01-10-2007 - Traces, n. 9



Beginning Anew
from the “I”
Dear friends: Thank you for choosing to dedicate the September issue to school. It was a positive shake-up for me, and challenged me to begin again from the “I,” just like the cover title said. When I received Traces, it was like a cool breeze of newness, precisely in a week in which, after a passionate start back to school, I was slowly giving in to the cynicism that unfortunately dominates the relationships among teachers and ends up weighing us down with analyses piled on top of analyses that leave no place for hope.  Sadly, this is the drama of school, the purist negativism of too many teachers who see their students only as an agglomeration of failings (so much so that, in the end, one remains paralyzed), focuses on the list of others’ defects and is terribly cynical.  I, too, who had charged into classes in the search for the human, found myself once again falling into the trap! It was a good thing that this issue dedicated to school arrived, because it made me understand once again that I had to burn my bridges with all that analytical negativism. Even the worst possible student can be saved–by beauty, the beauty from which school begins every morning, the beauty of a “provocation to life to be followed,” the beauty of a bond between what I teach and destiny, that depends only on the decision to enter the classroom, starting from myself.  Thanks to you, I have begun anew, with the memory of what Fr. Giussani told us thirty years ago, that the question with which one enters class is: “And me? Who am I?”
Gianni, Abbiategrasso, Italy

Travels in Italy
I had the opportunity to travel to Italy in August, a fantastic event of beauty and correspondence in my life. The great feeling that impressed me during those days of travel was gratitude. It was amazing to see how the Lord took care of everything so as to reveal to me a unique beauty, as much in the landscape and the works of art as in the friendships that developed. To this end, He used circumstances and people as His instruments. I didn’t even know most of the people at first, but after only a few minutes a familiarity was born between us.  An event that touched me very much was the reason why I took the trip: to see the Meeting of Rimini. That place is truly fantastic, and exceeded all my expectations. During those days, I was increasingly amazed and impressed by the openness and availability of the volunteers and by the concrete possibility of true dialogue–with other religions and even between politicians of different persuasions. Finally, every conference, every exhibit or cultural gesture, revealed a particular greatness. I was very struck by the repercussion on the mass media. There were thousands of people from thousands of different places, with different languages, who strolled along with friends and with their children (and there were so many children!). I was left with the impression that the Meeting is really a beautiful way to evangelize, showing the truth, greatness, and beauty of Christianity to everyone. Then, I went to Rome. Sister Giulia, a very nice nun who lived in the house where we lodged, told me she had lived for 24 years as a missionary in Goiania [a Brazilian city], and that while she adored our country, she missed hearing news from Brazil, since Italy provided very little news from there. So I didn’t waste time, and gave her a copy of Passos [the Brazilian Traces], which presented a Christian judgment on the incident in Congonhas. She was very moved and said she would subscribe. The trip ended with the Wednesday audience with the Pope in Saint Peter’s Square. I received from close up his paternal and affectionate blessing.
Ivanildo, Brasilia, Brazil

in St. Moritz
Dear Fr. Carrón: The next-to-last day of the CL summer vacation in St. Moritz, I handed out flyers inviting people to the final party and sold Traces with a group of friends. The previous evening, when our friend Claudio talked about the flyers, he said he’d gone to meet the Mayor of St. Moritz, as he does every year, and this always strikes me because I think, “Yeah, well, he does this because he’s Mr. Bottini…” Well, as we were on our way back to the hotel at the end of the Traces sales and flyer distribution, having met a lot of people, something big happened to me. I went up to a couple and offered them the flyer for that evening’s party, but they said they were leaving that afternoon. So I showed them a copy of Traces and told them it included the DVD Extraordinary Lives, which we would use to begin the party, and I briefly described the contents. At first, they listened in silence, but as soon as they heard the name of Fr. Giussani, they interrupted me and said, “We’re from the Milan province and we know well who Fr. Guissani is.” They took the copy of Traces and gave me a 10 Swiss Franc bill, and when I apologized that I didn’t have change, with a clear gesture they told me, “That’s okay, because Giussani (and those who follow his work) is maybe one of the only people left who’s worth helping.” I needn’t tell you that this was a testimony and an enormous provocation for me, for a number of reasons: 1) I belong to CL, but I often think that I don’t have the same awareness of these people who bought Traces from me; 2) the previous evening, I had thought that certain things are done or happen only to Bottini but, instead, that day I experienced something equally great; and 3) I felt like I was re-living the encounter of the first vacation years ago (also in that hotel in St. Moritz, but with another group) during which Zola described the two cardinal points in his life, ones I have always tried to make mine: doing in order to understand, and following those who follow more.
Andrea, Cinisello, Italy

