|01-04-2006 - Traces, n.4
Dear Friends: I’m sitting in Washington on a Friday afternoon, making an attempt to judge the “mirabilia dei” I have seen recently at my school here in D.C. A year ago, Chiara Tanzi, the daughter of Luigi and Suzanne (my oldest friends from New York, who moved to Washington the year before), and with whom Suzanne was eight months pregnant the first night I walked into a School of Community in the early summer of 1990, entered my school as a ninth grader. This was last year, and so, the first School of Community at St. John’s College High School in Washington was born: myself and Chiara, along with two visiting students from Crema (Italy). After the two girls from Crema left last year, Chiara and I began this year with no expectations. Just us “two cats” who got together every Tuesday and did School of Community, and who joined the large GS group on Friday nights. From my experience in New York, I knew that GS does not grow because I pull students in, or because students are struck by me (a lot of students are struck by me but don’t come to GS). So I sat back and continued with Chiara, and I saw that the rapport between us, especially in English class, became a provocation to the students around us. Next, another girl, Chiara’s friend Natalie, decided to transfer to our school (we don’t measure, of course, but now the School of Community is up to 3). From there, Monica, another friend invited by Chiara, joined (4, and counting...). After that, our Movement secretary in D.C. said that there was a boy I had had in my homeroom last year who was struck by me and wanted to meet with us. In the meantime, Nick (this boy) became more friendly with Francis Petruccelli (son of a family in the Movement here, attending a different high school) and Giacomo Bregni (Italian exchange student from Italy). The numbers change: now Nick and his sister, Kristen, join us. Kristen invites her friend, Kelsey, whose brother I taught last year. Nick, who discovers that his basketball playing and his other interests all take on another meaning now, after this encounter, begins telling me, “Mr. D’Agata, we have to invite the whole school to this”–and he starts with the guys at his lunch table. One more, Robert Soto, joins us. Three weeks ago, as we were beginning the School of Community, a friend of mine knocks on my door and says, “Listen, I have graduate school tonight, and this kid needs to make up a test for me. I know you’re having a meeting in here, but can he sit and take this test?” But Frank Sawyer never ended up taking the test, because after we began our discussion of Why the Church?, he became so engrossed in it that he couldn’t concentrate. “What is this?” he asked. I–we–explained who we are… Fr. Gius, GS, all the words. Meanwhile, Chiara has proposed that they all meet at 8 am before classes in order to say the Angelus together. So, on Tuesday this week, another colleague, Ken Cooper, says to me, “Dino, I don’t know what you’re doing with these kids, but I saw something beautiful this morning: twelve of them together in the chapel praying the Angelus at 8 am.” “Coop,” I told him, “it’s not what I’m doing. It’s what Jesus is doing.”
Dino, Washington, D.C.
Dear Fr. Carrón: One month ago, our local community organized a meeting on education, drawing on the themes in The Risk of Education by Fr. Giussani. As the time of the meeting approached, our desire to do something practical to support the gesture grew. We learned that Holly, a guest speaker from California, wanted to stay some days in Ireland, and we offered to accommodate her in our home. Those few days together were very interesting. We were struck by how Holly lived her time with us. She could have lived a time of “holiday” in many ways. She could have gone on the tourist trail. Rather, when she had finalized the preparation of her talk, she immersed herself in the normal routine of our family life, getting to know all those friends who meet us day by day. Her unexpected interest in our lives and her evident passion for her own life provoked a change in us and we found ourselves looking at our lives with different eyes. In particular, we found ourselves looking with more expectation at that intimate web of relationships that makes up our daily life together: as a couple, as parents, as children, as friends, as colleagues, as a boss. And we felt an unexpected sense of mercy–a sense that the Mystery in our lives is not obliterated by our meanness or smallness. On the evening of the talk, Holly stated, paraphrasing Fr. Giussani, that “in educating, nothing in reality is ignored or left out the news, career, sports, family, love…. The teacher helps the student to judge all of reality; compare all of reality to what he or she ultimately desires, to their original needs, to stay in front of everything using the heart’s criteria.” In the audience, we said to ourselves, “Yes, that has been our experience since we have met Communion and Liberation, and in these days our experience has been confirmed again.”
Martin and Alison, Dublin, Ireland
On the Air
I just wanted to tell you of the adventures we’ve gotten into: We are now involved in helping prepare the classical music hour on Radio Waumini, which is the Catholic radio here in Nairobi. It all started when we listened to the classical music on the radio and thought we could make some proposals to the person who was presenting at that time, but this idea did not work out. One year down the line, that guy left the station and some days ago we made the same proposal to the director. He asked us to prepare some music with comments and we did this with Peter. So, today, there was the first show–Stabat Mater–and the classical hour was dedicated to Fr .Giussani. We read what then-Cardinal Ratzinger said during the funeral about Gius’s love of beauty. It will be some commitment, but it is incredible to share with others the beauty of classical music as Gius taught us.
