01-02-2013 - Traces, n. 2

a living faith

... and ended up “doing” politics. We offer here three stories that show the public impact of personal experience and of a living faith, ranging from cuts in a firm, to solidarity, to commitment to non-negotiable values.

by P.Bergamini, L.Fiore, and P.Perego

firing may not be the best solution

The instructions from the head office were clear: given the recession, it was necessary to make significant cuts in 2013. For Daniele, human resources director for a sector of an important multinational with 20 thousand employees, it meant a cut of about 40 million dollars. The most obvious and immediate solution was to fire people. This had been done in 2008, when the same challenge occurred at the beginning of the world economic crisis. Daniele recounts, “There were big cuts, with very high costs for severance packages and consultants. This generated a climate of fear, and the only goal the employees had was to save their skins; the good of the company was the last of their concerns.” A year and a half later, though, the situation had changed, and it was necessary to start re-hiring. They needed those same jobs filled again. “A schizophrenic situation, above all at the upper levels; everyone was really scared for their jobs. The instinct of self-preservation prevailed, so people made decisions that seemed right economically for the short term, but then turned out to be mistaken, because they hadn’t taken into consideration all the factors of reality.”

A good shake. In his case, given those instructions, it meant above all one thing: “Dealing with people. It may seem something obvious, but in that period it was necessary to remember the obvious things in order to face the fear that withers and destroys.” Daniele gathered his close team of 15 people and said, “First of all, let’s learn to look each other in the face. The situation is tense, and a person can fail to make it. Well, let’s help each other with this. Next: the problem isn’t what to do, but how to do it. Let’s find the most reasonable solutions for cutting these 40 million dollars, keeping clearly in mind the factor of the person, because when the recession is over and things get going again, it’s better to already have on board the right people–for the firm as well. Let’s be farsighted.” The tension eased immediately. “It was like giving their humanity a good shake, waking it up.”
What gives a shake of this kind? What causes a person to take this kind of position? “For me, everything is born from the encounter with Christ, from my faith, that first of all makes me take seriously my humanity and my needs. It makes me look at reality fearlessly and with patience, to see it as an opportunity. Circumstances, including the recession, are there to exercise my freedom, so I don’t depend on them. The consequence is that you manage to look at all the factors in play. You find solutions that aren’t instinctive or reactive, but reasonable. And out of this springs an unexpected creativity.”
For Daniele and his team, it meant drawing up a list of possible cuts, like substituting business trips with videoconferences and Skype communications, bringing home expatriates, and reconsidering their training costs. The decision to fire someone was only made as a last resort, while analyzing the work and family situation of each individual. It was a long and demanding process. “Certainly, it’s easier to execute orders resignedly, without bringing your own contribution. This road is longer and more detailed, and I had to personally explain to my bosses that it was the right path. But if you are credible, those who work with you can’t help but follow you”–even in a game that has yet to finish, with everything still to be played out.

Three teenagers in Parliament

"It made me think of those passages in the Gospel when the scribes and Pharisees question Jesus, to understand who He was and why He spoke with such authority.” Agostino Lucarelli, Béatrice Leduc Houte, and Marc-Antoine Bigras are three members of CL Student Youth (GS), ages 16, 17, and 18. John Zucchi, Professor of History at McGill University, watched them speak before the “Dying with Dignity Commission” formed by the Québec National Assembly to sound public opinion about whether to introduce forms of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Listening to them, members of the commission could not understand why they were there, or get over the power of their arguments and how they expressed themselves. “Mr. Lucarelli, you surprise me very much. I would be curious to know what your parents do.” “They have a shop.” “I asked you because, frankly, I am amazed at the correctness of your definitions or at least your distinction between palliative sedation and euthanasia. How did you come to be so interested in the subject?”... “Ms. Leduc Houte, you said that you go to visit the handicapped and the sick, and that this has made you change your ideas about life, or at least about death. Did something in particular happen?” ...“Tell me, Mr. Bigras, have you been friends for a long time, or did you meet when you went to visit the handicapped?”

