Eliana and Paolo married very young: he was 25 and she was 20. Believers but not very practicing, with a faith - as they themselves say - a bit naif. After 5 years of marriage, they said to God, "Lord, if you exist, show yourself!" and God showed up in a powerful way.
Both Eliana and Paolo, within a few hours of each other, had a strong experience of God from which the community was born. Via Pacis, together with a diocesan priest, Father Domenico Pincelli. On June 26, this reality received the definitive decree of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life as an International Association of the Faithful..
Eliana and Paolo were the heads of this association until four years ago, when they felt the need to leave the leadership of the association to the new generations.
How did this adventure of founding the community begin? Via Pacis?
-[Paolo]It all began 45 years ago, but at that time we did not know that it was the beginning of a community. We started praying with a priest, Father Domenico Pincelli (who died in 2003) and little by little other people joined us; we would never have thought that over the years that small reality would become a reality of pontifical right!
[Eliana]We have been married for 50 years; we were already married before founding the community. We were not very practicing people, we had a somewhat naive faith, a bit superficial. At a very significant moment in our lives, we said: "God, if you are there, show yourself". The Lord's answer was not long in coming: we experienced a personal Pentecost.
It is an experience that is difficult to explain, just as it is difficult to explain the moment when one falls in love. It is an impact, it is the power of the Spirit that invades you, that makes you fall in love with God, and you say: "Our life, Lord, is in your hands, do with us what you want". And so we begin to direct our life to the service of our brothers, of the Word and of evangelization.
It was something you could see on the outside. In fact, friends around us were asking, "What's wrong with you?" and so we were able to tell them, to testify that Jesus was alive and that we had met him. We didn't know what had happened to us. In time we realized that it had been a spontaneous outpouring of the Holy Spirit with a sweeping effect of joy, a joy that bursts out of your skin, that doesn't let you sleep, that intoxicates you and makes you hungry for God and his Word.
[Paolo]We didn't know what had happened at all. We understood it later. We had an insatiable desire to read the Bible and something strange happened to us: the Bible, the same Bible that we had tried to read before and that, at times, was obscure and incomprehensible to us and that we had tried to understand by attending theology courses, now became enlightened, now spoke with clarity. The longest journey took place in us, the journey from the mind to the heart. We began to love the Word, to make it the reference point of our life. And in cascade we began to love the Church, prayer, the sacraments, and to discover above all the sacrament of reconciliation. And it was a bit like the experience of the first Christians, with the Lord calling and "adding to the community".
[Eliana]In addition to this experience of meeting Jesus, there was another fundamental relationship in our lives: the encounter with a priest: Father Domenico Pincelli. With him we established a deep, affectionate and mutually caring relationship. He was an older priest and very different from us, but with a burning love for God and a deep desire to live and die for Him. We began to meet regularly for prayer. We did it in our house and that was our home as long as numbers permitted. Then Paul perceived from the Lord that, in order not to lose what we had lived and were living, it was necessary for us to live in community: "Either we make community or we lose what we have lived". The first to accept this strange and original call was Father Domenico himself. At that time he was 55 years old, Paolo was 33 and I was 28.
[Paolo]We started living together. Thinking about it today, we realize that we were crazy: a priest living with a married couple much younger than himself. Today we realize that imprudence is often the driving force behind so much abandonment. So we began a community life: we shared our lives, our house, our time, our gifts, our money, our dreams. It was a life together that was not always easy, as you can imagine, but fruitful, capable of provoking a continuous conversion and a desire to improve.
Little by little, we were approached by people who wanted to live according to our style. This reminded us again of the Gospel: "We want to go with you because we have seen that God is with you". It was the Word of God that guided us. Another fundamental phrase of the gospel was Ezekiel 3:1: "Bring all the tithes into the temple treasury...". This Word pierced us; we were aware that love for God and love for the poor go hand in hand, and that Word told us clearly what and how to do. Thus, we made the decision to give a tenth of our income to the poor. This choice gave us and continues to give us a lot of freedom and has spread like wildfire, in the form of solidarity projects all over the world: schools, health care, soup kitchens, wells, adoptions... Today we are present in 18 countries.
