|01-07-2006 - Traces, n.7
Dear friends: I have been conducting art classes every Saturday afternoon for some 20 children from a poor area near the Servants of Charity (“Guanellians”) center this summer and, just like all the past 11 summers, I have to come to class with enthusiasm and energy that matches theirs; otherwise, they will lose interest and not show up anymore. These children whom I have temporarily “adopted” as my own during a brief period every summer come faithfully, hoping to hear a story, be given some crayons and paper to draw, and maybe even sing some songs and play games. They have not been easy to love since some are indifferent and quiet, impenetrable and withdrawn. The older boys are even mischievous and often misbehave in class, trying to attract my attention with their incessant chatter and bickering. But every time I come to these classes of mine, I pray in my heart that God can inspire me to do what is best for these children. Today, I thought of introducing them to some of our CL songs. They liked Freedom best of all, as they enjoy echoing each phrase I sing, even humming it while they were busy drawing. I taught them a Spanish song (Danos un Corazon), which caught their interest since this must be their first foreign song whose lyrics they could actually understand. Perhaps it was my desire to hear our CL songs sung by other voices aside from mine (it is lonely singing them all to yourself ) or maybe even their infectious determination to sing as loudly as they could (never mind if most of the time they couldn’t hit the notes right) that made my throat sore and my voice hoarse at the end of the afternoon. After the two-hour long class, I could still hear them singing and laughing all the way down the path that leads out of the compound and onto the road that will take them back to the harsh realities of their young lives: muddy and squalid homes, cold noodles for supper, and straw mats for beds. But for me, that afternoon made me wonder at how this companionship that we offer to those who touch our lives can truly speak volumes of our own humanity. All these years of CL experience and encounters made me a more giving, sharing person, eager to open up my heart, desirous to have a deeper relationship with these children who, even for just a brief summer, can sing a song with me.
Malou, Manila, Philippines
School of Community Announcement
Last October, at the end of School of Community, there was an announcement that Families for Hospitality was seeking foster parents for eleven-year-old twins, Anna and Viola [the names have been changed]. When I got home, I woke Paolo and asked if he thought this announcement might be aimed right at us, and if so, why. His answer was, “Why not?” Now, after only a few months, we expect within a few days Viola’s arrival in our family, and that of Anna in the home of two close friends who were also provoked by my story of that announcement at the School of Community. It is certainly the story of a sincere, and a bit naive, but simple “yes,” which, because of its simplicity, was also a very decisive one, taken seriously by the Lord and by Families for Hospitality. This “yes” has already changed and will continue to change our life and that of our natural children. I could tell you about the good that this journey has done for me and Paolo, Riccardo, and Maria. The wonder, and the toil, our children’s spontaneity and willingness, the Fraternity’s friendship and companionship, the prayers of intercession to Fr. Giussani, John Paul II, Saint Brigid, and all our dear saintly friends… One thing in particular has awakened and touched my heart, lifting it above the whirlwind of things to do. The two social services case managers (not in the Movement) told us during the decisive meeting on our suitability as foster parents, “The two strong points about you that make us feel we can entrust the twins to you are your companionship with the Families for Hospitality, and your belonging to the Movement.” I would say that these are the two points we are counting on, too!
Dear Fr. Carrón: At the beginning of his course on the Sociology of Education, our professor asked, “Who of you has culture anxiety?” A few of us raised our hands. The professor wrote on the blackboard, “WHAT ANXIETY?” At the end of the lesson, I told him that I was provoked by his lesson, and that I wanted to explain what my anxiety is. I said that culture is linked, even etymologically, to education, and this is what interests me. I am studying to be a teacher, so I am interested in my education today. I also spoke of the need for the kind of teacher who is a “Master.” Our discussion concluded with his saying, “Given the way you speak about this kind of teacher, you must have already encountered a Master.” The next lesson, I brought him the Traces issue with the DVD on The Risk of Education. He said, “You were right. It’s very interesting and, in spots, even moving. I was struck that a priest would be so diffident about Power.” I smiled because he had been struck positively. “Professor, if you are interested, we could discuss it together.” “Good, we’ll have an intense discussion!” The next time, I brought him The Risk of Education book, and I inserted the appeal for education petition in it. I asked him to sign it, after we had read it together. There wasn’t a paragraph that he didn’t interrupt to say he agreed, to refer me to a book, or to ask me for clarification. I proposed that he participate in the showing of the DVD in the Faculty. The morning of the showing, he started his lesson on the Sociology of Education by speaking of Giussani. He invited students to the showing of the DVD, presenting it as a seminar, and saying he would note the presences of all who attended. My heart overflowed with gratitude and wonder: he had made the DVD an integral part of his course! After the showing, he took the initiative to start a debate, something we hadn’t planned. He had taken two dense pages of notes–in the dark–on what struck him, what wasn’t clear, and what he disagreed with. The next lesson began again with Giussani’s name. The professor was “sorry that so few people had come” to the showing–though the number exceeded my expectations–and stressed again the importance of the educative message of Giussani for the goal of our studies, repeating the key points. For the last day of the course, he chose me to give a critical talk on a reading list he had assigned us. I realized that he had chosen me for that essay ad hoc so that I could speak more in class about education as I had spoken about it with him. So I ended up “concluding” his course on the Sociology of Education for the degree programs in Letters, Philosophy, and Social Services, speaking on the great challenge of education as I perceived it.