All Is Given
Dear John and Friends of the Community: My workplace has been undergoing some significant changes, causing many job eliminations. After a more than 30-year career, I was asked to leave. Had I been losing my employment a few years ago (before having met CL), I would have been devastated, angry, extremely bitter, and frightened. A few weeks ago, we were forewarned that due to business changes, job cuts were to take place. I was concerned but had some hopes that my position would not be affected. Nevertheless, I took a week’s vacation to be with my daughters and also to mentally prepare myself for any eventualities. I started by watching the DVD on the “Risk of Education” presented by Fr. Gius, and just seeing and hearing him filled my heart with wonder and tenderness. I told myself that whatever was to become of my career was basically out of my hands, whether I deserved it or not. I earnestly returned to work Monday morning, sorry and sad to learn about the many colleagues who had been asked to leave the company a few days before my return. Just before noon, my director paid me a visit. He was not to inform me that my position was safe. All I could do was feel compassion for the hard task that he had to undertake, while praying for our Dear Lady’s help to muster up the courage to be strong and brave and, at the same time, thankful for what I had. I reminded myself that Fr. Gius would say that ALL is given and we must simply recognize it. Something else became clear when our School of Community reviewed Why the Church?, Chapter Eight, about supernatural or sanctifying Grace, particularly the part about living the “mystery of the ecclesial community”… and that “we cannot understand how this happens, how it is that our person changes…. We will become different in a verifiable way.” With respect to my recent event, once again our dearest Fr. Gius has struck a chord.
Barbara, Montreal, Canada
Living with Gusto
Dear Fr. Giorgio: I’m in the third year of high school. One evening at dinner in a pizzeria, I met your group for the first time through a teacher of mine. There, some kids told me how they can have fun without needing to get drunk or stoned. What struck me most of all was the fact that they were passionate about school, something that seems impossible, given my experience of school. After they told me how they live happily doing normal everyday things, they invited me to the GS Opening Day. I hadn’t thought that there would be so many kids following this. Afterwards, we phoned each other a lot and I was invited to the winter mini-vacation. I wasn’t sure about going, because their way of living is completely different from mine. The vacation itself was very different from what I’d expected–I thought we’d go to the disco at least once. I didn’t expect that we’d spend our evenings together playing and singing. I didn’t think everyone would be all together, but that little groups would form and do their own things. Another thing that amazed me was that there was Mass every day, and lots of praying. I discovered a different world from mine, but it’s not less than mine; in fact, now I have more fun without having to get stoned. Before, I used to get drunk, but I was never happy deep down. I would wait for Saturday night, but now I’m happy doing everyday things. When we returned from the vacation, Saturday night I went dancing at the disco like I always did. But it was boring and I went home at two. With your group, it’s different, and even being with a girl, there’s something more, more beautiful. Another thing that amazed me is the music some of you listen to (classical music), which is completely different from what I listen to (house). I didn’t expect that a kid could listen to classical music, music you have to listen to, that makes you pay attention, while my music you can listen to while you’re doing something else and it deafens you. Even though we’re completely different, we get along and it’s good to be together.
The Arrival of Flora
Dearest friends: We wanted to tell you that our family has been joined by Flora, for now a foster child, with the hope of adopting her as soon as the law allows. She is 21 months old, HIV-positive, and weighs 12 pounds. This is her story. One day, Andrea was at the Meeting Point by chance, and a drunken grandmother dumped this child with him. I was due to give birth any day, and so it was unthinkable to bring her home with us. But there, at that moment, a seed was planted. A couple of months ago, Andrea said to me, “Gio, we’ve already received so much from Jesus with our two children, Filippo and Letizia, and I feel that we ought to give back the good we’ve received, and host Flora.” I was floored. At the beginning I resisted, because of the AIDS, because of the high probability that she would die. Then, I realized and saw clearly that, first of all for me, this was a good and it was something more. So with simplicity I said yes. Flora may live another 6 months or 60 years. If she lives, we’ll have an immense educative responsibility. AIDS is totally unpredictable in children. We will be by her side for the time the Good Lord has decided.
