01-09-2011 - Traces, n. 8


The lessons, the witnesses, the hike, and many unexpected encounters: a journal of five intense days in which the Responsibles of the Movement from all over the world found themselves in front of "a new beginning."


"I have the feeling that a new adventure is starting now," says Iaia, dressed like a perfect manager, high heels included, outside the meeting room in La Thuile at the end of Mass. It's August 31st, the last of the five days of the International Assembly for CL Responsibles. Everything is over. And yet, once again, it can be a beginning –through grace, in the faces, the gestures, the words, and the simple witnesses of those that the Lord put near me in those days. Now it's easier to write about something that seemed almost impossible at the time, so much so that I'd thought about not going. Reading and re-reading my notes with Iaia's comment in my head becomes the reflection of an experience of friendship that is attractive, a gift.

WHAT IS MOST DEAR TO US. At dinner, having just arrived, I meet Sister Caterina, who has been a missionary in Nigeria for almost 30 years. She tells me, "I'm happy to see you. Here." Just a few words, dry, in the style of someone from Bergamo, Italy. Her eyes, however, say more: they smile. It is an instant; that simple gaze embraces me and sticks in my heart.
At the table, a friend says, "Did you know that Iaia is here?" I look for her among the other tables. There she is. We hug for a long time. "I was waiting for you," she says. We've known each other since 1995, when I was a doctoral student in philosophy and helped with research in the historical archives of the Movement at the CL headquarters. We have dear friends in common, but one above all: Father Giussani. Today, she has a consulting firm. We've seen and heard from each other less in recent years. Now, it doesn't matter. She is a witty spirit who breaks the mold, so I tease her: "What are you doing here?" "You won't believe it, but I've been the visitor of the Belgium community for a few months now. Ever since I studied there, I've always held my relationships with those friends dear... and now I was given this proposal. The Lord is imaginative, don't you think?" I say that she still has the same vivacity. Together we walk to the meeting room for the introduction.
Saint Ambrose's phrase hangs at the side of the stage: "Ubi fides ibi libertas." It is the title of our five-day gathering. My faith, my freedom... Also hanging up front is the map with the 74 countries that are represented. Singing "Come Holy Spirit" first isn't taken for granted because, as Julián Carrón begins, we are asking to be able to receive that which the Lord will want to give us in these days. He bends down to us. The generation of this gesture depends on the availability of each person–and this is the first provocation that Carrón launches, going back to the last book of the Equipe by GiussaniWhat Is Most Dear to Us? What fulfills our life, now? After years in the Movement, the shadow of weariness, of already knowing everything, of cynicism, can darken us. But the urgency of this question, if we are sincere, remains. And there is only one road, indicated by Father Giussani, as it was repeated at the Fraternity Exercises: that faith become a lived experience. Only in this way can we understand its usefulness. It is a walk, as Ratzinger writes about Saint Augustine: "Conversion is the iter–the roadway of a whole lifetime." It is always a beginning. Never taking for granted that it is Christ who has taken hold of us, "We have been chosen to have the same eyes with which He looks at man;" to have the humility to recognize Him, to strive toward Him, our eyes fixed on His.
Sunday morning, before the assembly, we sing "Ballata dell'amore vero" ("Ballad of True Love"). In front of me, Cardinal Emeritus Simonis of Holland follows the text of the song in the booklet. Every so often he looks up at the song leaders. He doesn't miss a word. He is elderly, and has been coming to the International Assembly for many years; someone told me that this is his only vacation.

