|01-07-2013 - Traces, n. 7
THAT IS WORTH LIFE
We continue to document the theme of Fr. Julián Carrón’s lessons in Rimini. From Ireland to Chile, all the way to Australia, three men tell the story of a bond from which they have received everything–and the best is happening now...
by Paola Bergamini and Alessandra Stoppa
“HOW WILL HE
SURPRISE ME TODAY?”
From the back of the room, Mauro Biondi looked around. The only familiar face was that of the boy he had met a few months before in his town, Centuripe, who had said to him, “Come to Catania to a meeting with Fr. Ciccio.” The year was 1973, Mauro was 15, and he didn’t really know what CL was. But when Fr. Ciccio started talking, he had only one thought: “How does this priest know these things about me, about what I desire?” As soon as he could get away from Acireale, where he was studying, he joined his new friends in Catania. After high school, he began to study political science at the university. It was a period of unrest, and university life was not easy. Mauro recounts, “Nothing was extraneous to me: from the request to clean the bathrooms at the CL headquarters, to political work, to the friendship full of respect with the students who were on the extreme left politically. It’s like when you fall in love: it doesn’t matter if you go to the movies or take a walk. What interests you is being with the one you love.” Nothing was extraneous, not even Fr. Ciccio’s announcement one day during an assembly: “There is a request for people to go to Brazil or Ireland.” A few days later, Fr. Ciccio said to him, “Go to your professor and talk to him about the possibility of going abroad for your thesis.” Mauro had gone to see the priest in order to ask him something else; going abroad was not the first thing on his mind. And instead... In September of 1980 he joined Guido in Dublin. He didn’t know a word of English. “It was a foundational experience. In college, in the Movement, I had a series of responsibilities–I was kind of a boss. And in Ireland, I was unable to get a word out. This helped me not to take anything for granted, to face reality, to love it, and to let myself be loved by the One who had brought me all the way to Ireland. I had in my heart Fr. Giussani’s words at the Équipe of the university students: Stay in a place as if it were forever. No strategy.”
Every week, they translated a few lines of School of Community in order to read it together with their new friends, followed by a big spaghetti dinner. They met Margaret in the university choir. Her family was Catholic. But it wasn’t enough for her, this Christianity without joy or reason, something outside of human experience. She was struck by these Italians who, instead, lived the Christian experience in the normality of daily life. One day, she said to them, “I sense that there is something greater among you. I want to come and see.” On the evening of Easter, 1982, Mauro asked her, “Do you want to become my companion to destiny?” He remembers it well. “What did those words mean, given that I was going back to Sicily the following month? And yet, it was what I desired. I couldn’t pretend otherwise. That Love wouldn’t leave me in peace.”
Mauro went back to Catania; Margaret went to Milan, then Rome. In thinking about their future, Mauro wrote to Fr. Giussani, who responded, “It would be nice if a CL seed were transplanted to Ireland, merging into that land, but with a clarity and passion of faith that was there in the past and is there no longer.” And yet Ireland was still a Catholic country... “He saw very far into the future. After three years of never having been together in the same city, when we decided to get married, even though we were unemployed and there was not yet a community in Ireland, the awareness, though fragile, of that phrase was enough.” Before Mauro left, Fr. Giussani told him, “In the beginning, we will help you, but a man needs to work. You will get married and go to Ireland without a job, and you will experience many bitter moments, but those moments will help you to remember the reason for which you are getting married and living there.”
The first English course for non-native speakers started in the summer of 1986. The office of what would become the Emerald Cultural Institute was in their garage. “There were many silly mistakes in the beginning. But, above all, I had trouble understanding what my path was. And yet, things were going well. You can do everything, but forget for Whom you are doing it.” In 1993, at the international CL vacation, Fr. Giussani asked him, as usual, “How is Margaret? How are you? How is the school?” Full of zeal, Mauro responded, “Good, we just bought a new building–but if you want, I will abandon all of it.” Giussani looked at him with tenderness: “Mauro, keep going, that is your vocation.” “It wasn’t easy to understand. But as my friend John Waters says, ‘When you embrace a beautiful story, things happen.’ It’s not a question of ‘doing’ the Movement, but of facing the reality that an Other fulfills.”
Now Emerald is an established school, now his children are grown, now there is a community in Ireland... “Now the tenacity with which Fr. Carrón accompanies me in staying in front of Christ makes every instant, every decision, every encounter a new beginning–to the point that I can say every day, ‘Who knows how Jesus will want to surprise me today?’”
