01-04-2010 - Traces, n. 4

Latin America
Responsibles’ Assembly

Moved by a

An explosion of life, stories, and questions. Hundreds came to São Paulo from Central and South America, yet each one was there for himself. Here are the faces and words from the three days of sharing. They are the fruit of a revolution in the making: the stirring of a friendship that is shaking the continent, because it makes people discover (or rediscover) “a fact without precedent.”

by Davide Perillo

Chiara Lubich is there, smiling from the huge photograph of her on the wall of the theater. Would she ever have imagined that one day, in her home, there would be such a spectacle? Two hundred and eighty friends from all over Latin America here in Mariápolis, 45 miles from São Paulo. It is a Focolare movement hostel. For three days it will be hosting the ARAL, the Latin American Responsibles’ Assembly of Communion and Liberation. The theme? It is written on the backdrop in Portuguese: “O que deveria vibrar em nossos olhos todos os dias”–“What must vibrate in our eyes all our days.” And what shines in our eyes these days can be seen at once: a crowd of people gathered around Marcos, Cleuza, Bracco, Fr. Aldo, Julian de la Morena… In a word, a friendship.
This is why it was worthwhile enduring the 20-hour flight from Italy to come here. At the airport there are hugs and greetings shared between the many friends who have come from Lima, Asunción, Buenos Aires… 20 countries in all, even from Chile, despite the earthquake. Our buses climb the hills above Rodoanel. We stop before a lake, “one of those that provides water for the city,” we are told. We cross the lake on a boat and land at a resort surrounded by greenery. Here, the first session is held. Not everyone has arrived yet, but our patience is robust, like the hugs we get from Marcos and Cleuza, whom we have not seen for months; or the provocation with which Julián Carrón, the leader of the CL Movement, opens the first round of interventions: “The last thing I expected was this explosion of life. This poses a question: Is the proposal we make pertinent to the conditions in which we are living, or not? We have to work on this.” Our hearts leap to hear Fr. Aldo Trento as he tells us what he has discovered in the past month. “It was the passage from an adhesion to Christ as an idea, to a yes to Christ as a present event; from a Christ of patience to Christ risen. This has an immediate consequence: “We, here, are always tempted to see what was good in Fr. Giussani so as to apply it to the Latin American reality. We would come back from La Thuile, and from the Responsibles’ assembly with a lot of points to put into practice here. But it was a kind of ‘CL nationalism,’ with the borders tightly closed. The only thing that could open them was His person. The method is the Incarnation: a face, and a friendship.”

Shuffling the Cards. The Archbishop of São Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Scherer, arrives for lunch. There is a cake for Cleuza, who is celebrating her birthday. His Eminence’s greeting is friendly and fatherly, speaking of Christianity “not as a doctrine, but for what it is–a personal relationship with Christ.” You come out to take the boat again for Mariápolis, and you have already formed an idea. The key to understanding the Movement that is stirring up Latin America is just this: the birth of a friendship.
Whoever you ask explains it in this way. There is a phrase thrown out by Carrón during a previous Skype conference: “I am curious to see what is born from your friendship.” And there are those across the ocean who took him seriously–as usual, the Zerbinis and their Brazilian friends. They were struck by this and by another suggestion: “Keep company with Fr. Aldo.” From this was born a true fraternity, involving trips back and forth from  São Paulo to Paraguay, and a network of relationships that, little by little, this group of friends began to weave around the continent, invited by the curiosity of the various communities in Mexico, Argentina, and Peru. “It’s an attraction that is catching,” says Julián de la Morena, the new responsible for the Movement in the zone. The desire to be present, to have this kind of life,  is spreading.
This is what shuffles the cards, even in places where the Movement has existed for decades. All the schemes collapse, along with some of the old routines. You can come across facts like the vacation at the Iguaçu Falls, where 900 people of various countries encountered the novelty of tackling everything, starting from a friendship and from oneself; the same place  Carrón started from as he introduced the Assembly: “The Movement is the person, not an association. What does it mean to be here with our whole selves? That we take into account our own needs, the cry that we are. Every one of us is here for himself, because this is the only way of helping others–because a grace given to one is given to everyone.”