FROM CAIRO TO THE UKRAINE. "I would like to see God, but it's impossible," we sing. And instead, it isn't. He has assailed us with His gaze. The whole assembly is proof, inside the drama of life, of a reawakened "I." For many, the cornerstone was the January 26th presentation of the School of Community on The Religious Sense. The impact of reality in the experience of faith has freed us to encounter whoever feels the elementary needs that constitute him, albeit in different ways. That's how it was for Alberto, at the Rimini Meeting, with the Rector of Al Azhar University or with John Elkann, the President of Fiat, with whom he found himself at dinner, speaking about children and education. There's no strategy beforehand; it's about not reducing reality to appearances. But the starting point is to have Him present, as Costantino emphasized. He who happened to me, in the present. There is no longer an a priori. Christ is not an a priori. This is the real surprise, even if you are more than fifty years old, have a leadership role, an important job... like Giorgio. And this opens you to the world. You are more than yourself. This assembly is a bursting forth of the "I." A beginning.
Outside, the sun illuminates and warms the mountains. There is time to chat. My friend Guido, who has been in California for years, comes by. Iaia elbows me: "Introduce me to him! I heard his presentation at the Meeting. We crossed paths in college." I call him over and make the introductions. She thanks him for what he said at Rimini. He says, "We work together with Him. Say a prayer for me, Iaia." He disappears. After lunch, I run into Rose. I ask how her women are doing. "My leading women?" I don't understand. "Those in the Memores house 'give birth,' that is, they introduce the others to new life." And she leaves. In the afternoon, there are two witnesses to help understand how the charism of Father Giussani is for everyone, encounters everyone. Wael Farouq, Professor of Literature in Cairo, gives thanks for the friendship born with some people of the Movement, "without which I wouldn't be able to understand myself." For him, a Muslim, the presence of God in his life has specific names: Carrón, Father Ambrogio, Emilia... This friendship brought about the miraculous event that was the Meeting in Cairo, last October.
We then heard from Aleksandr Filonenko, Professor and Orthodox theologian at the University of Char'kov (Ukraine), who will never forget the day in May 2002 when he met his friends in Russia Cristiana. Or the invitation he subsequently received to the Rimini Meeting to present the exhibit dedicated to "The Piazza Majakovskij Kids." There, in the gaze, in the attention of those people, he met Father Giussani for the first time. He had never heard of him before. There was an immediate correspondence–because, as Saint Paul writes, "We belong to Christ." He speaks of vulnerability, of the willingness to let oneself be struck, as a simple condition, but one that is necessary on the Christian journey.
After dinner, Father Ignacio Carbajosa–better known as Nacho–presents Benedict XVI's recent book, Jesus of Nazareth, a work that joins the great battle to overcome the rift between knowing and believing. The Pope, an astute theologian, retraces the studies that have been done on Jesus. And he overturns the theories that, from the 18th century on, have tried to separate the Jesus of faith from the historical Jesus.

THE PRESENT LEAF. Monday morning: clarification. This is what Carrón called it. And as he gets to the bottom of the matter, it's clear that he is accompanying us on a journey, as only a friend can do, to be more human. He begins by retracing the road indicated by Father Giussani in the tenth chapter of The Religious Sense. The heart of our proposal is the announcement of an event that surprises. It is an event that empowers the core of original evidences that we call the religious sense. "Faith makes man man. We who participate in this event are more 'vulnerable' in front of the being of things. One has experience only in the impact with reality." But are we used to looking at a leaf as a Presence? No. It is the vibration of Being that we normally don't manage to catch. This is dizzying for reason, but fascinating. "The culture of power has clouded, hidden this 'most real reality.'" There are two causes: "One: a fragile reason, and so we agree abstractly, but we are not provoked. Two: a division between recognition and affection. We can affirm the a priori of Christ, but without vibration." The only way out is our experience, to look at the "I" in action. In this way, one avoids taking for granted a reality that then imposes itself as a given, a gift. Therefore, the first activity is a passivity, "to become aware of this inexorable Presence." Only from this position can astonishment flow–like a stream from a spring. "In the same way, it is the recognition of a dependence on this You that makes me, a You that religious tradition calls God." It is the contemporaneousness of Christ. The prevailing positivism blocks this original impact with reality. And how can we tell that we are positivistic? "We suffocate. You suffocate in circumstances." There is only one road indicated by Father Giussani: to live reality. And it is completely fascinating because it exalts reason and the heart. The "I."

