Looking back on my path as Catholic, I need to highlight one movement in particular that has been changing the life of Portuguese boys and girls for 44 years. This movement is “Convivios- Fraternos” or, in a direct translation, "Fraternal Gatherings". What is this movement? What makes it so special to after more than 40 years it still make young people fall in love with Christ?
The movement started on a military base in a little city called Lamego by Fr. Valente de Matos. This priest was receiving a big group of boys coming home from the war on Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau. They had been fighting to get independence from Portugal. These boys were coming home with no hope because they had given their youth to that war. They were feeling like God had abandoned them.
For Fr. Valente as a chaplain, this was a challenge. How could he help these boys recover their hope. His thought was they needed a meeting with Christ himself. In order to do that he had the idea of doing a three day retreat where those boys could stop and find God in their lives.
Through that first meeting Fr. Valente realized it wasn’t just ex-soldiers who needed to meet Christ but also young adults boys and girls and even couples needed the same experience of meet Christ in their life and that brought us to what Convivios Fraternos are today. But what are these meetings?
If you ask anyone who participated in a retreat what it is like the answer is “I can't explain it, you just need to try it. ” What happens in a meeting with God is difficult to describe. Basically in those 3 days you meet yourself, with God, and with others. Basically for the first time in your life you stop to think about what really matters in your life.
I did my first meeting in the fall of 2005 for me was a turning point a catalyst that put me on Christ’s path. In spite of being raised as a Catholic my commitment with the church was based on convenience. After that gathering nothing was the same. Even today I don’t know what hit me or what happened.All I know is when I knelt in the chapel after the sacrament of the reconciliation, I looked to the blessed sacrament and knew I could not go back to what I was before.
The main function of these meetings is to create a new generation of committed Catholics; young people who live a normal life they are happy and … Catholic! Basically, people who are happy workers in the vineyard of the Lord.
Convivios Fraternos is so important for the Catholic Church in Portugal. A large percentage of the youth leaders have gone through this experience.
When I attended my Convivio Fraterno I was already connected to the youth groups in my parish. After that meeting my path led me to Madrid and now to Salt + Light. I can say nothing I achieved after that would be the same without that encounter with the risen Christ on that meeting.
I learned the best way to live is by doing as Christ did, love, and say it not with words but with your life!
More about this movement…
Convivios Fraternos is also present in France, Switzerland where they work with Portuguese speaking immigrants. The movement is also present in the Portuguese speaking countries of Mozambique and Brazil.
The movement also founded the Convivios Fraternos II Centre for people with addictions.