|01-02-2006 - Traces, n.2
at the 20th
John Kinder, Professor of Italian in Perth, leads a small but lively community: a dozen friends, including a priest, a lawyer, a professor, a housewife, and now students. It is the unexpected fruit of an adventure that began in solitude almost thirty years ago
by Riccardo Piol
The strange games played by destiny in bringing to birth the first CL community in Australia don’t look like the result of chance, but of a long and patient project that began nearly thirty years ago. With hindsight, these events, great and small, that might look like simple coincidences, seem to have been thought out with care and a large dose of irony–which John attributes directly to God in heaven: “God has a very English sense of humor, and infinite patience.”
John teaches History of the Italian Language at the University of Western Australia. For him to meet the Movement, and his wife, and to be convinced, as he puts it, “that the CL experience could be attractive to Australians,” it took a series of strange coincidences that began in the mid-1970s. The university he attended in New Zealand did not offer Spanish, so he ended up taking a course in Italian. And this unexpected event was destined to be the first of many surprises. Three years later came a study trip to Italy and the chance meeting with Antonio. John found an apartment on the outskirts of Milan. On his first Sunday there, he went to the local parish church where at the entrance he met a twenty-year-old from the neighborhood: a flyer, an invitation to an encounter... “Now, every time we meet again, it is as if we have only been apart for a day.” But a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Since that Sunday, many things have happened, many unexpected surprises. The most important of them was Silvia, who John married in 1980. The irony of it! although she was Milanese and had grown up in London, she had to wait for a New Zealander passing through Italy before she could meet CL. And, with him, she travelled to the other side of the world, first to New Zealand, then to Australia–Townsville, Adelaide, and, finally, Perth.
“The friendship with our friends in Piazza Corvetto was always a point of reference,” says John, “but in the beginning we couldn’t imagine how the Movement could start up in a place like Australia. It took a harsh provocation from life to get us to gamble our happy memories and long-range friendships in the reality we were living.” The sudden death of John’s brother was the unexpected and dramatic event, put there to show the way. “I said to myself that either the experience of the Movement was relevant to this thing that had happened or else we should leave it in our album of happy memories.” And that’s how the small CL community in Australia began, in 1999: a simple invitation handed to friends in Perth, to meet to discuss a book, The Religious Sense. “We started off with a group of six, and our friends have gradually invited others.” John smiles, “Our children call us the ‘random’ community”: Gray, the lawyer who considers himself an atheist, Father Brian, the parish priest with the strong faith of his Irish origins, Anna who always brings a cake even if it means showing up at the end of School of Community, Maria who always protests but never misses a meeting… When John met Father Giussani two years ago and showed him the photo of the random community of Perth, the response from Father Giussani was, “This is a new beginning.” And today John recalls: “When we started, I was worried about spreading his ‘message,’ but thank God this anxiety has given way to the joy of living an ever deeper friendship with the companions I have encountered on this journey.”
Perth is like a city from the Earthly Paradise: streets are named after boats that win the America’s Cup and everything is tidy–parks, houses, streets. It’s the sort of place where someone who asks questions about happiness and the meaning of things seems almost out of place. However, when Father Eugene met Anna and Gray in Perù while they were there on vacation, the stories he heard were not about the Earthly Paradise but about John and the small CL group of friends; and they were so enthusiastic and convincing that, back in Paramus, New Jersey, he wrote to John to find out if there was anything like it near where he lived in the United States. The question from this Carmelite priest, from a chance encounter in the Andes, was the same as the one John received from Andrew in New Zealand, whose email address was firstname.lastname@example.org. How he came across Father Giussani’s writings is still a mystery, but now his emails to John tell of the revolution brought into his life by the books of this unknown Italian priest, who never ceases finding ways to break in to the tranquillity of this immense corner of the world. This happened, just before Christmas, to a woman who lives outside Melbourne. All it took was a Christmas card, printed by the Perth group of friends, with a Nativity scene painted by an Aboriginal artist. John recalls the unexpected phone call: “My brothers and sisters all stopped going to church long ago, but when I saw your card, I said to myself: I have to keep trying. Please send me fifteen.”
Dante, Leopardi and Giussani
And the unpredictable events continue, big and small, like the unexpected arrival in Melbourne of a young Italian couple of the Movement, at the same time as a family from Sudan, who met CL while they were refugees in Egypt and found asylum in, of all places, Australia. Or like the story of Joshua, a bright, young, twenty-year-old, like many others. Little did he know what he was to discover when he enrolled in the History of the Italian Language course: lessons on Dante and Leopardi that had something unexpected in them, and that professor who every now and again would quote from the books of an unknown Italian priest. “Why did no one ever tell me these things before?” was the question Josh put to John when he had finished his exams and his thesis and had read the books, by a certain Father Giussani, that had been recommended to him and had made him so enthusiastic. “I am no militant missionary,” says John, “but when Josh asked if I was willing to talk about Father Giussani and the Movement to him and his friends, I could only say, ‘Yes.’” So, in a coffee bar at UWA, three students and a professor started meeting regularly with John, reading Traces and the texts of the La Thuile Assembly, and discussing anything and everything. This led to a proposal, as if by chance. Josh was planning to visit distant relatives in Italy when he had finished his thesis, departing in early December. John remembered that the CL retreat for university students was in Rimini at the same time (one more coincidence). So Josh ended up organizing his trip to the other side of the world with the certainty that he wanted to go to Rimini, and that everything else would follow.