Together, casting into the deep of Creation: MAiC leads the way in caring
By Alessandro Guarasci
8:30 am, April 30th. The ship docks at the port in Genoa. It was a nostalgic moment, what had been a true adventure, a stepping out of everyday confinement, a new journey of caring in what has become an "itinerant pedagogy." The 40 differently-abled people whom the MAiC Foundation of Pistoia welcomed on the cruise, look at each other and say their goodbyes. But in their eyes one can clearly perceive the melancholy they feel upon the end of this experience enjoyed together sailing the Mediterranean. A week with families, educators, and volunteers made all the difference. These 'special' girls and boys are often precluded from experiencing their disability in the environments made and designed for the so-called able-bodied, they are free yes, but always in dedicated, confined spaces. Instead, the sea, the highest expression of Creation, has given them a boundless horizon beyond which they can dream.
MAiC taking global responsibility
So, on April 24th, they left Genoa on the World Europa, returning to the Ligurian capital after a week at sea. The large ship hosted 40 of these young people with disabilities, stopping in Naples, Messina, Malta, Barcelona and Marseille. For those who have never been on one, a cruise is a mix of sensations: the relationship with the sea, the contact with the cities where you disembark, the journey and the destination, the entertainment on board. A kaleidoscope of stimuli, which, however, in the case of the trip organized by MAiC, made it possible to continue the therapies that are normally carried out in Pistoia, since the time the foundation was created 60 years ago. MAiC’s goal is to provide "comprehensive care," says President Luigi Bardelli, "to ensure continuity in rehabilitation therapies and thus build a future of serenity for people with disabilities and their families.”
Open to emotions, overcoming personal limitations
It is not difficult to meet MAiC’s guests and their parents accompanying them. They are eager to open up and share their emotions with us, because for so many of them this has been their first experience of this kind. For others it represents a new beginning after the restrictions of the Covid19 pandemic, which inevitably took an even heavier toll on the vulnerable. There are dozens of stories we could tell, but all of them have as a common thread: the desire to go beyond one's limits, to imagine a different future. The ship glides slowly over the sea, skirting unique landscapes, but also passing by heavily urbanized cities that make us think how essential it is to protect Creation from the aggression of concrete.
Alessio learned how to swim “like a fish”
Sabrina is the mother of a 14-year-old boy with autism: "On this vacation, Alessio experienced a whole range of emotions that he was holding inside: from wanting to make friends, to his relationship with the water in the pool, to asking for help, and here, he even eats things he had never tasted before. Just the fact that he doesn't feel constrained by the city, the relationship with the sea helps give him an edge." Indeed, Alessio swims in the water before us as if it were his natural habitat, despite never having taken a regular swimming course. And here, he has also begun to experience his relationship with those around him in nearly an all-encompassing way.
Gianluca’s uncontainable joy
And then there’s Gianluca. "This is not the first time we have left Pistoia for a trip," his mother Nunzia tells us. "We used to go with a group of friends, but after the pandemic everything came to a halt. And now to travel again, and what’s more on a cruise, is an experience that signifies a new beginning." Indeed, during lockdowns, health care organizations were not always able to provide a viable alternative to the suspension of activities. Gianluca tells us that once he got on this ship, his excitement literally exploded, an excitement that, given his pathology, was difficult to handle in the first few days. But he had felt that same enthusiasm from the first moment this cruise was proposed to him. Gianluca tells us about many things, but he wants to emphasize one in particular: "There are too many architectural barriers in our society, and institutions; all citizens must do more to make our cities accessible to everyone."
Contact and trust: a great family
"It's nice that our president Bardelli, whom I call “big daddy' also came here on the cruise, because my dad’s no longer here." Elena, 47, tells us she came to this skyscraper on the sea together with her mother, Mafalda, now in her 80s. This lady has a strong character, and her brother, a priest, has helped and comforted her over the years after she lost her husband some 30 years ago. "Elena came to MAiC when she was three months old; she is basically a veteran of this foundation," Mafalda tells us. "She has woven a relationship of trust with the educators. A relationship based on medical care, rehabilitation but also complicity. In fact, all MAiC patients have established a special understanding with the health care providers, with their educators. In essence, they are part of their family, because rehabilitation is a continuous process involving the senses but especially the heart.
“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for ‘instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature’” (LS 117).
In this experience aboard the World Europa, a highly ecological ship by the way, we touched upon the reflections Pope Francis entrusted to his Encyclical Laudato si'. Man and Creation can coexist in peace, justice and harmony. Not only that. The more we come together to safeguard the Common Home, the more it shows us ways to cure disabling diseases and forms of infirmity.