Giorgia and Andrea, Hoima
When it was proposed that I get the Company of Works card, I decided to become a member, but thought that it wouldn’t last long. One day, I called and said, “I would like to apply for a personal loan.” Three days later, I sent the Company of Works all the necessary documentation. I received a call: “If you come Wednesday, the director will sign the paperwork for you!” I arrived somewhat late and sat down to listen to the various topics. I heard about help for people, subsidiarity, the Pharmaceutical Counter, and the Food Counter. The more I listened, the more I perceived that these people were not talking about man as a target or market share. I had never heard anyone talk about charity in that way. After the meeting, I found a friend from my university days with whom I’d shared a couple of years of experience in CL, and asked him, “Are you still part of CL?” “Certainly!” “Other than charity, what do you do?” “We’re doing School of Community on Giussani’s book, Why the Church?.” “For me, instead, the CL business ended as soon as I finished studies in Ancona, but in these few minutes I’ve felt like I was right at home.” I returned home strangely euphoric and, all of a sudden, my life passed before my eyes. I thought, “Passing emotion, life is different.” Then I chanced to go to a bookstore for something to distract me and, at a certain point, my eyes fell on a cover–Why the Church?. I bought it. The next day, I began reading it, but the first lines referred to two previous texts, one of which was The Religious Sense. I remembered that text. During my university years it was the book I just couldn’t stomach. I found it up in the attic, together with Barabbas and the Book of Hours. Well, that summer I devoured those books, to the point that in a very short time I’d memorized some Leopardi poems Giussani quoted. I began doing School of Community with the CoW people, and their faces are of great importance for me. I’ve lived a life full of events, some happy, and others very sad. I’ve tried to act right in my family, work, and with my friends. But what accompanied the pauses in my life, what often dominated my thoughts, has been the desire to fulfill my existence. But the beauty of all this is that, while you pass within such an existence, you don’t realize it. You even take for granted the strongest and closest Christian experience, like that of my uncle, a priest of the missionary order of Don Orione in Brazil, or that of my father, who for thirty years took part in the Courses of Christianity. Now, more than usual, I remember how much love and Christian charity my father gave, up to the last days of his life, and the witness of faith he left me. Encountering the Christian event has made me feel even closer to him than before.
Dear Fr. Carrón: For a few years now, in my middle school, I’ve been following the experience of the Knights of the Grail (we call it the Knights of El Cid). This year, just after the gesture of the Promise, one of the girls in my group, Giulia, had to face the death of her mother. When we returned to school after the Christmas holidays, we decided to write Benedict XVI. This is Giulia’s letter: “Your Holiness, my name is Giulia and I attend the second year of middle school. After the gesture of the Promise, I began to take part in the Knights of El Cid. At the beginning, I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing, but I realized it just about a month ago, when my mother died. My friends of the Knights, however, supported me and I have realized that we are part of a great family, that we help each other. I believed that God had prepared a difficult, meaningless life for me, but thanks to my companions and teachers I have rediscovered the true meaning of life. My patron and protector saint is Saint Patrick; he helps me to carry on every day, and I entrust myself totally to him in my prayers. The Promise introduced us to a journey in which everything is made simpler by the presence of Jesus Christ and that of my friends and teachers. Every day, before beginning lessons, we meet in the hall and recite together the prayer of the Knight, asking Jesus to guide us on His path. The Promise has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
in the Hospital
During this period, something great is happening through a circumstance that apparently is only negative, the illness of my grandmother. At the beginning, I felt indifferent, but sensing my mother’s sadness, and being unable to stand seeing her so downhearted, I understood that I couldn’t be just a spectator, but that Jesus was (and is) calling me, too. So, I began going to visit my grandmother in the hospital, but maybe because it was so strange to see her in bed and wasted away, or because the situation certainly wasn’t the usual, I didn’t know what to say or how to stay before her and witness to her of my certainty in a good destiny for her and for her family. I began praying for my grandmother, our family, and me, and I began asking help of some of my close friends. One day, a flash of inspiration came: since I sing in the GS choir and singing throws my heart wide open, I went with some of my choir friends to sing for my grandmother. I sensed that the only way to support her was to use the instruments that save me, and to propose to her the experience I am living. After that afternoon, I go every chance I get. I’ve read her some letters from young people in the White Rose. I tell her about what happens to me, and I brought her a CD two friends of mine made… She always tells me she feels moved, and that I don’t have to worry so much about her, but doing this, I’m happier and more certain of Jesus’ love for me, her, and our family. I’m certainly not a superhero or unreasonably optimistic; my certainty is based on the real and tangible presence of Jesus, which I pray to recognize continually. I am praying, offering, and living all that I have to do, striving to be ever-more conscious of our dependence on God and His love for us, that does not disappear, not even in the moments when everything seems against us and our desire for life.
An Italian high school student studying in New York wrote his father:
Dear Dad: I want to take the opportunity to tell you how things are going. We saw Sophie Scholl–The Final Days. It’s a fantastic movie. You know what we decided to do? We wrote a flyer about how we can be free at school; we want to make our voices heard. We want people to know who we are, and not remain indifferent in a scholastic situation reduced to naptime or grades. Soon there will be the Way of the Cross here for Good Friday, and we made all the flyers. We brought 20 to school and asked the principal if we could hang some up. He gave us carte blanche, so nobody stopped us. We divided into two teams, me and Pat Duffy, and Tommi and Mattia. We plastered the school! It’s so cool how the charism of Fr. Gius has even reached this school in Staten Island. Friday, we did the same with all the other GS kids in Brooklyn. We divided into teams and went around to the shops asking if we could put up the posters. A lot accepted, even some Muslims. We weren’t scared or shy at all, because when you face something like this, keeping in mind the encounter you’ve had, the faces of the people you’ve encountered, when you’re clearly aware of why you’re doing it, when you return to judge everything starting out from this friendship, you’re not afraid at all; you’re certain that what you’re living is true–not just a feeling, but a thing that you have and are experiencing personally. It was like going around with a team of 20,000 people.
Andrea, New York