01-04-2006 - Traces, n.4

Company of Works Interview with Giorgio Vittadini

Cooperatives of Boats… and of Men
The “I,” desire, and works: this was the itinerary from which the Company of Works (CoW) was born, an ideal criterion, an operative friendship

edited by Paola Bergamini

Milan. The windows at the Foundation for Subsidiarity look out over the Colonne di San Lorenzo and the Cathedral spires. Milan was the birthplace of the Company of Works, which Vittadini founded with some friends and served as President of from 1990 to 2003. Twenty years ago. “Let’s forget about anniversaries, taking stock of the years, much less triumphalism,” insists Vittadini.

Let’s start with this sentence of Fr. Giussani: “Help everything there is to exist.”
The fundamental question is that then, as now, they said it was impossible to live your faith and your own humanity holistically in all aspects of life. This was toward the end of the seventies. But for me and my friends, the kind of life we had encountered with Giussani was relevant to everything, it mattered to everything. This holistic approach to life was already visible in some way in some concrete forms like Radio Supermilano, the Incamminati (theater company), Il Sabato (weekly news magazine), the solidarity centers, the cultural centers, AVSI, and the first cooperatives in the south. They were examples of how the desire of the heart mattered to everything, of how it could have an impact on reality. Yet the real starting point was Giussani’s talk at Assago (at the National Congress of the Christian Democratic Party, 1987).

In what sense?
It placed the “I” at the center. He didn’t care about the presence in social work. He attacked those among us who thought about our impact on social work. He attacked this ideological position by focusing on the “I,” friendship, relationships, the quality of life among us, the “how’s it going?”

In concrete terms, how did he do that?
By living, according to two modalities: 1. teaching how to live the religious sense and the faith, and discussing them; 2. establishing a shared life among some, according to a criterion that still is valid forty years later: the only true liberation is a liberation you experience right away, and that is expressed in relationships that correspond to the needs of the heart. They are attempts, but their horizon is the world. The key is the quality of life among us, the fact that in a group of friends, for example, charity is lived and it generates a judgment. It’s a new friendship.

When is this abstract, or worse, when is it reduced to ideology?
When it’s not an experience. When it’s not lived, that is, it isn’t an experience of freedom right away. I understood this immediately in those years. It was a friendship that corresponded to my heart; it became a point of judgment on everything, and wasn’t judged by anyone. But it’s not that there wasn’t error. There were lots of mistakes, but it was an experience that corresponded so much that it became the criterion for everything. Jesus Christ matters to everything, because I experience Him precisely in this friendship. Instead, a lot of people thought CL should only give a theoretical/religious approach, and then it should be up to the intellectuals to reformulate thought to enter into society. We didn’t accept this, and, even within the Movement, we were accused of “vitalism.”

Let’s return to friendship, which seems to me a fundamental point in this itinerary.
In the brief talks we had, Giussani repeated that the two important things were prayer and friendship. In fact, at a certain point, after a few meetings we had with him in a group of new graduates, he reacted by saying that we didn’t care a bit about friendship. “You come to listen to me, but then, in concrete terms, you don’t care about each other.”

What was he moved by, and what did he envisage?
The cooperative of boats! A true friendship puts everything together. It hustles in reality. It aims for the concrete, Like it did for the Apostles. Christianity, he used to say, was born from a cooperative of boats. From friends who together became protagonists in reality. Building.

Build something… Does it generate works?
Certainly. We’ve reached the third passage. A movement has to get involved in reality, and thus it generates works, not ideology. Let’s be careful: it doesn’t do works, it generates some “I”s that live an operative friendship, while safeguarding their own spirit of initiative. In this there is room for the hustling within reality, by those who don’t hide their talents under a rock, and there is room for error as well. The risk is always with the “I,” that of a free adult, not of the organization.

Something’s not right. Isn’t the CoW an organization?
We’re getting there. In order to do all this, an adult “I” has to get organized. If you don’t organize an initiative, it won’t stand. But what is the challenge that Giussani slung at us, dismantling any possible form of ideology? This: in the organization, can you manage to be alive, that is, not to be captive to the organization? Can you manage to be poor, when you’re handling money? Because the work is of the “I,” not of the organization.

In the Assago talk, speaking of works, Giussani spoke of realism and prudence…
It means that you help a fellow who is able to carry forward a work, while you may tell another that he should consider closing up shop. You have to aim for stability. “Realism and prudence” means that a firm, a project, travels on the shoulders of the person, on his abilities. Nobody should think he is able to solve everyone’s problems.

What has the CoW meant in your personal experience during these years?
The CoW for me means the discovery that faith is an obedience to circumstances, and creativity is its child. In terms of my relationship with Giussani, the relationship with him was always based on an operative experience. When I told him about our various initiatives and encounters, he would get excited, and give me pointers on the “how to’s,” and then at the end, leaving, would say, “Did you remember to offer this to Our Lady? Otherwise, it’s all worthless.” I understood later that he was right. Obedience to circumstances was obedience to Someone who wanted something of the kind. And who better obeyed than Our Lady? Then, there was another fact that helped me. For Giussani, I was a kind of employment agency for people in trouble, out of work. I did my best to solve the problems… also because he never let go, and would call to know how far I had gotten. So, if I did it for Giussani, why shouldn’t I do it for others? His way of acting forced the CoW into a concreteness, keeping the ball low. No preconceived idea, but responding to the needs that bit by bit presented themselves. Together with all this, there was the perception of the inadequacy of all our operating. You can’t measure the things you have done in trying to meet the need of man in society. With Giussani, you couldn’t stop at saying, “See now, look at what I’ve done.” The gaze is much more beyond. And you begin anew every day. This is the challenge.

A last question, almost obligatory in this place with the name subsidiarity, since now you are running the Foundation for Subsidiarity. Where did this word come from?
From the sentence you quoted at the beginning: let each person exist and express himself. It is a concept that embraces all of society, tied not only to welfare, but also to a certain type of entrepreneurship. Today, the word subsidiarity is an experience that slowly is becoming a true interpretive key, even for politics and the organization of the State. From here, I decided to dedicate myself to the Foundation for Subsidiarity to create stable instruments of reflection on social, economic, and political topics, together with commentators, academics, and experts of different extraction and inspiration, but joined by the desire to search for the common good.