God first of all and above all things of the world (1GL 1), is an affirmation of Saint John of God (1495-1550), Founder of the Hospitaller Order that bears his name (known in Italy as Fatebenefratelli), to which they belong. It is a phrase that often accompanies his letters, and that for the recipients is transformed into an invitation to build their existence on a firm foundation, namely, God, who must have the first place among the things that the world proposes to us daily. Personally, every time I read this phrase, or when it comes to mind, I am always moved, and these words are an encouragement for me to continue on the way the Lord has traced for me, and they constitute a call to turn totally to Him who made me worthy to receive the charism of Hospitality, handed down to us from our Founder.
My experience with the Fatebenefratelli began some 18 years ago, but already from the years of adolescence I perceived my vocation to the religious life; I am not able to frame the precise moment in which I received the call, perhaps because the Lord was already acting for some time, slowly; in every moment of my family and parish life, I was aware of the desire to consecrate myself to Him in the service of my neighbor.
I had the first direct impact with sick persons when, still an adolescent, I accompanied the chaplain every Saturday to the hospital of our city. It was, for me, a very awaited day; this service made me happy, my desire for the hospitaller vocation increased. Over time, I began to discern my future. My grandmother had a fundamental role, who became a sort of spiritual companion, because with her delicacy and the example of her life dedicated above all to God, she encouraged me in my search. One day she showed me a magazine that invited young people to do the Spiritual Exercises organized by the Fatebenefratelli. Thus began my experience with the Order of Saint John of God.
Subsequently, for about three years, I was committed in my initial formation — spiritual and human –; therefore, although continuing with my religious formation, I undertook a University course in Nursing Science. After the conclusion of my studies, I served as nurse in several Houses of our Religious Province in Poland; they were very intense and beautiful moments for my spiritual, human and professional growth.
In fact, this year it is 18 years since I entered the Order, joking I could say that I reached the adult age! I like to remember that first day, when my family accompanied me to the Warsaw convent. It was a moving moment for all of us.
No sooner we arrived at the convent, we were directed to the chapel, which that day was adorned with the image of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa: it was August 26, in fact, the Solemnity of the Madonna. I also remember my emotion and that of my parents; in those moments I understood that Mary would accompany me in my choice and in the course of the religious life. This certainty was always very reassuring to me.
Currently, I am in Italy, I belong to the Community of the Vatican Pharmacy made up of six brethren, from different nations, who have guaranteed the service in the pharmacy and in the Office of Health and Hygiene of Vatican City State, for some 145 years. My service enables me to discover the universality of the Church and of the Order. The nursing care carried out during papal ceremonies and other particular moments of the Church, such as the Jubilee, the Synods, the canonization ceremonies, enable me to follow the teaching of the Holy Church, in the person of the Holy Father. It is a constant formation that influences my personal and spiritual growth; these nine years have been for me of continual Spiritual Exercises. In fact, the charism of Saint John of God could not be lacking in this place, with his disciples who go to the existential peripheries in the heart of the Catholic Church, practicing hospitality.
The last Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, lived in the whole universal Church, reminded us of the fact that mercy is God’s first attribute. It is God’s name (Pope Francis and Andrea Tornielli, God’s Name Is Mercy. Book-Interview, 2016). We Fatebenefratelli have the privilege and the commitment to witness that true name of God; exactly as Saint John of God did, if we considered how great God’s mercy is, we would never cease doing good (I DS, 13). The hospitality charism, carried out in five Continents of the world, must be put into practice in our relations with all, without any distinctions of race, confession or social status. Saint John of God always said: God loves all (I DS 12). Always have charity because where there is no charity, God is not there, even if God is in every place (LB 15). We must make his words our own, and make them echo within us every moment of our life. The history of the Order shows us the total testimony of hospitality of our brethren, who in different circumstances have offered their life for others (cf. 1 John 3:16), as it was recently in Africa, when some of our Brethren and Collaborators lost their lives during the Ebola epidemic, to remain at the side of the sick.
In our hospitaller establishments, where the diversities of persons cross one another, we wish to transmit the service of charity by making ourselves messengers of the love of God, who loves all indistinctly. We do so not only with quality performances, from the scientific, technical and organizational point of view, but we make an effort so that our hospitality mission offers a service full of humanity, where the person is put at the center of care; today more than ever, we, disciples of Saint John of God, are called to give witness of the genuine human values that defend the dignity of the life of every person; values that are founded on the figure of Jesus Christ – true God and true man (cf. CCC n. 464); without Him, the hospitality mission would be empty of those values that constitute the heart of its vocation, namely, of service to God and to man.
In this Season of Lent, our Founder exhorts us to conversion, so that God becomes the first desire of our existence, and our works may never have limits in charity. His life was studded with works of mercy; going across the peripheries of Granada he witnessed God’s infinite love: his audacity in loving God and his neighbor was evidenced in the encyclical Deus Caritas Est of Pope Benedict XVI, who describes him together with the other Saints of charity, as models of social charity for all men of good will. Benedict XVI himself stressed how: The Saints are the true bearers of light within history, because they are men and women of faith, of hope and of love (cf. Deus Caritas Est, n. 40).
Saint John of God was a true man of faith, of hope and of selfless love.
Just as I began, I end this testimony with his words: God first of all and above all things of the world, trusting only in Jesus Christ, who is perfect certainty (1 DS 6). Let us hope that these words become the ardent desire in our heart.