Sophia, laboratory for Encounters

Cécile Hedon, France

“I studied for a year at the IUS having already a Master’s in Human Resources Administration and having had a 15 month internship with a firm. My professional project had begun; at the same time I wished to take another year to try and establish a bridge between my studies and my inner search. 
A friend spoke to me about Sophia. I asked myself whether it represented much too heavy a choice, a scary one: it meant studying in Italian, a language I had never studied, and coming into contact with an ecclesial movement unknown to me.  However, I spoke about it with a few people I trusted; and this proposal kept sounding strongly within me. After a year, I can say that my intuition was confirmed: Sophia, beyond being an intellectual experience, revealed itself as an integral life experience."


(Cécile Hedon, second one from the left, with other IUS students during a trip)


Characteristic of the IUS is the attention given to the quality of relationships. How is it expressed?


"It is a constantly renewed commitment.  The pact of mutual love is a true and proper pedagogical choice at the service of the academic project, to inwardly dispose oneself – both professors and students – to welcome, to meet, to give and to receive.  At Sophia, in this climate of communion, at times it is the students who clarify or generate the thought and words of the professor.   At other times, it is the professor who gives voice to the student, allowing him to intervene during a lesson or during exams.  One time, a teacher finished his course with this reflection: «We have gone beyond what my pages contained, that which I had intended telling you. I believe this happens thanks to the presence of a unique Teacher who is above us».  He then added: «Furthermore, I go out of the classroom rested... And this also is no banality»!


It seems to me that this experience has healed a wound that had been caused in preceding years when, while at university, classrooms had seemed to be inhabited by the deaf: everyone hid behind a computer screen and the one entering found him/herself in front of a wall without any echo to his words and by the clicking of the keyboards."


How does it incise on daily life?


"As an integral part equal to the hours of study; as a friendship with a Portuguese student for example, who is committed in the Focolare Movement, while I myself am not, has been very important. During the first few months, our differences came out, one after the other... until we started to walk together, learning one from the other. Today, I can say that I have grown in my humanity, thanks to this girl’s presence.  I could cite many other examples.


Something has changed in my relation with others.  Certainly, I had to come to terms with my inadequacies and my fragilities; I have seen emerge from within me some reactions and judgements that did not allow me to be what I wished to be, an instrument of unity.  It was no less difficult to accept the limits and fragility of others.  Life in common often put me in front of the need to choose: to protect myself and close myself in, or accept the challenge and open up to others.  I have often chosen the first solution, either for comfort’s sake or for lack of courage. But I am also very much aware how choosing the other route, how coming away from indifference, how taking the first step, not only the first time, but for the hundredth time has been good for me.   Even when loving asks us to recognize the freedom of the one coming towards us, in making ourselves vulnerable, ready to receive no answer to our giving:  to become artifices of encounter; of an authentic and fruitful relationship."


All is well then?


"I do not wish to undervalue or hide the darkness I went through. Sophia is a demanding project and it requires effort; for those coming from very distant realities, this investment can be gigantic.  Living side by side can never be taken for granted as it truly tests us!  It sure has tested me!


I would say that I have experienced the fruitful complementarities between two dimensions. Before, my formation framework was upheld by an individual spirituality centered on developing a person in her singularity.  Thanks to the growth of all the faculties, one is able to choose, to take one’s place in the world and to love those one meets.  At Loppiano I have discovered a collective way centered on unity; one discovers that a fundamental human vocation is that of being people capable of generating communion.


Besides, one understands the balance between friendship, a bond marked by the mystery of a personal choice, and that of fraternity, which is universal love towards each and everyone.


Having now finished my studies, I would like to mature in the understanding of these premises. And I would like to bring my contribution. I would like to keep those strong ties started at Sophia which are urging me to get closer to the Focolare, to this family in the Church that I feel is very much a friend and to let the people I love, know about it».


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