Since the photo of his beautiful face, with a pacifier dangling from his mouth and his intent gaze, appeared in worldwide media, little David Paloni has become the star of the 2015 Synod of bishops.
Jokingly called the “youngest synod father in history,” the four-month-old is the youngest of the 12 children of Massimo and Patrizia Paloni.
Much has been written about them during this first week of sessions: their 12 children (six boys and six girls: “David evened the score”), their departure for Holland 11 years ago, and their experience as a missionary family of the Neo-Catechumenal Way at Maastricht. However, it is only by meeting in person these two young parents of Rome – he is 45 and she is 41 – that one really understands what a person who has savoured the love of God in his/her life can reveal.
It is visible in their serene way of speaking and relating to others. In Patrizia’s calm, while managing her little one (she cradled David who was crying throughout the interview) and, from a distance, the other 11 children, who stayed in Holland.
“They help one another,” she says, “the older ones look after the little ones, they help them do their tasks. There is great harmony and also great joy.”
But this is demonstrated above all by the joy that lights up Massimo’s eyes when he talks about how his life and that of the whole family was filled after their decision – absurd, according to many – to leave behind a comfortable life, a job as manager, to go to a foreign country and proclaim the Gospel, even having to do cleaning to support the family.
“Our mission experience is born from gratitude to the Lord for all that He has done in our life. He has helped us in difficult moments of our life and of our marriage,” he explained to ZENIT.
Massimo was already used to the missionary life, having come from a family on mission – also in Holland – which left from the parish of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, in the well-to-do neighborhood of Parioli.
Initially, “the landing” was most difficult for the children. “We left when they were small. Five were born in Rome, the rest at Maastricht.”
However, says the head of the family, “it was good because even in the initial difficulties, such as learning the language, integrating themselves at school, in the society and so on, they understood that there was meaning in the mission they were engaged in, that they weren’t suffering needlessly, that there was a greater good.”
To these children – the oldest is 19 years old – Massimo and Patrizia are trying to transmit the faith: “On Sunday morning we pray Lauds together, a moment in which in the light of the Word of God we have a conversation to see if there are problems, crises; to ask for forgiveness and to be reconciled with one another: we with them, or between themselves. It is also a moment to share our experience.”
Massimo also shares this experience to a degree with us: “I worked as an Account Manager of HP. I had a company car, computer, and smartphone. We went to see international sports matches — all very delightful little things. The day before leaving I gave everything back.” Then, “when we went there, I thought: ‘I’ll find work right away; I have a good resume, I speak many languages’; instead God made us understand that He carries the mission forward, in His times and in His ways. Therefore, in the beginning I adjusted myself, I even did cleaning for a period, I worked at a call center … Then the work of evangelization increased, so now we were itinerants and dedicated ourselves 100% to evangelize.”
“And what did you live from?” is the question that arises instinctively. ”From Providence,” Massimo retorts point-blank, “which was manifested concretely in the help our community offered us.”
“We left truly without anything: we had some mattresses, cardboard boxes that we used as night tables,” said Patrizia. “However, it was extraordinary because we were spectators of God’s surprises. One day, for instance, an estate agent called us and said: ‘A person came here who saw that you don’t have a closet. You must come here and choose the closet you want,’ not to mention the anonymous envelopes of money that we found outside our front door.”
The Dutch – that stereotypes say are tolerant, so long as their terrain isn’t invaded – received this itinerant “squadron” enthusiastically. “They were positively impressed by our family,” affirmed the couple, “when they saw us, they asked questions and that was a unique occasion to give our testimony and say a word.”
The Palonis also met with a positive reception at the Synod. “Fantastic!” exclaimed Massimo, “they all gave us an exceptional welcome, beginning with the Pope who, when he saw us, was very happy; he smiled at us and blessed the whole family; then the Secretariat, the Bishops, the Cardinals and the other participants. They received us like Jesus.”
The merit is also David’s, mother and father smile: “This child triggers joy, tenderness. We call him the ‘Synodal child,’” they say proudly. “We think God wanted him present at the Assembly.”
“Patrizia – her husband explains – was already pregnant when, through the Dutch Nunciature, the Secretariat contacted us, but we hadn’t calculated the time, we didn’t realize that he would be born so close to the Synod. I think that in his little way he is doing a good service because he makes present the beauty of a family.”
“And you as well, what service are you rendering to the Synod?” we asked them. “We are present as a missionary family; we bring our experience. In our intervention, we will speak of our life and of our faith, and what is behind it, how it was born, how it developed thanks to the Neo-Catechumenal Way that helped us to understand and live in depth the teachings of the Church.”
“Above all the teachings of Humanae Vitae,” presses Massimo, explaining how openness to life was not a “weight” for them “but a grace that has given us joy.” “We are normal persons that have behind us a journey of Christian initiation that has helped us to reflect further on our faith and to have it grow. This has made us open to life despite our egoism, our defects …”
Therefore, the Synod will be the occasion to “give glory to God by pointing out all these gifts before the representatives of the Churches of the world.” But also an occasion to receive something: “It is truly interesting to hear such qualified people debate on such a fundamental subject as the family,” said Patrizia. “One sees that the Pastors have a real desire to help the family, to re-launch it. There is great zeal and this is what has impressed us in the main.”
Also, she continued, “I have been impressed to see how much communion has been created with other families. We all bring a different experience: given our provenance, journey of faith, family typology, but we share the same spirit. We are many families that have never seen one another before, known one another for a few days, but God created communion immediately.”
“And do you feel yourselves somewhat of a model among these numerous families?” “We are not so, in fact — said Massimo — certainly not I. There are so many families in the world like us. And if someone finds something good or exemplary in the Palonis, it’s because God has willed it.”