01-05-2006 - Traces, n.5
Fraternity 2006

20 Years of Retreats and Friendship

The first members began after college. They are the group of the Fraternity Secretariat, who have learned through service to the Movement to share their lives

by Paola Ronconi

The group “prior” is Terenzio, the fellow who gives instructions at the Italian Fraternity Exercises for leaving the pavilions, or lists in dire tones the hotel representatives who “have not yet presented themselves at the Secretariat desk.” His brothers in organization are the ones who set up the three days in Rimini and other CL manifestations.
The first of them began with Terenzio over twenty years ago, a number of friends fresh out of college who were asked, as a service to the Movement, to set up a secretariat for the newborn lay association, the CL Fraternity (at the time, the Spiritual Exercises involved about two or three thousand; now, over twenty-five thousand). At this time (the 1980s), Fr. Giussani outlined the concept of “fraternity,” giving indications for how to live it: having a rule of prayer, paying the common fund, meeting periodically, supporting the work of the Movement… “Here,” Antonella recounts, “we started from here, from the work. We supported the Movement through the work of the Secretariat. We asked ourselves whether doing work together for the Movement meant being a Fraternity group. This question remained open for a long time, but precise moments in their journey as friends helped bit by bit to clarify things. “Since the beginning,” Antonella continues, “Terenzio would repeat, ‘Either what we do serves each of us, or it is useless’–meaning that we could be the best event organizers in the world, but the important thing was the purpose for giving our time. He really goaded us. We couldn’t just stop at the personal satisfaction of organizing the Exercises well.”

Gestures and people
“During one of the first Exercises,” recounts Terenzio, “Fr. Giussani told me that I had to stay with them, not to prepare the Exercises, but for them, and I had to stay with them for me. This is how, in preparing and serving, I learned to be concerned not just for the gesture as such, but for the individuals,” even when that meant stipulating contracts with the hotels, deciding the bus routes, or preparing announcements for the hotel representatives. Another time, Fr. Giussani interrupted a meeting to say, “Thank you for what you do; thank your families for letting you do it; but, above all, do it for Jesus.” “Once again, our way of thinking got overturned,” adds Antonella, “because if someone thanks you, it means that even the little detail you do has meaning, and thanking others is a way of saying that the merit is not all yours, and that you are responsible for how you use your time; ‘doing it for Jesus,’ finally, means blowing away any arrogance at work or danger of getting proud.” For the Secretariat group, then, even seeing how the responsibles of the Movement stress the organization of every detail of the gesture becomes a provocation that judges how the things of life are to be faced. “For example,” says Antonella, “I’ve always been struck by the attention given to the choice of music for the entrance to the pavilions. It is a gaze to be learned.” Over the years, the life of this group of friends has also been marked by painful moments, such as the 2002 death of Matteo, Maria and Marco’s 14-year-old son, in a car accident. “When Matteo died,” Terenzio recounts, “Marco called me from the emergency room before anyone else. I thought to myself, ‘What a thing the Fraternity is!’ It really is even more than the bond of blood. When we went to their house, Maria said, ‘I had such trouble having a son; the Lord gave him to me, and gave me the great gift of leaving him to me for 14 years.’ You can’t live like before, in the face of such a testimony.” Another moment was a year later, with the sudden death of Antonio Nespoli, a member who had always struck everyone with his simplicity, and who in his simplicity had always “said yes;” he was a person who “was there” and “is there.”

New members
Not all those who contribute to organizing the Exercises are necessarily part of this Fraternity group (preparing the Exercises is a truly imposing work, and requires the volunteer commitment of many), “But I am amazed,” says Terenzio, “that many who join us to organize have remained for a friendship,” to share their lives and help each other on the road toward destiny. “The first thing I saw,” says Noemi, secretary of the 2005 Exercises and a new member of the Fraternity group, “was how they treated that gratuitous task and the relationships between husbands and wives. I was to get married soon, and begin working, and so I thought, ‘I want to live this way, so I’m not going to let them go.’” Terenzio concludes, “Working in the Secretariat is not the be-all and end-all of your belonging to the Movement. If life changed, and it wasn’t possible to do this service any more, it wouldn’t take away the impetus to live the Fraternity group in order to follow the Movement, to continue living every aspect of life with gusto and gladness.”