[Eliana]At the same time, we discovered the charism of the community: the Lord asked us to be ambassadors of reconciliation, that is, to constantly seek to reconcile our relationships with ourselves, with others, with God and with creation. Thus we were able to discover the reconciliation-forgiveness binomial: reconciliation as the path to forgiveness and forgiveness as the path to reconciliation. In fact, the first reconciliation - in our living in community - took place between the two states of life that have perhaps always been opposed in the Church: marriage and priesthood.
Hearing you speak, it is clear that God has called you to change your life. Is that vocation?
-[Eliana]We do not understand vocation as something mystical, but as something very concrete. It is a deep desire that you find within you. Not something against your will, but something that you desire with all your strength, that directs and expands all our capacities and potentialities.
[Paolo]It is with time, looking back, that you understand that it was a call from God. It is an attraction to God, but one that requires our share of will and perseverance. Life is made of ups and downs, and it is perseverance that allows us to move forward despite the adverse currents. Thus we learn to always praise God, to "think well", to realize how grateful and fortunate we have to feel, to live each experience with the certainty that "Everything contributes to the good of those who love God". It is God who calls and acts, and we respond in daily life, which is the path to holiness. It is not something extraordinary: it is in the factory, in the school, in the family, in the workshop, in the office that we sanctify ourselves.
How does the call to the charism of Via Pacis?
-[Eliana]When we started the community, we were very fiscal, and there was a very clear and equal rule for everyone: one hour of prayer a day, weekly fasting, weekly reconciliation, community meetings, service, tithing, accompaniment... These were our pillars. Then, especially in the last 10 or 15 years, it has been understood that times are very different today than 50 years ago; it has been understood that there cannot be the same food for everyone and that the rule of life must be adapted to the times, the places, the state of life, the culture, the work, the age. So we have established the "lowest common denominator", which is what unites all the members of Via Pacis in all parts of the world and in all languages: the praying of Lauds. There is also a lot of freedom according to one's vocation: the rosary, Mass, adoration, service to the poor.
In the community there are, for example, elderly or retired people who donate their time to pray for the community and its many needs. Their work is very valuable and they form the "hard core" that sustains the community. It is a powerful means of intercession, just like fasting, which the Lord has made us discover from the beginning of this adventure. Then, many communities are engaged in adoration, listening and remaining before God in silence. For us, they exist as "communicating vessels" both within the community and within the Church.
[Paolo]Formation has always been an important aspect of the community, that is, to be able to "give a reason for the hope" that is in us. This has led us to favor and encourage a deeper study of theology: diocesan courses, licentiates, doctorates. But also to attend courses to serve better: in prisons, in listening, in personal accompaniment, in difficult marital situations, in acquiring skills in fundraising, in service to young people, in preparation for marriage. We are convinced that good must be done well and that it cannot be improvised. We must also take into account the changing times in which we live, which demand a constant openness to the novelties of the Spirit, as well as the need to learn new languages and new paradigms.
This way of life is not very fashionable. How can this way of life be explained to the world?
-[Paolo]We don't have to explain it, we have to witness it with life and in life. With two important aspects: first of all by listening to people, because today no one has time to listen. A listening that recognizes the other as important to me. The other point, consistent with our charism and with the previous point, is to continually seek a relationship with people and, therefore, dialogue. Pope Francis speaks a lot about the art of dialogue: it is an art to know how to listen and to know how to look at the person, to see him, to listen to his needs, to be a "friend", to have empathy. And in dialogue and in relationship, to be a "good mirror", that is, to reflect how beautiful and good the other person is, thus becoming sowers of good and hope.
[Eliana]Today people need to experience God. Not to hear speeches about God. That is why it seems urgent to me to be a means and a bridge to promote a personal encounter with God. Our way of living and being must make people question and be fascinated in order to be able to say "come and see".
Movements and new communities are not better than others, they are all gifts of God. And they are different so that each one can find his own reality according to his character and tastes. The inner seal of having found what one was confusingly looking for is the experience of having found home and finally being able to stop.