|01-07-2007 - Traces, n. 7
What GS Is for
Three years ago, I started attending a trade school of 1,500 students. During my first year, I realized that apart from two teachers of the Movement, I was the only student belonging to GS. Reality immediately put me face-to-face with a dramatic question: “How can I not tell my schoolmates about my experience?” One morning, I bumped into one of the teachers in the Movement, and I made the proposal to meet to say the Angelus before the beginning of classes. We asked for permission to go ahead, and (not without difficulty) we got it. Starting from the following morning, a new friendship was born: I had in front of me a face that reminded me of who I am, and what I follow. Shortly after that, while I was hanging flyers with the info about the Angelus, a devoted Communist and anti-clerical schoolmate of mine approached me and said to me, “I don’t understand why you do it, I don’t get the reason behind it, but I‘ll come, because I think it’s a good thing.” Disregarding his friends’ comments, he grabbed a stack of flyers and proceeded to help me. The following day, Andrea started faithfully showing up for the Angelus. The same thing happened with a guy who had just gotten out of the hospital, where he was because of a serious anorexia problem: he was moved by the friendship among us, and formed a bond with us. In a similar fashion, we were joined by Samuel, Caterina, the Mechanics professor, the lab technician, the secretary, Chiara, and Gianluca as well... A companionship was born. Then the school council, without giving the reason for their decision, revoked the permission for us to meet. We asked for an explanation, but we didn’t get any answer. So we decided to involve the city newspapers and the mayor. After almost a year, we were finally granted permission to resume our meetings. Our needs had defied the widespread prejudiced and blasé attitude. At the beginning of this year, a relationship was born between me and five or six students who, on a regular basis, would go down to the schoolyard to have a smoke during recess. During those fifteen minutes, each one of us would express his own point of view on music, sports, art, religion, and current affairs. After a few weeks, we felt the pressing need to share those judgments on life with the rest of our fellow students. We were enthusiastic about the idea of opening our “fifteen minutes” to our schoolmates and so we started a fifteen-page paper, called Liberi tutti. Because of a couple of articles against the government’s finance act, we were labeled as Fascists by a couple of teachers. Notwithstanding the fact that I was still the only GS student in the school, they said, “Yours is really a party newspaper, in typical CL style.” Sixty-one teachers signed a petition requesting the suspension of the publication, and the principal stopped us in our tracks. For five months, we would visit her once a week, focusing our discussions on freedom of speech. In the meantime, dozens of students, fascinated by the beautiful initiative, offered their contributions: some joined the small editorial office, others sent their comments on topics like the death penalty, the Virginia Tech massacre, or Spiderman 3. Some wrote poems for the paper, others offered their graphic design skills, some created an on-line forum, and others simply came up with suggestions... They all claimed the right to express themselves freely. We managed to get permission to publish issue #2, entitled, “The challenge of freedom at school.” We chose this title because the Angelus, the school paper, the study group, and the friendship that was generated, have not been the fruit of an efficient organization or of a particular boldness, but of our surrendering to Christ, to that beauty that has invested us. These three years made me understand how GS doesn’t exist to apply some concepts
to life or to “regulate” day-to-day life, but
to remind us of the needs that constitute us and that make us human. There is only one method for witnessing to Christ at school: being committed to our humanity, taking it seriously.
A Tool against
The author of this letter had been given a gift subscription to Traces by John Kinder
Dear John: As a teacher of senior Religious Ed, I have found Traces valuable and an inspiration. The emphasis on reality has been an important focus, and I have introduced this imperative to our faculty meetings. Yesterday, I sat and listened to a “Year 11” student trying to come to grips with the Church’s teaching on reality and mystery, and how we need both. This came about because I had presented something from Traces. A big influence in our school has been the adoption of Thomas Groome’s Shared Christian Praxis as the model for RE–a distressing event. The ideas of suspicion and dissent have given some teachers the cover to say many silly things to students, while being supported by the method. So, by the time students get to Year 11, their experience of RE has wandered between a political activism on topical issues and a relativism on matters of faith and morals. The student who last year received the Edmund Rice Award for Social Justice was an open supporter of abortion. Many staff members of the College Mission Team support abortion, RU486, euthanasia, and stem cell research, and they tell the students that Pope Benedict and Cardinal Pell have thrown their intellect away for some version of a childish adherence to outdated beliefs. So the students become confused, uninterested, and often angry. What I read in Traces has been giving me the language to allow the boys to be themselves, to be open to conversion. The idea is that we desire reality and truth, and that the source of that desire is the same as the goal of that desire–and we can call that God. Often I write quotes on the board from Traces that have struck me in this search, and by sharing with students, they, in turn, open up to the search. The insight that to be really who we are is to be religious is the proposal that sets the year up. Traces has given me words, methods, and distilled moments that have become part of my teaching practice, which gives the students the chance to discover that for themselves. I would not be as far down that road if I was still working these things out for myself. After this, to talk about God, Jesus, Incarnation, love, faith, the truly real, and the truly good as methods to explore the reality of their humanness, begins to seem a logical development for them. Again, reading Traces provides the framework and content that have been central. I don’t want to make it sound like every class is perfect. But I am sustained by the many individual moments with a student, and those three or four moments a year with an entire class, when something has been made anew. I am also head of Social Studies here. Many of the staff believe that relativism is the only fair way to present information to students. I have tried to engage this thinking, again with quotes and sections from Traces. This is a harder task.