Dearest Fr. Carrón: I have received your letter of acceptance of my application for membership in the Fraternity. To tell you the truth, I have to say that I had already joined the Fraternity when I graduated from the university, after the experience of GS and CLU, but only recently have I realized that I made this choice just out of faithfulness to a journey lived with moralism, as an ethical decision. In fact, for a number of years I lived on the edges of our companionship, just remaining faithful to a few instruments like Traces and the School of Community texts. But in this, I eschewed involvement in the community; I had no desire to be with the others, because “the others” were not coherent and did not respond to the image I had formed of the Church. With an act of pride, then, I asked that my membership in the Fraternity be cancelled, because reality wasn’t the way I wanted it to be. Those were hard years, sad and toilsome, even though I always did many things with generosity and altruism, seeking in the parish or its youth club that need for God that had always remained in my heart.
I think my wife’s prayers and presence must have been what brought me back a couple of years ago to a renewed sharing of the experience that had fascinated me when I encountered some GS students at the beginning of high school. After Fr. Giussani’s death, I decided that I could no longer waste my life, starting always from myself, and so I bet once again on the Movement, because I know that only here do I have the certainty of the correspondence to my desire for truth. So, with humility but also with joy, I have resumed the life of my community, with the consciousness that my belonging to Christ either passes through the human, my own humanity and that of the companionship, the Church, or else I have to go back to being the measure for myself. The true grace in all this has been finding that the faces that have accompanied me since my GS and CLU days are still friendly, and have never abandoned me, even in my adult life, and that now, at fifty years old, I am aware that they are the historical and real modality by which I can abide in Christ and through which His Church lives.
Giancarlo, Varese, Italy
The British writer Ian McEwan said recently in an interview in the Italian daily La Repubblica, “Bit by bit as I get older, I feel that my hostility against any religion, even moderate ones, is growing. What does it mean to have faith, if not believing in something that has no foundation? There are those who try to reconcile science and religion by saying they belong to different spheres and are not mutually exclusive. It’s not true: religious beliefs are explanations of the world, but intellectually childish ones.” Something different is happening to me. Bit by bit, as the years pass, I realize that everything is a miracle and, rather than hostility, I feel growing gratitude for the experience to which I belong.
The foundation I believe in, and which gives stability to my life, can be traced in every aspect of existence and becomes more evident to me with every day that passes. Being a husband and father, having welcomed a new daughter, Roberta, to my family, and being a doctor, are all events that happened within the companionship of the Movement. Everything happens for a purpose that slowly, as time passes, is becoming ever clearer to my awareness. It happens to testify that reality is Christ’s; it belongs to the One who has conquered, and who calls me to participate in His victory. What I believe in is so strongly founded that I find it confirmed every day in the existence of reality, for example, in the beauty of Roberta’s smile, even though, physiologically speaking, the child can’t smile, but actually, she does; and in the relationship with my suffering patients, who are seeking a consolation that is not merely for the body. Life is not free of toil. Our recent move to Palermo was very hard for me and my family. But toil is not what determines life. Also, I realize just how much the Lord is the Consoler, for example, through the support He gives me daily through my wife’s face, or through our new friends of the Palermo community, who immediately have become familiar. This familiarity doesn’t come from thinking the same way, or from having compatible characters–most of us are quite different. It’s born of the same root from which a new life flowers.
A Child’s Prayer
Dearest Fr. Carrón: I am eleven years old, and on June 3rd I went to Rome to see the Pope. As he spoke, I was able to discover many truths I hadn’t known, and his words were and will always be in my heart. I also had a very beautiful experience: I was in Rome with my family and our friends of CL in front of the Vatican walls. There was a huge crowd and it was not comfortable at all. I was afraid we wouldn’t get into St. Peter’s Square, so I said two decades of the Rosary so Our Lady would help me to get in. Instead, we found that it was already closed. It seemed like Our Lady hadn’t listened to me! I had to go to Via della Conciliazione to follow the ceremony on a big screen, but later, I heard a noise: it was the Pope in person, passing in the midst of the crowd, really close to me! I was so excited that I started crying.
