New Humanity Movement

Social Harmony and Art

riverNorth Riverside (USA): A family in need receives the gratuitous help of a whole community. This, in turn, spurs that family into an initiative in favor of the poorest and of the city as a whole. This shows the power unleashed by reciprocal relationships that involve the administration, at all levels, of a city meant to take care of all its citizens.

Carole Sale – North Riverside, IL., USA

In 1979 we moved into the town of North Riverside, Illinois, USA.

At that time our family needed a lot of help. Our handicapped son David needed constant care since his childhood; this included physiotherapy involving three persons to move his hands and feet. Twenty of our new neighbors organized themselves so that David could have his physiotherapy twice a day for six days a week. This went on for six whole years! Even the firemen offered their help on week-ends and during their off days.

We were given food and clothes. Once, a total stranger gave David a present, just to make him happy.

At one point I felt so much gratitude that I asked God to show my family how to thank the city and its citizens for their kindness. Some time later the mayor, Richard Scheck, having known of my experience with the neighbors, asked me to be on a new committee that looked after the needs of the neighborhood. We were 72 persons on that committee, one for each block of the city. The mayor also asked me to be the chairperson.

According to the mayor, our job was to explain to the citizens the resources that the city had in place for their needs. I agreed with this; yet, after having had such a wonderful experience with my neighbors, I felt that the city could offer much more: each block could become like a family, so that no one would feel lonely.

The mayor liked my idea; thus we integrated all our proposals into one single project. We decided that the representatives of the neighborhoods would have three annual meetings with the mayor, me, the supervisors of the various committees, the heads of the fire brigade, the police and the public library.

This was quite a complex organization, yet one that proved to be efficient. It guaranteed the continuity of these periodic meetings and the co-ordination between the various responsible persons. These meetings also served to make known the needs and the worries of the citizens on one hand, and on the other the intentions of the public administration. All this promoted a sense of family among all those striving for the good of our city.  

It was roughly at that time that Chiara Lubich started expounding the ‘art of loving’: for us this was a valid contribution towards the building of the sense of family at North Riverside. I tried to paraphrase this art in four points which I named ‘the art of taking care of the others’:

1.    To be the first to approach the others;
2.    To approach every person without any distinction;
3.    To take care of the others in a practical way;
4.    To share with the others their joys and worries.

At every meeting of the neighborhoods’ representatives I began to share lived-out experiences based on these points. After a couple of years some of the representatives started to share their experiences too.

One of the early experiences involved a newly arrived lady who used to let out her dogs and these would spend the whole day barking. Instead of calling the police, the neighbors made it a point to ‘love the enemy’; they put up with the lady, sometimes offering her some cookies, and, whenever the dogs escaped out of the courtyard, they helped her to bring them back. It was only after having ‘loved’ her in this way that the neighbors shared with her their worry that the continuous barking might disturb a newborn baby. When the other representatives heard this experience, they were very impressed in seeing that in behaving in such a manner, possible conflicts could be averted.

The mayor and I
such individual initiatives; moreover, we also tried to sell the idea, through the neighborhood representatives, that the whole neighborhood could become a caring community. The representatives of the blocks started to welcome new residents with a bag of home-made sweets. Just before Christmas, they donated decorated Christmas trees to those persons who had suffered during the year. By putting in practice the motto ‘to take care of the others’, the blocks’ representatives became aware of those in their neighborhood that needed care and attention, offering their personal service to take them for their medical check-ups and to do their shopping. At first they found it embarrassing to give gifts to persons in the block; now, however, after having experienced love and happiness, they look forward to such moments.

I was asked to write about these experiences in our newsletter. I decided to entitle the articles Angels’ stories: they dealt with anonymous ‘angels’ who took care of others in the city. For example, some ‘angels’ would have visited a number of sick persons, offering each a rose. Another grew tomatoes and gave some of them to his neighbors. An 88 year-old ‘angel’ cut down a tree for a lady who though it might damage her roof gutter.

The art of caring about the others went beyond North Riverside to other cities. The mayor encouraged us to look beyond our needs and to consider also the needs of nearby cities. I contacted persons from other cities to have a better picture of their resources; thus we started to build new relationships. We understood that we need to love the other cities as our own.

I am convinced that the art of loving could drastically transform a city. Those four points have helped us to create such a family atmosphere that people have started inviting their relations to move here. A newspaper ad took us all by surprise, including the mayor; it said: “I sold my house in North Riverside, but I want to come back. Is there someone ready to sell me a house?”

The thing that strikes me most is that many do not thank the mayor, the blocks’ representatives or some other group; they express their gratitude to the whole community. I was struck by what a resident told me some months ago: “I am very fortunate to live in such a loving city”. She felt part of a big family, and that says it all.

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