This is an essay by
a seventh-grade girl.
Assignment: Comment on these lines of Eugenio Montale’s poem, and talk about an experience that helped you understand their value.
Beneath the dense
blue sky, seabirds flash by,
pausing, driven by images
I am very struck by these verses of the magnificent poem by Montale, Maestrale.
Come to think of it, what strikes me are not the verses per se, but the poet’s ability in conveying the sea, the rocks, the birds... real things, that our thought is able to understand at a deep level. Montale is able to see man’s desires in the beautiful aspects of life, like when a teacher, to help her pupils to a deeper understanding of a topic, makes a comparison with something that the young students are familiar with, and that they can better understand. In the same way, the poet uses small details to exemplify the great mysteries of life, and the deep questions that have filled the soul of man since the beginning of time. These verses talk about the infinite, and about all things in existence, which make up a great universe that each one of us has the grace to explore. We are those birds, to whom is given the choice to either perch on the branch of a tree and admire the mountains and the line of the horizon, or to spread our wings, lean on the current, and fly beyond the mountain to see what we could not have seen before, and go beyond the horizon to discover what we could not have imagined before. These two possibilities can be defined by two words: laziness and curiosity. For sure we are positively impressed by curiosity: we all would like to fly and go beyond the infinite, but how difficult it is to part from that branch that shelters us in the shadow of its leaves and feeds us with its fruits! That branch makes us feel safe, while the wind that can make us fly is unsafe and scary. My mother was a person consumed by curiosity. She loved all that on this earth is beautiful, just, true, infinite, mysterious, and unreachable. Unreachable: this word, that in me provokes anxiety, would instill joy in her. I would see her search the sky during a storm with her sea-blue eyes, as if they were looking for something. I would see her eyes peer into mine, and I would feel as if she was reading my depth. She would look for beauty in everything, and she would never stop because she knew that that beauty existed. Even in her friendships, she looked for the depth that for her was God. My mother was the poet who finds the answers to the great questions in the small and the big facts of life. This assignment asked me to talk about an experience that made me understand the value of these three verses; it wasn’t through an experience that I discovered their importance, it was through a relationship. It was the relationship with my mother, which was one between a mother and a daughter, between two friends, between a teacher and a pupil, and such it will remain forever. I want to learn how to become aware of the fact that every image points further; I want to leave the branch and spread my wings to fly up to the unreachable, just like my mother.
at the Hospital
I am an oncologist, and I work at the Cancer Institute. Here it is as if the patients affected by this disease quit living and breathing once they hear the word “cancer.” Many times, I have been tempted to think that it’s an injustice or that nothing new happens, as if I were waiting for something without taking into consideration that He is. One day, I was examining my patients, and I entered the room of one of them while he was undergoing his chemotherapy treatment. He is a very well-known doctor, the Director of the National Institute of Health, and... surprise! He was reading The Religious Sense. I explained that I belong to CL. He was moved, he hugged me, and told me that I was lucky, and that from now on he was lucky too, because this was the way through which he could get to know Father Giussani. He told me how, during one of his trips to Rome, he had met a friend of his, Monsignor Abbondi, who had given him the book. From the moment of our encounter a great adventure began. I invited him to the February 22nd Mass, and to Easter Mass. He then told Msgr. Abbondi what had happened and, during one of my examinations, he told me, “If you knew what it is that you have encountered!!! Now I’m serene, because I can die in peace.” Since he could not come to School of Community, and he had to be admitted to the hospital to undergo his treatments every two weeks, we started having School of Community meetings every time he was in the hospital. I gave him the book, and he decided to subscribe to Huellas [Traces]. He always tells me that he is ready for his exam, referring to our next School of Community meeting in his room. In front of all this, what is the injustice I talk about? As Father Julián says, “This is the victory over skepticism: this exceptional event remains as something that enfolds me, as the point of view that explains, gives sense, gives meaning to every detail, every action.” I am moved and grateful for what is happening to me, for being able to look at reality and to embrace it, because it is the tender form in which the Lord tells me, “It’s Me.”