A Question
of Freedom
Dearest Editor: Confirmed materialist that I was in my life, I always had an on-going question: Why does an all-seeing and all-providing God not save the good people, the noble-hearted people who help those in need with altruism and self-denial, but instead lets live people like me, whose bad deeds are countless? I found the answer reading The Red Horse by Eugenio Corti. There’s a very emblematic passage toward the end that answered my interior quarrel. At the funeral of Fr. Carlo Gnocchi, some of his fellow Alpine Corps veterans who survived the Russia campaign were present to bid him farewell, and in particular two who knew him even before he became a military chaplain. Quite shaken, one asked the other at his side, his brother-in-law, why “God leaves here the useless and the scoundrels who cause trouble, and instead takes those who are necessary, who could still do so much good.” It made him think that God didn’t care much about human affairs, or that He didn’t exist. But his brother-in-law answered, “If God intervened systematically to strike down the worthless and save the good, in doing so He would force men to do good. It would mean depriving them of their freedom.” How pointed this line is! God in His greatness, even though He could orient the choices of every single human being, leaves each of us free to do what we want, so we have freedom of action, because He let Himself be crucified for the freedom of women and men, to make each of us free. Freedom is something that you conquer between one constraint and another; there are people made for freedom and those who adapt to the constraints. The gusto of freedom depends on personal choices, and one that can determine more than anything else is the choice to have Jesus at your side. This intimate choice is a journey that enables you to overcome walls, and so you must protect and defend it; not all of us are capable or do it, because having chosen to have Jesus at your side seems difficult. Instead, it is the simplest thing that a person can choose. Having Jesus at your side makes you live with more simplicity, with more humility. This is the teaching I’ve drawn and in which I’ve found my answer after such a long time: God wants freedom for us, for every action of ours, be it right or wrong.
Bruno, Biella

The Wisdom
of the Heart
We sent this letter to our friends in the Fidenza community, three months after the death of our son Jacopo in an auto accident
“Dear friends: The pain that suddenly came crashing in on our family has the dimensions of a mountain, or better, of a dark and fearsome abyss. It blocks the horizon and dulls the heart. It is the darkness of rebellion, skepticism, and desperation, of reason incapable of recognizing a positive nonetheless present and ultimately victorious, as Fr. Carrón reminded us. And yet, within all this suffering and struggle, in proportion to the power of the pain, but always a bit greater, an ineffable and wondrous tenderness has made itself present in many forms–first of all, in the faces and in the companionship of the friends of the Fraternity and of CLU, who gave us incessant and gratuitous affection made up of little and great acts of attention; in daily prayer, the great companion of our days; in the desire for familiarity with Jesus, for us truly a question of life or death; and in the gift of hospitality. Gestures and words, which for some time we’d taken for granted, were slowly transfigured by this wound and by this tenderness. Truly a river of good has begun to flow around us and has never left us alone, sustaining us and carrying the pain together with us. Every time that sadness and pain seemed unbearable, Jesus made Himself present with greater consolation. A sentence of Fr. Giussani’s expresses this moment well: ‘Pain is the wisdom of the heart, because it makes you ask in every instant.’ We, so poor in everything in this moment, have asked and the Lord has answered. We are asking, at times, simply to be able to live, to make it to the evening. All this has made our attachment to Christ stronger, and the certainty of the Resurrection, which is also the hope to see Jacopo again, sustains more than ever our faith and our family. We recognize in our life a fine line that, through the maternal goodness of Our Lady, brings us to Jesus. The pain is still here, next to and within us, but the horizon of our life doesn’t open out onto an abyss, but to the infinitely sweet and consoling embrace of Jesus Christ. We know well what our task is: to make the glory of Christ present in our flesh. We pray and ask all our friends to pray for us, so that this consciousness, according to God’s will, may become in us a work”.
Ernesto, Leila, and Leonardo, Fidenza, Italy

Theater in Prison
I walked into Opera Prison (near Milan), not knowing what to expect. I was there because my friend Betty had asked me to do a theater workshop with some of her prisoner students between the ages of 35 and 65. Up to then, I’d always done workshops with children, but since I’ve learned that nothing happens by chance, I threw myself in fully. Right away, I encountered in the eyes of these people the purest need of man, the need to be looked at with passion, to be forgiven and appreciated. As we’re all creatures, we’re all equal in this way, even though the choices we’ve made in life are not. In class, they had been reading Dante, and had met the figure of Giotto in Canto X, so I proposed a play expressing values such as the discovery and valorization of talent, the presence of God in every aspect of reality, which should be looked at attentively and loved. I re-wrote it, adapting it with them in mind, with their way of moving on the stage, their dialect… Together we assembled a real workshop, composed of reciprocal listening, comparison of ideas and feelings, valorization of the personal characteristics of each person, and encouragement. Together we overcame our skepticism and fear of failure. I asked some dear friends and life companions, experts in theater, to help me in this adventure. So, Betta, Laura, and Carlo came more than once to work with us. Struck by the prisoners’ attitude, at the end of the course, after the success of the final performance in the presence of the prison authorities, I wrote each of them a sincere, personal letter. One of them wrote back, saying, “When it seems like things are falling down around your head, and you see all you’ve built disappear, you feel lost and exhausted, and you think that you can’t go on anymore; you ask yourself whether there’s still a chance in this life for you to demonstrate that you can build something good, that you can make it, and, above all, you ask yourself whether you can gain someone’s trust to demonstrate it, because in life I believe it’s not enough to engage yourself–you need someone who gives you the chance to do it. You believed in us, and dedicated yourself with passion to the project that, while small, was big in our interior. You believed in me personally, and you enabled me to do something for which I believed I was unsuited, of which I thought I was incapable.”
Lorena, Milan, Italy

