Even when I studied at a Catholic school, I was never an active devotee. I respected the liturgy, knew the principal prayers by heart, attended Mass on Sundays, made my first holy communion and was confirmed, and later went to confession and communion, and became physically involved in public displays of worship, processions, pilgrimages, religious ceremonies so on. Also, whenever there was lightning or thunder I made the sign of the Cross and I prayed to God and to the Virgin, just in case. And I did the same whenever I found myself in a difficult or dangerous situation, something that I have continued to do throughout my life. At school I never volunteered to be an altar boy, and it is also true that nobody ever actually suggested I should be one. I was a member of Catholic Youth, but my participation was limited to the monthly edition, in collaboration with others, of a small mimeographed school newspaper with anecdotes, jokes and cartoons. During my first year at Perito Mercantil, a group of 6 or 7 of us made some noise about participating in a spiritual exercise, a seven day almost monastic activity that took place on a farm in Cojijar, a school owned facility, and now the site of the Panamerican Stadium. The priest who guided us, and who knew us well, tried to get us to forget about it, but we insisted and they had no choice but to accept us. We lived in separate rooms, from which we only went out at seven in the morning to attend Mass, breakfast, attend classes in theology, then prayer, lunch, more lessons, prayer, eat, prayer and sleep at ten at night. The prayers were both communal, after breakfast and dinner, and individual in the room after lunch and before bedtime. Once or twice, if I remember correctly, we played sports, particularly baseball. Generally we had to remain silent, concentrated upon ourselves, without talking to anyone, although sometimes we would violate these regulations, putting half of our body through the windows of our first floor rooms so we could engage in a window to window whispering dialogue. This, of course, was behind the back of the priests. The retreat included “confession” upon entering, and then daily “communion”, under the assumption that once we entered, there were few opportunities to commit additional sins during our physical confinement, but since our minds could ‘wander’ it was possible that we could commit sins of ‘thinking’. Although it was a tough week, and we all decided, when it was over, that we would never do it again, it felt like a test that we had imposed upon ourselves and passed, a new and unforgettable experience. Over time, and more from short-term political necessity than conviction, I moved away from the church, stopped attending Mass, but I remained a Catholic and said my prayers, although, to be honest, mostly in difficult times. Some years ago I started attending mass again, mainly when I feel the need for it. I sometimes go to a Church by myself, where I feel calm and in communion with my conscience. In my student years in the former Soviet Union, I also would sometimes walk into a Church, which was almost something illegal, forbidden by the political authorities, and I would enter more from curiosity than true faith. And this is something I have done in other countries later. In all Churches, regardless of their affiliation (Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, etc.), I felt a certain spiritual relief. It was like crossing a door between two worlds. Today, with a load of years and experience behind me, I am convinced that some small seeds planted in my childhood in the Catholic school, perhaps planted only skin deep, have somehow taken root, and against many prevailing winds, continue to grow within.

Fernando Damaso

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