"BRILLIANT" TRANSLATION. There is time for personal or group reflection. The square is alive with voices, some more heated, some less, in different languages. At lunch with Damian and Guido, we talk about "clarification." "When I had to translate dato into English, I had some problems," Damian says. "In English the corresponding word, 'given,' has a negative meaning. It means 'taken for granted.'" What did you do? "I used 'datum,' which has a scientific connotation, but maybe gives a better idea. What do you think?" I say that it seems brilliant. "Oh, come on."
In the late afternoon Giorgio Vittadini, Ilaria Schnyder, and Nacho witness to "what is most dear to us" in the experience of the recent Meeting, in doctoral work on the AVSI project in Salvador de Bahia and the experience of Marcos and Cleuza Zerbini in São Paulo, and in participation in World Youth Day in Madrid. We learn about experience in action that makes itself public, that engraves itself on history. In the evening, the presentation of the exhibit on the Eucharist is the documentation of the heart of the Christian tradition.
Tuesday morning's hike started in line in groups to reach the summit. On the path, I find myself next to Stefano. It's been 20 years since we've seen each other. We talk about work, family, his three foster children... We tell each other about our lives. We joke, and for a moment I think about how before this moment he and I knew each other practically only by sight. The Lord is truly ironic. We take turns waiting for each other because we are puffing and panting a little during the climb.
Then, once we arrive, the view takes our breath away. The day is clear, and if you stretch out your hand you can trace the profile of the mountains with your finger. It is the gift of a Friend. In that beauty, a Presence imposes itself, aching. And all of this is for me. It was created for me. We are not out of place, as Javier Prades says during the homily at Mass.
The mountain songs begin. Alberto comes over: "Look, on the peak of the Monte Bianco there's a hat." I turn: on the summit there is a light cloud. I might not have noticed it on my own. Or, better still, I wouldn't have thought of calling it a hat. There is always a friend who indicates the way, who says, "Look"–and amazes you.
On the way down, behind me, an African boy softly sings "Se tu m'accogli" ("If You Welcome Me"). In the parking lot, while I wait for a ride, I run into Father Giovanni from Peru. This year, we weren't able to eat together. I ask him how he's doing. "We opened four more campuses of the Catholic university Sedes Sapientiae in Lima. One is in the jungle. This is the work of Andrea [Aziani, who died three years ago] that goes on. A gift." The reflection of that beauty becomes visible in the afternoon assembly. The words that keep coming up have taken flesh: experience, faith, reason, affectivion, passivity. The link with reality to which reason submits itself emerges. Reality welcomes. Carrón continues to encourage us to go a step further. These days are paradigmatic–not for what we understood, but for what happened. We are on the road.

BLACK AND WHITE. Outside, I look for Franco. I am curious to meet Father Stefano, who has been a missionary for more than 30 years in Madagascar. "Tomorrow, we'll have breakfast together. He's a man of few words. Essential. You have to meet him. Then maybe we can go to Madagascar together sometime," he says. He tells me about how they met, about his trip to the island. But why is it so important to you? "In the encounter with him, I became more aware of our experience. That's it."
The notes of the Second Piano Trio (Op. 67) of Dmitrij Šostakovic, played live, fill the meeting room after dinner. The music screams sadness, anguish. But its beauty says: desperation is not the last word.
Last day: synthesis. The experience of these days has provoked a work; the desire to get to work has reawakened. And, to go forward, Carrón makes some suggestions. "There's a relationship between reason, freedom, and affection with reality. For reason to be truly 'affective,' it must reach reality. Without this recognition of reality, my affection will not form an attachment," and I will reduce reality by saying, "This is black and this is white." This is what fascinated Carlo Wolfsgruber, one of the first GS students, in the early days of school with Father Giussani. He was a free man, because he was genuine. Another suggestion: "The relationship between event and freedom. Freedom presupposes that, in the fundamental decisions, every man is a new beginning. What we have is a treasure, but it doesn't become ours without us."
The novelty of the gaze that the charism brought will never become ours by repeating concepts. It is an attractiveness that always generates itself. "The real decision is whether or not to let ourselves be generated by the charism." By Christ. And it is the challenge that must be played out every day.