Silvia, Lima, Peru
Dearest Father Carrón: A few months back, a doctor friend of ours told us about the death of a very young colleague of hers, and of the woman’s husband, who confided in her. He is alone with two small children (3 and 6 years old). He is desperate: on top of being devastated by the Calvary that he had to go through for a year with his wife (what with hospitals and therapies), he is now unemployed, and he doesn’t know how he will be able to take care of the children, since the grandparents are old and sick as well. Our friend thought about us as a temporary solution (we are both retirees), and asked us to meet the father to evaluate the situation together. In front of this crying man, we couldn’t but look at him and give him all of ourselves, shouting in our hearts: “Man, do not cry!” How could we say, “No,” or, “Wait, let us look for somebody else... I can’t because I have something else to do.” Even in front of a real objection, like the fact that we do not have a car at our disposal to go pick up the children at kindergarten, someone told us, “Don’t worry, you can use my wife’s car.” “Christ, in His beauty, draws me to Him.” The beauty we encountered takes everything into consideration, even suffering. We decided to accept the responsibility, and we were moved at the thought that God would take such a small “yes” so seriously, and give us two children, a father, and two grandparents. We were asked to go pick up the children at kindergarten every day, keep them with us up until dinner time, and then take them to their grandparents for the night. While waiting to come up with another solution, the father takes them home with him only on weekends, hoping to find a job that will allow him to stay closer to the children. He asked how much we wanted as compensation, and we told him that we didn’t want anything, that we were not doing it for money, and he was very surprised. I talked about the situation to the friends of my Fraternity group who told me, “We are with you,” and they made themselves available to help. Now we stay in front of everything that the Lord asks of us, and we are in awe because this story that is now entwined with ours didn’t happen by chance, but is the modality with which Jesus is present in our lives. The physical exhaustion that we feel at the end of the day finds its reward in the gladness of our hearts in front of the little girl who, as she embraces me, cries out: “Tell me what I have to do to get my mom back.” I am called to answer to a reality that is made of a Mystery that is good, and of a Presence that loves us. We don’t know what will happen next, or for how long this will be asked of us. We have our friends, and we trust in Christ’s good promise.
Lina and Luciano, Cormano, Italy
at the Bar
Dearest Julián: Here is the letter given to us by the bartender of the place where, every day after morning prayer, we go to have breakfast. This bar is right in front of the medical school, and you can imagine how, during the election campaign, we besieged it. Every day, between a coffee and a discussion, we would leave flyers with judgments, elections programs, etc. This went on up to the last day of the campaign, when we left at least a hundred copies of our university newspaper, called Binocolo [Binoculars]. Marta the bartender, a Cuban woman, had always struck me for her simplicity, but after writing the following letter, she literally moved me... and she was the one who “warmed my heart.”
“My dear boys: What can I get you? A coffee? A cappuccino? No. This time there is something else I want to tell you. Saturday morning at the bar I found a copy of the newspaper Binocolo, and, upon reading it, I understood who wrote it: surely people who go “beyond.” It is fantastic to know that in a society like this, ruled by superficiality, hypocrisy, and appearances, where everybody looks but nobody sees, or doesn’t want to see, or maybe prefers to hide behind drugs and alcohol, in a society where war and violence fill the pages of the newspapers (and not only those), it is heartwarming to know that there are boys like you. Even without “binoculars,” you are able to see and to not remain indifferent to the problems, to the many unknowns and preoccupations that plague the future of so many people. You are able to open your eyes and try to solve those problems, instead of pretending they do not exist. You are all very beautiful, but your beauty is inside you. I hope you will leave your electoral register open for a long time, so that you can get more supporters to help you bring beauty to all this ugliness, and to give a better future to this generation and to those to come. Keep fighting for what you believe is right, and don’t let the first hurdle stop you. I don’t have anything left to do but to wish you the best, and to congratulate your parents. I’m not kidding when I say that I would like my daughter to be like you. I admire you and I treasure you.”
Pietro, Chieti, Italy
We publish the farewell of a high school teacher to his senior students
The moment of our last bell has come, swiftly this time, as ever before. As I look at you, who are tired, worried, bored, and at the same time full of expectations for your final exams, I think back to the path we walked together. I once heard that there are a thousand jobs, but only one vocation: teaching. I think it is true. What a privilege it is to be paid to marvel every day at reality together with your students, and to see them grow in front of your eyes, men and women, within the struggle of staying in front of the complex nuances of the world we live in. Knowledge is a fascinating challenge, and I issued it the only way I knew how, the only way I could, the way it was for me. I told you what I believed in, while looking at your effort with sympathy. Isn’t it true that the most authentic things are the ones that cost us something? I hope that, in my speeches, I left you with at least something useful for your lives; I don‘t know if you understood, but that was my desire as I looked at you in front of me (maybe it wasn’t always easy to make you believe it during those long sixth-period classes on Monday mornings...). I will not forget. I wish you the best.