I left Manila for a rather unusual trip. It was like “mission possible”, a three-week immersion in the life of that “little flock”, a small Focolare community in Dubai that thrives amid a “massive concrete jungle”, as a traveler defined it.
February 13, 2018 – Landing at the airport, with three others coming from Jordan and Syria, we were met by a handful of people with radiant faces, who then handed each of us a flower with the greeting, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” This warm gesture made us immediately feel at home.
Setting the tone for this desert adventure, a timely message reached us the next morning with our first cup of coffee. It was from the Focolare President, Emmaus Voce. She greeted us with these words, “Dear Romè, Murad, Susanne and Fadia. I accompany you with my unity for the temporary focolare in Dubai. May Jesus be always present among you, and may He be the most beautiful gift for those you will meet! Words not to be taken lightly!”
On tip-toe, we contacted one person after another, setting up appointments at their homes, at Metro stations, inside restaurants, in the Church and even in some malls nearby. They also came to meet us in our apartments bringing various items to share with us. Anytime of the day, even during the wee hours of the night, and everywhere, we had great occasions to build a temporary shelter for Jesus, and joy exploded with each encounter!
One evening we met the animators of the community, who were quite dynamic, very international and culturally diverse. It was a small family, where everything among them is shared. Mutual enrichment was evident and all came to strengthenthe unity that binds them. The meeting was to prepare for a 2-day gathering, where 70 participants eventually attended, each one playing an active role, making universal brotherhood among 11 nationalities a concrete reality. We have personally witnessed how Christ’s prayer that “All may be one” became reality there, like a small bud, even in the midst of the desert. And it is beginning to bloom!
Over the top
The Burj Khalifa tower, rising majestically in the midst of the skyscrapers of a modern city, is a symbol that reflects the Emiratis, to be always over the top. This is what countless people believe who come to live in this dream city. The little flock of the Focolare whose members came to Dubai is no different from the rest. They came to Dubai, first and foremost, to seek a better financial status in life, for themselves and their families, leaving behind them uncertain futures in their respective countries.
Talking with several of them, we became aware of how many worries they have – discrimination, the fear of losing a job, the high cost of living with low salaries, no permanent residence, and no clear future.
Of course, a few of them instead were able to overcome the initial challenges and now enjoy a certain “security”. Notwithstanding this, they tell us, with the new laws and policies being implemented, they see their future, and that of their families, at risk.
However, beneath all this, lies a “treasure” hidden in each ones’ heart: God, whom they have chosen as their ideal in life. It is their “yes” to him, and to their life of unity that help them withstand the sandstorms in this desert. This is what makes them live over the top.
Leaven that produces tasty bread
Listening to their life stories, one notices that they, too, are bringing about a positive impact in their work environments, by building new kinds of relationships with the people they meet or live with. Noticing their cultural richness, the local priest really appreciates their presence, esteems them and refers to them as a “miniature” of the local church.
And this is how Emmaus describes this little flock in the email she sent them on February 14: “The presence of all of you in these lands is similar to the leaven of which the Gospel speaks, perhaps hidden, but capable of turning the dough into tasty bread…” Re-echoing this, they reply: we remain united with you and live our lives as “leaven…” a commitment they expressed to live in order to spiritually generate the presence of Jesus among them and to “offer Him to people around us on this part of the earth.”
Living water in the desert
As in any voyage, ours too, has reached a high point. But it has to be concluded, temporarily. Reunited for the last evening of our stay in Dubai, we requested the animation group leaders to share with us how they had lived these three weeks, building a temporary shelter for Jesus.
Here are some of their impressions: “…Thank you… for making these days Paradise for each one of us…; for being a blessing and a gift to us; you have become light for us, and you have brought us life…; If I had to draw a picture of this temporary shelter of Jesus, I would imagine it as a spider’s web with all of you at the center connecting all the others…; you made us drink drops of living water in the middle of the desert, but now you are leaving. Please come back soon!”
Romeo Pelayo Vital