Christian, not communist: Catholics in Rome embrace counterculture

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Robert Duncan

(CNS) — In an Italian nature reserve surrounded by a forest inhabited by wild
boar and foxes, a group of families is seeking to embrace the lifestyle of New
Testament-era Christians.

the Acts of the Apostles, it is written that they lived with one soul and heart
and held all things in common,” said Susanna Scifoni, a member of the
Nomadelfia community on the outskirts of Rome.

Following that principle, community
members live together and share the responsibilities involved in their work of welcoming
visitors and with cooking, cleaning and gardening for the community. They grow
bok choy, fennel, lettuce, spinach and chicory, raise chickens and assist their
local parish in its Caritas operation.

Nomadelfians, as they are sometimes
called, receive no pay for their work, but they also do not need money for
anything within the group’s 25-acre property.

work is an act of love, an act of love can’t be paid for because it has a price
that would be infinite,” Scifoni, 24, told Catholic News Service.

should be neither servants nor masters, for we are all brothers and sisters,”
she said.

Italian priest, Father Zeno Saltini, founded Nomadelfia in 1948, naming the community
after the Greek expression meaning “the law of fraternity.”

Matterazzo, 29, said that if the group’s ideas sound revolutionary, they

the DOCAT,” the Catholic Church’s youth-oriented compendium of social
teaching, it says, “if you want to be a Christian, in spirit you have to
be revolutionary; if you aren’t revolutionary, you aren’t Christian,”
Matterazzo said.

there may be a temptation to compare some of Nomadelfia’s ideas to communism,
members said there are important differences between their economic philosophy
and Marxist ideology.

Pope Francis has been accused of espousing communism when he promotes an
economy based on solidarity and sharing. But, Matterazzo said, the pope has
responded, “I am not communist; I am Christian.”

communism there is no forgiveness,” Matterazzo said. “Our purpose is
to lead people to God.”

he said, “communism wants everyone to be communist. We don’t ask everyone
to become a Nomadelfian.”

members have been encouraged by the pontificate of Pope Francis, who often
critiques modern economic values and the “idolatry of money.”

pope “insists a lot on the fact that money should not govern but
serve,” Scifoni said.

relationships within the community are money-free, Nomadelfia does accept
donations for the community’s upkeep and uses money in its relationship with
the world, paying for tools, cars and supplies that make its religious life

challenges of living in common and sharing property are such that Nomadelfia
members describe their lifestyle as impossible to sustain without a vocation to
live it.

avoid members becoming overly attached to possessions, or even to the family
groups they live in, they rotate homes within the community every three years.

life is clearly not for everyone. Nomadelfia members report that 70-80 percent
of children raised in the community leave at 18 to seek work and a life in the

though, leave for university or work only to discover later that God is calling
them back to Nomadelfia.

Paolucci, 28, moved into Nomadelfia with her family when she was 9. After
leaving the community for university and spending time traveling
internationally, she decided to return to Nomadelfia last September.

an experience of the outside world “reinforced the idea that Nomadelfia
could be a response to many of today’s problems, starting with those of the
family, problems of loneliness,” Paolucci said. For such social ills,
living in “a community context is undoubtedly a winning proposal.”

main campus is located near Grosseto in the region of Tuscany, where the group
of 60 families owns 990 acres of rural land and runs its own school for the
children raised within the community. The smaller branch located in Rome occupies
buildings once part of a Benedictine convent, and it has a special mission of

want to show that even today, despite everything, even in cities like Rome
where we are now, it is possible to live out the principles proposed by the Gospel,”
Scifoni said.

Rome site, called the John Paul II Center for Spirituality, welcomes 2,000
visitors each year. Carlo Sbaraglia, the 67-year-old in charge, said there is a
cultural reason more people are inquiring about their way of life.

growing interest in Nomadelfia Sbaraglia reports coincides with a broader
international interest in alternative Christian communities.

example, Rod Dreher’s new book, “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for
Christians in a Post-Christian Nation,” details the approach of many such
communities and landed on the New York Times’ best-seller list last month in the
United States.

people are looking for a new world to live in,” he said, pointing out that
despite modern means of communications, “there is a lot of loneliness.”

is a need to rediscover human relationships that are “not fiction, not
online, but real, authentic, concrete,” Sbaraglia said.

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