In the political arena. Who are these teenagers? Why are they so sure? They are only three of the members of the Québec CL community that the commission heard. The others were renowned oncologists, nurses, teachers, and common people. Shaken by the provincial government’s rush ahead notwithstanding the federal government’s confirmation of the condemnation of euthanasia in the Penal Code, they decided to do something concrete. “We gathered signatures from colleagues and acquaintances, and formed groups like ‘Oncologists Against Euthanasia,’ ‘Nurses Against Euthanasia,’ and  ‘Youth Against Euthanasia,’” recounts Mark Basik, an oncological surgeon. “I work at the Jewish General Hospital and my boss, a Jew, also participated in this mobilization. We asked to be heard. There was no point in emphasizing principles or ideas, so we just spoke about our experiences–doing charitable work, a decade-long relationship with the terminally ill, or a family bereavement.” They made their voices heard in the political arena, with no need to delegate something to the parties. This original position ran counter to the silence of the pro-life associations, which usually are highly active. “The Parliamentary commission was created under the pressure of pro-euthanasia activists convinced that they spoke for popular sentiment,” explains Marc Beauchamp, an orthopedist. “But the majority of those heard was against euthanasia.”
The result? Measured in terms of votes, zero. The Parliament members said in substance that they will not take the results of the commission into consideration. And yet, something has shifted. An impact was made. Someone realized there is a difference, a possibility for a different life. Laureen Pindera, a journalist for the Canadian television network, commented after one of the audiences, “After listening to Caroline Girouard and Mark Basik, and some of the other doctors, if I should ever have a tumor, I know which doctors I would want to go to; these people speak not simply about what treatment to give their patients, but about how they accompany them in their journey of suffering. They speak about how to love them….” To use the words of Benedict XVI: the knowledge of faith becomes the knowledge of reality.

FROM MY story
to Europe

In the next few days, a proposal for the FEAD, “a fund to ameliorate poverty, the first in Europe,” will reach the benches of the European Parliament in Strasburg. “We hope it will pass,” says Marco Lucchini, Director of the Banco Alimentare [the Food Bank]. “The only previous such proposal concerned employment.” It is the most recent fruit of the years of work with other European charitable organizations and with the commissions that deal with food poverty, which continues to rise in Europe. “There are many factors, beginning with the cuts of some myopic policies of the Union. Then the recession, the decrease in production… Today, on the Old Continent, there are over 130 million poor people. In 2014, those like us who collect leftover food and redistribute it will find themselves with 60% less aid,” explains Lucchini. “We recount to the EU our experiences in these places, using data, stories, and news of the reality we encounter.” There is no idealistic motivation. “In Italy, we support over 8,000 charitable works, almost all of them Catholic, some centuries-old, that feed over a million and a half people. They have social value, build a common good. ”
So then, the question is to understand where this commitment comes from, this capacity to face problems, to propose solutions, to make an impact. “It all starts from an experience that makes you passionate about things, all of them, and that becomes the method for staying in front of them.” This is precisely what happened when the Food Bank was started. For Lucchini, one of the pioneers, this story is necessarily tied to his own story. “In that Christian life, everything became fascinating, in high school and at the university, and after, when I worked in the agricultural and food industry sector.” Then he was told about a Spanish “bank.” “Some friends and I set off for Barcelona because we had to see it for ourselves.” This was in 1988. “In the meantime, we met Danilo Fossati, the founder of Star, the food company between Bergamo and Milan.” He was a man of faith, naturally generous. “He was struck by a group of employees, one of the many that animated life in the factories in those years. They formed a ‘factory community.’” These were workers of the CL Movement who helped each other in little things, from the education of their children to work–and money, when there was a need. They were “a living Christian community.” “Fossati entered into a relationship with them, and wanted to meet Fr. Giussani. He was the one who later helped us give life to our Food Bank,” explains the director.

Step by step. The same dynamic came into play ten years later, when the Bank had, by then, gained credibility. “The law did not help us; in order to support us, firms had to sacrifice the tax breaks they would have received for destroying surpluses.” It was irrational, especially as the number of requests for help continued to grow. “In the mid-1990s, the friends of the Centers of Solidarity focused on employment, but sought us out because people began asking for food as well.” Out of this, the Solidarity Food Banks were born, but they were not enough. With the help of the Italian Food Industry Federation, study was dedicated to a law to broaden the scope of tax breaks for donations. “It would be a gain for everybody.” This bore fruit in legislative decree 460/1997, art. 13, section 2, the “Food Bank” article of the law on non-lucrative organizations of social utility. The same year, the Food Drive began and became one of the most important charities in Italy that today involves over five million people. “Later, in 2003, the Good Samaritan Law 155/03 enabled us to provide a million meals in ten years,” leftovers from company cafeterias, fresh and cooked food. “In Italy, it was not allowed, but then it was found that in America they were doing it, and through some encounters with people, including politicians, who had the problem at heart,” step by step, the law passed.

Building a good. The Food Bank and the developments over the years are an example of “doing politics” through dialogue and collaboration with those whose job is politics every day in Parliament. “We talk and work with everyone, regardless of their political stance. Our work, whether it be small enough to fit in a shopping cart, or big enough to have an impact in Europe, speaks of a presence in society that is the fruit of the Christian experience to which we belong,” adds Lucchini. This bond is part and parcel of their work, and when it emerges clearly, it regenerates interest in that origin. “Certainly, you can separate from it. I’ve seen it happen. But then you risk dying, justifying yourself by saying, ‘Charity holds no more fascination for me.’ But if you look at the example I know, the 100,000 volunteers of the Food Drive, what expression did they have on their faces? They weren’t there for politics. They were there for themselves,” and they were building a good for everyone