I’ve learned from this experience that Mary knows whether it is right that what I ask for happen at that moment, or later, in a different way than I had planned.
Leaving for Africa
Dearest Fr. Carrón: Last Christmas, my husband, Massimo, began thinking seriously about an AVSI job offer in Uganda. When he asked me what I thought, I told him to look into it carefully and explore it fully, confident in the belief that only the “best” go on mission. Instead, I was wrong! Christ calls all of us, even the weakest, like me. My husband decided to accept. Since we have three children, my first concern was for them, and so all my objections started from this reality. But Massimo, in his simplicity, said to me, “What do you desire for our children? A nice school? A beautiful house? A tranquil life? What could we lack, going to Africa? ... After all, we have everything, wherever we go, because we have Christ!” He blew me away! For the first time, I truly understood the meaning of unity, the value of marriage, and of our walk as husband and wife and parents. Massimo left for Kampala at the beginning of February, and we will join him now. Our friends brought up objections: “Massimo, you have to leave a stable job, so when you return, how will you support your family? Think about the education of your children. And Betty, what will you do all day, since you won’t have work there?” These objections were useful, from a certain point of view, because they helped me to lift my gaze further. First of all, on the education of our children, it is true that we looked for a school that could help us accompany them in reality, starting from our Christian tradition, but we can’t ask the school to substitute us in our role as parents/educators. As soon as she heard of our decision, Marinella, a widow friend who is carrying on her husband’s firm, said, “Don’t worry, if you need a job for Massimo when you return, I’ll find him something, even if it’s as a warehouse worker!”
Our friends in Muggiò, my sisters, and my parents have all helped me daily in these months while I’ve been alone. My home has become a stable place to meet to study The Risk of Education. Andrea and Milena hosted my children when we needed it. Marta, Andrea, Paola, Claudia, Miriam, Dany, Michela, and Luisa call me daily to ask how it’s going, or just to say hello. What companionship in Christ!
The following is an excerpt of an essay reflection written by a student in Toronto who does charitable work regularly with a group of students and her teacher
For my Christian service project, I volunteered at Saint Francis Table. I have been working at this charity for three years now and have surpassed my forty-hour service requirement for school. I love going there and I don’t find it an obligation, but an opportunity to expand my horizons and interact with people from all walks of life. The bi-weekly visits at first were a little nerve racking, but they soon became something I would look forward to. When I first started going I was a little skeptical of the people because they were unlike anyone I had been in close contact with up to that point in my life. I encountered many homeless people, families on welfare, mentally unstable individuals, and countless drug addicts. When I began, I wasn’t quite sure how to act with the people there and I was a little set back when people would be rude. But, as time went on, I became more comfortable with all sorts of troubled people. Now, at the end of my high school career, I realize that I gained countless life lessons and humility traits that I would otherwise not have obtained. I have learned to serve those of a lower class and to do it gracefully, without thinking I am better than they are. I have learned to take orders from strung out people and just smile and complete the request. I have learned how to communicate, interact and become friends with those I would have otherwise turned away from on the street. I will never forget my friend Pete, and I pray that all those I encountered who were in the ruts of poverty or hard times have the strength and opportunity to regain their lives.
Alanna, Markham (near Toronto), Canada
At Dinner with the President
I am sending you the photo in which I am giving former President Vicente Fox and his wife Martha Fr. Giussani’s books, The Risk of Education and The I, Power, Works. Ten guests were invited to the dinner, all young people, except for me and Mr. Abel. It was quite informal, held in the President’s home. He spoke to us of the great needs of today’s society, how sad he is not to have been able to complete many things he had wanted to do, and all that remains to be done, in order to achieve them concretely. At the end, while people were talking about the “changarro project” (Fox’s project to finance micro-commerce in order to integrate the Indios in the economy) that had been impossible to actualize, I quoted Roberto Formigoni… and he asked me if I knew him. I said I did, and that he, too, took part in this cultural battle. I was surprised by the sincerity with which Fox said, “He was my inspiration for the changarro project.” I urged that we continue getting together when he would be free of his commitments. His wife told me she would read the books, and encouraged me to keep in contact with her.
Dora Luz Martínez Vasconcelos, Mexico