A second rebirth. The meaning of these words becomes clear upon hearing the testimonies of the evening’s witnesses. De la Morena introduces them: “The earthquake showed that everything is fragile. We see that our history is solid. It’s based on a certainty.” Cleuza tells about the journeys they have made over the past months and about the discovery that “to follow means to follow a person, a face, not an idea.” She replies to those coming back from a visit to Fr. Aldo and his terminal cases, who asked her, “Do you mean to open a hospital like that here, too?” “No, not me. I want to learn from the way Fr. Aldo looks at people.” And it is Aldo himself who follows with his testimony, speaking of the “taste of discovering your ‘I,’ not as an obstacle, but as a journey. The Movement is a ‘you,’ moved before Christ.” Then Rosetta Brambilla, in Brazil for almost 50 years (see Traces no. 1, 2010), tells how these months have been “starting over from the beginning, seeing a horizon–the possibility of remaining forever young.” A little earlier, Fr. Vando–who came to Brazil in 1974 from Italy–had used more or less the same expression: “For me, it’s the second time I have seen the Movement reborn. The first was after 1976, when Fr. Giussani took up the leadership of the Movement again. When I left Italy, he told me, ‘Go there to help the local Church, the movements you find there, not to build CL.’ Now, with the Zerbinis, exactly this is happening.”

Three themes. Saturday morning  we go to the hall for the assembly, which does not begin from nothing, but from a work already begun. “We asked everyone for a personal contribution,” said de La Morena, “More than 100 e-mails have arrived. Most of them revolve around three themes. One: the reference to humanity, to the ‘I.’ Our humanity is not an obstacle, but the difficulty lies in acknowledging this. Two: the grace of the friendship born between Cleuza, Marcos, and Fr. Aldo, and the public impact it has had. I am thinking of the meeting they had in Mexico City, where, after 70 years, it was possible to speak of Christ in the university; and in Argentina, where an official of the University of Rio de la Plata, one of those most ideologically aligned, told the Zerbinis, ‘It would be great to spend a day with you.’ He did not say, ‘Let’s argue.’ He understood that there was something else at stake. Then, the third fact: the vacation in Iguaçu, which was the epitome of this friendship, and which aroused questions: ‘Where does this kind of ultimate resistance to life-changing facts come from? And the difficulty in judging?’”
Then came the personal interventions, rich with meaning because, as Julián Carrón said, “Since the Word became flesh, there is no other way to communicate except through a witness.” The first argument clearly had to be friendship. Vando tells of the beginning of a new unity with the priests who live close to him, and a problem before which it seemed that unity was of no use. Then, in a discussion, Marcos told him, “Remember that friendship among you is more important than solving the problem.” And Carrón added, “We have to understand if this friendship responds better to the needs we have.Friendship, not as something sentimental, but as walking together toward destiny. It is a judgment.” And the problems? And the unease when things don’t work out? “It’s just as well that it exists; it is the ultimate resource for remembering Whom we are lacking. Our humanity is not the problem; it works quite well. And it’s not a moral problem. Morality is only being honest about this lack.” And so, little by little, the real question became clear: “Is it possible to be born again, to learn again what we think we already know? This is the challenge for the Church: Can someone already fixed in his character and mentality be changed, at the depth of his being? Because if this is not the case, then Christianity remains something exterior, an ornament, like a sombrero on the head of someone already made.”
From here on, there is a flood of interventions: on the discovery that “faith is not born from a discourse, but from being moved,” and on the stress of certain moments in which, as Carolina says, “you speak about everything but the faith.” Carrón replies, “Don’t start off from others or from what is lacking. Your uneasiness is a gift. But if you don’t move yourself, don’t expect the companionship to change you.” Laura, from Mexico, tells of the amazement of a group of intellectuals before a witness on subsidiarity. Carrón said, “It is a challenge of experience. Because it reveals the metaphysical value of the fact of an example. A simple fact has a potential within it; it answers questions and difficulties better than a thousand words. The Movement is full of facts like these.”

