|01-09-2008 - Traces, n. 8
Andrea Aziani Witness to Faith
Fever for Life
Taking us from Abbiategrasso to Peru, passing through Siena, Florence, and a thousand other places where he always left a powerful trace, this is the memorial (written by a friend) of a man who brought hundreds of others to love Christ–and who gave all of himself
by Antonio Socci
Carmen knew him from the days in GS (they were both from Abbiategrasso in the province of Milan, Italy). Of all the things that struck her, she remembers a little oddity: when he was riding his bike back from charitable work, Andrea would sing out aloud along the foggy country roads. It’s just a snapshot of Andrea Aziani at eighteen, but it tells you a lot about the type. There was his youthfulness, enamored of Jesus, and his cheerful courage–“because Jesus has already won!!!” he would say, laughing and clapping you on the shoulder. And then there was his heart bursting with happiness and passion from a desire to tell everyone the great news. It took him all the way to the ends of the earth–not just Siena, where Fr. Giussani sent him in 1976, but also to that strip of land facing the Pacific, on the other side of the world, where at 55 he ended his tireless earthly race (and where he has left his body, literally wearing it out for Jesus’ sake). Now begins his triumphant walk to Heaven.
“He is the first of us buried in a land of mission,” Fr. Pino says. In this way, Andrea, too, reveals what Fr. Giussani had in his heart that day in autumn of 1954, when he entered Berchet High School: the whole world. And I believe he desired only this: to generate men like this.
From the Bassa
in Italy to the Andes
In 1993, at a retreat of the Memores Domini, Fr. Giussani read a letter Andrea had written to Dado, then also in Peru. They were about to visit some people at Cuzco in the Andes. So Andrés (he always used his Peruvian name by this time) wrote: “For someone to fall in love with what we love is what we yearn for. But, for it to happen, we have to burn, literally be aflame with passion for man, that Christ may reach him.” Fr. Giussani read out these lines and, deeply moved, declared: “I challenge you to find another witness like this–anywhere!”
The eighteen-year-old who sang on his bike along the roads of Abbiategrasso became the twenty-year-old who, as organizer of CL at State University in Milan, in ’73 often ended up being ambushed by violent leftists, and later, in ’76, the twenty-three-year-old sporting a long black beard and parka who enthused our restless hearts as youngsters in Siena. Andrea was immune to all indulgence; he was always the first if there were chairs to be unloaded, toilets to be cleaned, hovels to be whitewashed–always the first to serve, always ready to say, “Here I am!” with so much energy you couldn’t imagine where he got it from (he was not even a serious eater!). He was always smiling and encouraging everyone else and, of course, correcting them enthusiastically if he had to.
He was still the same when he went to Lima in 1988. As a professor famous even among intellectuals and ministers, he built a chapel in a shantytown with little Sebastiana and the other kids, so poor people would feel Jesus was close to them. He was still the same when he came home in tatters once, having been attacked by a gang of criminals after he ventured into a notorious neighborhood in search of a girl who had disappeared. And the same when he invited the Peruvian President Toledo to the Mass for Fr. Giussani.
“This love for Jesus,” Fr. Primo writes me, “had driven out all his pride and he kept nothing for himself any more.” When I listen to Saint Paul’s “Hymn to Charity,” I know I’ve seen all this in Andrea. I think of how manly he was, yet how ready to efface himself (with incredible humiliations that he alone could have accepted), just to enable the people with him to see Jesus.
He also shared Saint Paul’s radicalism, his missionary passion. His mother was from a Jewish family. His grandfather, Emanuele Samek Lodovici, was a truly gifted man. He was persecuted by the fascists, first because he was a militant Catholic (convert) in Fr. Sturzo’s People’s Party, then under the race laws because he was a Jew.
I mentioned his missionary passion. Andrea lived with the intelligence learned as a youngster involved in charities, the instrument by which Fr. Giussani taught us to open our hearts to the whole world and to look at suffering and need.
When Tina from Siena joined him in Peru, Andrés took her up to the highest point of Lima. All this vast megalopolis of twelve million people was spread out before them. “Look at that,” he told her. “Can you see how big it is? We’re nothing. What can we hope to achieve?”
