it is the church of San Jerónimo el Real that currently houses them (although the beginnings of this community are in the chapel of the Beata María Ana Hospital, with its famous mosaics by Rupnik).

In this meeting, which is always open to those who wish to get to know them, they begin with an hour of prayer, followed by another hour of formation. After lunch and a long time together, the service begins. The young people who are part of the community are distributed throughout the church and its surroundings, to welcome anyone who is interested in getting to know it: tourists, passers-by and anyone who is willing to listen to them.

The desire of these young people is to go out to meet the people to offer them the true meaning of the sacred space that houses them. Many other young people remain in the prayer corner: a privileged corner of the church, where there is always live music that invites them to pray, as well as a notebook where people write down their reflections. Often they also ask for prayers. Something that the community of Living Stones always does at the end of the service is to take the notebook, evaluate the day and put it all in the presence of God.

In addition, there are summer camps. There are specific training and service camps. The specific formation camps are located in Paris (on medieval theology and Gothic art), Munich (on biblical exegesis) and Greece (on the origins of Christianity). For the service camps they go to Santiago de Compostela (they have also done some in Puente La Reina) and, ordinarily, to the New Year's meeting of Taizé.

In addition, having a strong Ignatian imprint in its origins, the members of Living Stones to make retreats and spiritual exercises. In Madrid, for example, there is one retreat per quarter. For the retreats, the privileged place is offered in a house in the Alps, at the end of August. And the fact is that Living Stones It is not a watertight group, but rather an itinerary of faith and community life, which usually concludes with the discovery by the young person of his own vocation and his place in the world and in the Church. Hence the importance of the spiritual exercises.

During the pandemic

The circumstances of the current confinement have meant that many of the scheduled meetings have had to be held in a forced modality. on-lineThis was an adaptation that, given the average age of the participants, did not cost them much. In this regard, they were able to experience a very participative and multilingual sacred triduum, as well as their traditional formation camp at the beginning of May (which this year was to be held in Malta) and which focused on the theme: violence, art and religion.

And all of this obviously requires a minimum of organization, which is based on an international team of columnsThe eight members who, in direct collaboration with Jean Paul Hernandez, are in charge of scheduling the meetings, directing the training and, above all, taking care of the young coordinators and giving them a chance to take the lead, as Mari Paz Agudo (column from Living Stones in Spain).

The team of coordinators, to which Sofía Gómez and Diego Luis, a priest from Burgos and initiator of the community in his diocese, also belong, meets annually. In his first experience in Assisi half a year ago, the latter was able to feel the closeness, naturalness and welcome with which everything was lived in this authentic school of apostolic life. He, like everyone else who comes into contact with this community of communities, is invited from the very first moment to become one of them, a Living Stone more, in the beautiful mosaic that we Christians make up in the Church.

The authorCarlos Azcona

Parochial Vicar, parish of the Good Shepherd, Miranda de Ebro.

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