Never satisfied. Marcos speaks about a report in the magazine Epoca, a kind of Brazilian Newsweek, that sent a reporter to visit the Sem Terra association. “This fact provoked me to be more attentive to the life of the association. If such an important magazine sends a person for six months to investigate us, what importance does our companionship have? Now I know my enemies better, but I understand better too that all the circumstances are essential for my vocation, and I recognize what Carrón said to some friends of ours in politics when he asked them, ‘Why do you content yourselves with mere crumbs of power?’”
After lunch, work groups: on politics, on charitable initiatives, on education, and on the bicentenary of Brazilian independence. Here and there can be seen the blue tee-shirts of the secretariat. Many of them are CLU members, and along with the Brazilians are a few Argentinians. The unity can be seen in this, too, in people who flourish, or re-flourish.
Take Anibal Fornari, for example, the Responsible for Argentina, who opens the afternoon assembly. On the way to Mariápolis, he had told us of his first encounter with the Movement, through Methol Ferré, and then with Fr. Giussani. His is a long, deep history, marked with tight curves. Exile, sojourn in Brazil, a university career. Now it’s as if everything has suddenly happened again in the events of the past months. For him, too, the turning point was Marcos and Cleuza’s visit to Argentina, during which  he rediscovered his own unity, the incidence of faith in life, in the whole of life. “This is why Fr. Giussani is of interest for the Church: he shows this incidence in detail,” notes Carrón. “If faith cannot overcome dualism, then it is of no interest to us.” The waiting line to ask questions is so long that it’s impossible for everyone to talk. “But if you listen attentively, tell me if you don’t go home with some hypothesis on an answer to your question.”
In the evening, there are more witnesses. Camilo from Aracaju, over 900 miles from here, tells us how, as a young man, he said “no” to the faith, “because the Church did not interest me,” and how a thirst that politics was unable to quench made him look to literature for an answer. In Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, the phrase “If God does not exist, then everything is allowed” opened up a wound which a sickness was to intensify, leading to the formation of a group of friends who began to read and study together. “I had come back to Christ, but for me it was an affirmation, not an experience. At least not until I came across that book by Fr. Giussani, almost by chance.”Then came questions, encounters, and de La Morena who traveled to the northeast. “Then life became dense and free, because Christ is present.” Dense and free, like that of Pedro, who tells of the charity work begun in the prison in Asunción, Paraguay, and that little by little grew into something that embraced everything, to the founding of the house called “Virgen de Caacupé,” where a hundred or so young people learn to live, after abandoning a life of crime. “It’s striking to see how, when you make a true proposal, a true humanity emerges,” says Pedro.

Into our fibers. Here is a true proposal, which, the following morning, in the synthesis, takes the form of a challenge. It starts off with a song (I Wonder) but it had its own impetus: “A song like this can come only from an ‘I’ moved to the quick by this unforeseen, unique, unprecedented fact, the Mystery that comes into the world to die for a poor wretch like me and like you. Let’s ask always to be moved, profoundly, because, for us, many times this fact fades; it becomes a formula. But Christianity is this event we must look at, so that it enters more deeply into our lives, into the fiber of our being every day.”
In this we discover the human convenience and the real interest for Christianity, “because if we let it penetrate us, it changes us.” You just have to look at your own experience and at the witnesses we have before us. “And if I do, I cannot but acknowledge that Christ is present here and now. Only if I see myself embraced now can I answer Dostoevsky’s question, each one of us for himself, because we live this challenge. Is it happening now? Is it possible now that it will penetrate into the hard nucleus of our ‘I’?”
This question is even keener for us–who are the first to be “living in a world without Christ, after Christ,” where the tradition is no longer there, has been worn away. “Can Christianity generate a new creature?” What is the problem? “That for many of us, the hardships, limitations, and weakness are considered obstacles, while it is enough to look at the Gospel to see that this is false. It is before our weakness that Christ showed all His power.” Thus, the point of departure becomes clear: “It depends on how we interpret the symptoms of our humanity, because it is not an illness, but rather our greatness. And the more time passes, the more we are grateful for Fr. Giussani’s charism, because he taught us to look at our humanity like no one else did.”

You are all invited. How are we to continue with this charism? “By a change in the person, not by interpretation.” Like Zacchaeus, who welcomed Christ in his house “full of joy.” “This joy is what is striking; a person who is changed, not interpretations. Only the experience of His presence can do this,” and our honesty toward the need that we are, “because it is what we have seen during these days–people who have taken themselves and Fr. Giussani’s proposal seriously. Thus, we can see all the novelty that has acted in their lives.” It is what we keep in our hearts as we get onto the buses–a novelty. And it’s for you. The first round of goodbyes has already finished, and there will be another at the airport, but what you take home with you is much more than an embrace; it’s the proposal thrown out by Julián de La Morena, with a disarming smile: “Simply to widen this friendship. And you are all invited.”