Pre-Matrimonial Course for Couples
I would like to tell you about an event I witnessed. A young couple both worked as waitstaff at the “Mama Cafè;” they began to like each other, and (as is the custom now) got together. He is also a promising singer-songwriter. Speaking with my wife, Adriana, these two friends bit-by-bit began to want to get married. Given that both were strangers to the Church (neither was confirmed), Fr. Carlo asked Adriana and I to think about the catechism necessary to prepare them for their marriage. This happened with two instruments: the School of Community (Traces of Christian Experience) and the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, using the part on the sacraments. It was striking to see the childlike openness with which they assimilated all we read and commented on together. Another waitress joined the two fiancés, drawn by their enthusiasm. The reasons for Christian marriage enthused both of them, in different ways. This brought forth a certain controversy among their friends, who asked, “Why should you get married? You’re happy together as it is, and then, you never know…” He responded in an increasingly controversial and convinced way to their objections, and, to seal their position, wanted the Gospel reading at their wedding to be the Parable of the Prodigal Son. At the beginning of Mass, he wanted to tell his friends the following words, which left everyone flabbergasted: “Today, I’m here to get married.… Yes, but also to be reconciled with God and His people, who we all are, in order to enter and take part definitively in the design that was created for us, a design made by God and of which we are protagonists–a  design made of love, of faith, of commitment, and, above all, of freedom! Today, for me, all this is marriage! Let those who have ears, listen.”
Peppino Zola, Milan, Italy

Saying “Yes”
Dearest Fr. Julián: In the confusion of this back-to-school time with my children and my work, everything is becoming a bit more murky, but I want the experience to remain alive in my life. I have experienced the fact that my whole life depends on my relationship with the Mystery. Only in this way can I be a protagonist of my life, even when I’m on the operating table (which has happened at least six times in the past  three to four years) and when things don’t go well with my children; when we have problems with our business where my husband and I work together, and also when I see the beauty of the mountains, or am with my friends, or when I thank God because my children are growing and beginning to follow our friends. In the same way, if I leave Christ outside my life I immediately become a slave to circumstances, be they good or ugly. The Presence is there, even when I’m not aware, but when I live with my eyes open and sincere, everything changes. The circumstances are the same as always, but I manage to see the miracles that are happening. All this has been possible through shared experience with my friends, with the companionship to which I’ve clung, albeit sometimes unconsciously or with disobedience. It’s not a matter of how good I am, but of the Grace of being able to say “yes”–for example, when a friend told me to go to Confession every 15 days. At first, I said, “Within 15 days I don’t do anything bad; there’s no use going,” but he insisted. Faithfulness to Confession has helped me experience in the flesh the objectivity of the sacrament and the gaze of Christ through the gaze of the Capuchin monk who has now become my spiritual father. With him I have experienced that “first” who loves me and generates me. I re-discovered Him because I recognized that I had already experienced Him. I see clearly that without recognizing and becoming conscious of this “first,” I am nothing.
Edina, Budapest, Hungary

The Gift of Baptism
In the last few months my life has changed. I had been going through a hard time, due for the most part to my parents’ separation. I had become closed in on myself, and shared with no one all the pain I was feeling. I had constructed a mask of false happiness to hide behind. This went on for about two years, and then I began university. Here, a classmate was able to look past the mask to see my sadness and share it with me; she invited me to school of community. That same day I participated in the first Mass of my life. After this first encounter, my life has been a crescendo of beautiful events. I’ve come to live in Bologna and I have encountered some incredible people, above all my flatmates. I have changed; my way of living through things has changed, and with each passing day, I realized more and more that the beauty I saw every day couldn’t just be a work of ours, and above all, couldn’t end every time I took the train and returned home. With time I have come to understand that all that I am experiencing doesn’t end; it’s something infinitely great. My Christian experience lives inside of me, and is something that accompanies me in every step; through my friends and the people who love me I can always live it. I had begun to pray a lot, asking that my entreaty and my desire to live this experience always remain alive, but I still felt something was incomplete. So I made a big decision: I decided to be baptized. I decided to become Christian, to undertake a journey to make me understand more and more what I am living. I decided to share this journey with my friend Benedetta, who has been fundamental for my conversion. She was the first person whose way of living fascinated me; through her sensitivity and simplicity she transmitted to me a love that comes from far higher, and she helped me discover and accept something that until a few months ago I didn’t see. After about four months I also began to face my home situation differently. Nobody has taken away my pain, but it’s just as certain that in this I am not alone, and never will be. “Suffer and be great, your destiny is this up to now: suffer, but hope: your great race has barely begun; and who can say what times, what works Heaven is preparing for you? The Heaven who made you king, and gave you such a heart” (A. Manzoni, Adelchi).
Alice, Cesena, Italy