So how did Andrea, in that same city, succeed in making such a powerful impression? He simply shared the lives of those people, then looked and followed what God was doing before his eyes. That day he told Tina: “There’s no need for conquerors here; they’ve had too many already. You have to study the history of Peru and the geography and the language. And you have to know the saints of this land and pray to them, and love this people–so you will be able to kneel before them the way God has knelt before each of them.”
“Never lose anyone”
He saw everyone he met on his path as people sent by the Lord, from the poor taxi driver he persuaded to enroll in night school to the famous intellectual. He always repeated: “We mustn’t lose any of those God has entrusted to us.” He was like that.
And those who met him always remembered it. Here are some excerpts from what hundreds of youngsters in Lima wrote, in a blog and on the many notes posted on boards at the Sedes Sapientiae University when they heard of his unexpected death: “Qué persona increible!!!” (“What an incredible person!”). “Andrés Aziani was beyond all possible comparison a man different from all those we usually meet.” “He taught us to be men.” Writes Janina: “My life changed utterly when I met him.” Erika speaks of “the profound mark this extraordinary man has left on me.” Anthony: “You taught me to live life differently. I thank God I knew you.” Ivan: “He was a happy person; what a way to love life! …He has left his mark on us forever.” Lucila: “He was happy to give us all his knowledge, and always with the utmost respect for all his students.” Fabiola: “He gave all of himself, at every lesson, leaving us with the desire to follow him and fight for our freedom, beginning by no longer being superficial and living life to the fullest.”
They have put a video on YouTube where you can see one of his wonderful lessons. It’s entitled: “Homenaje a un gran profesor y amigo” (“Homage to a great teacher and friend”). One recalled Andrés’ closing words in his last lecture: “El amor es más fuerte que la muerte” (“Love is stronger than death”), and then added, “I love you, dear teacher!”
This rousing educator, so capable of inspiring young people with a love for truth and beauty in philosophy, music, and art, so considerate of the needs of each to the point that he supported hundreds of them, was also capable of making them grow, at times with severity, teaching them to live like men.
Not reverent, but moved
“Never lose anyone.” Not even those who are distant. Not his friends back in Abbiategrasso (one wrote to me, deeply moved that Andrea in these thirty years has always been close to him). Not those in Siena, where we were all his children, because he founded the community. Last May, for the 25th anniversary of the marriage of the first couple in the CLU (Donatella and Marco), he wrote a wonderful letter recalling his great adventure with the CLU, where he gave form to our vocations (in Siena, Andrea himself graduated and entered the Memores), and left his mark on us forever.
He wrote: “A whole history, a whole life, marked by those roads, those lanes, those leaflets distributed, that tenacious and stubborn desire to say: ‘Yes! Here we are! Yes!!!’ We’re here, we’re ready! Always like true soldiers, who, in the days of battle, learn to become better friends, more merciful, more magnanimous and with eyes open wider, seeing as far as the utmost boundaries of the earth, begetting carnal and spiritual children, children and disciples, friends and also enemies, but always with grandeur, transcendentally. Not only or no longer reverent, but moved to tears–because, ultimately, what did we do? What merit did we have, except that we said yes! And have continued to say it today and in every circumstance… A joy that goes beyond all appearances, all temptations to reduce His power, His imagination, His creation! Those years were decisive for me, too. For me, too, everything was literally decided in those years, in the cooperatives, in the spray paint writing, in the exaggerated and violent quarrels with the ultras, in the dialogue with everyone. But the most beautiful thing is the struggle and the courage that everyone has to grasp every day to say yes! This is the prize of fidelity: the peace, the joy, and the knowledge that, as Fr. Giussani wrote, ‘Life is not useless!’ But also this: that it is not useless is a gift, a Grace. Yes, dear friend! All and only Grace! His fidelity is stronger than our doubts. Then, tomorrow, we can begin again because, as Enzo always said and now Carrón often says, ‘Beauty is still to come!’”
Andrea wrote this a few days before meeting Beauty made flesh, in His Kingdom, where he can now look it in the face: the Friend of his life. At the university, meanwhile, his students posted notes with his best-loved sayings, which have remained in their hearts: “Fever for life!” And one wrote: “Andrés y Giussani, juntos con Dios!” (“Andrea and Giussani together with God!”)