I was in Macau for seven years, years that have changed me in a way that is certainly, in the perspective of my little existence, unprecedented. Now, after almost two years from my return to my country, Italy, and in my destination city, Rome, I am thinking more and more about my years in the cidade do nome de Deus, trying to see everything from the Catholic perspective in which I was unworthily raised. This perspective allows me to see myself as I am, without the masks that we all wear in our daily life, often pretending to be something that we are not.
As I have said, Macau changed me a lot from the person I was in 2008, coming from Italy with my experiences and background. I have seen in this city lots of good and lots of bad things, and I was not always able to respond in a appropriate way to the challenges that I was facing, almost on a daily basis.
One thing that I really like about Pope Francis is the answer that he gave in one of the first interviews — I think it was the one with La Civiltà Cattolica. When asked to define himself, he answered: “I am a sinner.”
Yes, there is no more Catholic answer than this one. Indeed I came to believe that the Catholic is the one who knows himself to be a sinner, the one who knows how to separate morality from moralism. I can easily resonate with what the Pope has said, in recognizing that I am a sinner too. Because of my sinful nature, I can recognize that in my Macau’s years I made mistakes, mistakes that offended myself and the people close to me. Why did I make those mistakes? Because of the weakness of my humanity, because I know that sometimes we are all like Saint Augustine, who was looking platonically for the true Beauty, but in the meantime was falling for more terrestrial and diverting “beauties”: sero te amavi, pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova, sero te amavi: “Too late have I loved Thee, O Thou Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved Thee! And behold, Thou wert within, and I abroad, and there I searched for Thee; deformed I, plunging amid those fair forms which Thou hadst made. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee. Things held me far from Thee, which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all. Thou calledst, and shoutedst, and burstest my deafness. Thou flashedst, shonest, and scatteredst my blindness. Thou breathdest odours, and I drew in breath and panted for Thee. I tasted, and hunger and thirst. Thou thouchedst me, and I burned for Thy peace.” Yes, I can always relate to this beautiful passage. I know that my weak human nature sometimes made my good intentions “go south.”
But, to remain close to Pope Francis’ teachings, I always tried to maintain the difference between being a sinner and being corrupt. A sinner is the one who recognizes his weak nature, that doesn’t try to call his sins in a different way from what they are: sins. Corrupt is the one who tries to change the name of sin to “allowed.” No, I know I was “going south” but the weakness of my nature did not allow me to stop in time.
Because of my temperament and “artistic” nature, I may have offended people, and this I deeply regret, even at the time I was doing this. Indeed, I learned how important it is to learn to say “I am sorry.” I said it many times. But, as a small consolation, I knew that what I was doing in Macau was not about my person in the first place, but was something done through my person. I have never forgotten the principle contained in Romano Amerio’s Iota Unum where he said that “those who belong to the Church will find themselves preaching a doctrine which is better than their own deeds. No man can preach himself, beset by weakness and failure; he can only repreach the doctrine taught by the God-Man, or better, preach the person of the God-Man Himself. Thus truth too is a constituent element in the holiness of the Church, and is forever attached to the Word and for ever at odds with corruption, including one’s own.”
Yes, as much as I could I never try to preach myself, but what – through myself – God may accomplish for the people of Macau, and I know that I have not always succeed in doing this.
Some people charged me with not loving Macau. I am sorry (you see?), that is really not true. The hermeneutic problem here is really cultural. My love of Macau was passionate, meaning it was the love of someone that wanted the best for the beloved. And if I could see that my beloved was going in the wrong way, I would not spare words to address the problems. So I always say to people that my relationship with Macau (and with Rome, as a matter of fact) was about hate and love. Hate, because I cannot stand seeing a place that may have so great potential ruined in the quest for “just what is enough” and not for “what is best.”
I really love and appreciate the students that were given to me, I always maintained with them a healthy distance that was not lack of interest, but desire of maintaining a balanced attitude toward them to be able to help them more properly. Nevertheless, I knew that the majority of them really appreciated what their “professor” was doing for and with them, knowing that in my silences there wasn’t lack of words, but fullness of meanings. Yes, because I knew they were so good, and I wanted to try to show them what they may be for Macau, if they will not allow themselves to be trapped in a system that prevented the good from emerging. For me this is not despising a place, but loving it to the fullness.
In Macau I witnessed how good and bad we can be. I recognized that it was not enough to go away from Rome to escape the dangerous effects of clericalism. I witnessed that we all play a part, but sometimes we are not good in returning to our true self, preferring to keep that part over and over. Education, Art, Religion…people grow hugely attached to certain roles that were given to them, and their attachment become bigger than the actual function of that role. And sometimes, a Darwinian social evolution was ruling the dynamics in the educational, artistic and religious world. This was not good, this was the starting of fights, gossips, fractures; I have known all of this in Macau, sometimes I contributed to these sins, other times I was the victim. All in all, we were all part of this big and silly game, trying to survive in an environment that was not always easy to understand.
Yes, indeed I always remember what someone, living in Macau for long time but coming from Europe, told me once: “Macau is a very difficult city.” Yes, it is, and I don’t say this in any negative sense. Rome, for other reasons, it is a difficult city too. But probably in Macau the difficulty is due to the fact of being “a cultural Janus” as the title of a nice book about Macau says. A city with not one but many different souls, that do not always harmonize well together. Macau is the point of collision of different worlds, attitudes, mentalities, ways of living. Sometimes I have found myself on that point of collision, and of course the scares were painful and burning, some are still painful now. But all of this has also taught me a contemptus mundi, a healthy disdain for the world. This concept was preached especially in medieval times. We can think of a famous work in this regard, Frà Bartolomeo from Pisa’s Quadragesimale de Contemptu Mundi (1498). In this work, the Franciscan friar distinguishes between the mundi contemptores (despisers of the world) and the homines carnales or mundanos (worldly people). Putting in perspective the world’s business, and starting to put things in the right order and hierarchy, is the beginning of our release from our terrestrial affections to look at the treasure we have in heaven.
Yes, while in Macau I passed all these phases, trying to be good with all my strength, trying to contribute to the good of the people that were given to my care, but in the meantime recognizing the shortcomings of my human nature and, as I have said, making mistakes.
In the book of Proverbs (9:10) we read: initium sapientiae timor Domini, the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. I am cultivating this fear, not to scare myself and to be discouraged for my shortcomings, but because I know that God, in the last moment, will not only consider my many sins but will also see all the attempts I made to amend myself, or the trials and tribulations that I go through, all the humiliations I face when unjustly accused. Only after all of this will He emit is final judgment on my life and I hope that maybe, some of my big efforts to be a better person in the City of the name of God, even if at the end were not all successful, will help to make my punishment lighter than deserved.