“NOW I CAN
SAY HIS NAME”
John Kinder tells his story in a few lines, with an Anglo-Saxon accent: “I was baptized 57 years ago, two months after my birth. I grew up in Palmerston North, New Zealand, in a Catholic family, the eldest of eight siblings.” But it wasn’t the same for all eight of them. “Even as a boy, I was taken hold of by this love.” For whom? “For my destiny, which coincided with a God who was very great, powerful, and far away. I loved everything that brought me closer to Him: the Church and its history, Mass, prayers, priests...” He loved everything that had to do with Jesus–even the fact of having a “Catholic” label, because he went to Catholic school, played rugby in a Catholic sports club, and had Catholic friends. Their world was there, where everyone knew each other–a small minority in the midst of a Protestant culture.
He tries, but he can’t remember an age or a moment in which he refused this belonging. “You have endurance and have suffered for My name, and you have not grown weary,” says the passage from Revelation that was read at the Exercises. As soon as John got to college, he became involved in Catholic activism, because of that attachment to the faith and to what the faith demanded. “But did all of this mean following a Man? No. It wouldn’t have seemed real...” Christ was many things. He was the origin of all of their actions, cultural and political. He was a theological concept. But He wasn’t a beloved presence. “The only people whom I heard talk about Jesus as their dearest friend were some Protestants. We were more active, more intellectual. They were more emotional.”
At age 21 he went to Milan on a scholarship. “One Sunday, as I was leaving Mass, a boy gave me a flyer. It was an invitation to a CL encounter.” That boy’s name was Antonio, and he is still one of John’s dearest friends. “They were very normal people, with the same mess in their heads that I had in mine. But they spoke of a God incarnate in experience: there was a dimension of realism in the way they lived the faith that was new to me. It wasn’t activism, but it wasn’t that sentimental Protestantism, either. I didn’t understand. But I liked being with them.” He lived in Italy for four years, met Silvia, and got married, “all in the midst of those friends.”
Today, he teaches History of the Italian Language at the University of Western Australia and is the responsible of the CL community in Australia. When asked how Christ emerged, in time, with His face, distinct from all the others, John ponders, he questions himself, he looks at himself in light of what is happening to him today. “I would be tempted to tell you that it coincided with the request to enter the Fraternity, in 1993. It was a decisive moment–the recognition of the truest form for living my faith. Or when the community started here in Australia, in ’99. It was a unique, extraordinary experience...” He had invited some friends to read a book, and challenged God: “If nothing happens, I will put everything away as a memory. If something is born from this, then I will never give up.” And the community was born, and is growing. But he says, “It’s not even that.” He is silent. “The truth is that only now am I becoming aware of my first love.”
He still remembers an old Traces article, the story of a public encounter in Vienna on one of Giussani’s books. A man stood up in the audience, protesting, “You never said the name ‘Jesus.’” They answered him, more or less, that we are too quick to say “Jesus.” “Now I understand why they said it, but at the time it was very convenient: yes, it’s true, we talk about the religious sense, the mystery, experience... there’s no need to say ‘Jesus.’ It kept the burning question away.” That is, it spared him the question: Who is Christ?
Today, it’s different. “The presence of Christ,” he articulates, “the real presence of the person of Christ, is something of which I have only recently begun to be aware. Since the Beginning Day, I have perceived that all of my experiences–speaking, doing–are, in the end, only the relationship with Jesus. His name, which I avoided pronouncing for a long time, comes to me spontaneously. He was someone about whom I talked, but not to whom I talked. It must seem like heresy, after all these years... But that’s how it is. Now I look back, and I say to myself: John, look at what was there. Look at what it was. That experience that you lived here and there, when you struggled and thought and talked... It was Him.”
“I DIDN’T GIVE UP
At age 23, Aguayo Bolivar could say that his dream had come true: he was the National Director of the Youth of the Christian Democratic Party in Chile. It wasn’t a question of the title, but of political passion for the values of democracy, as a response to the needs of the people against the dictatorship of Pinochet. He had always had this tension inside. It was 1982, and one day his friend Fr. Baldo Santi, the head of Caritas in Chile, invited him to a CL encounter. Aguayo owed it to him as a thank-you for the times when Fr. Baldo had given him places for their political meetings, despite the risk and danger to himself. Seated at the end of the table, he listened as they read Tracce d’esperienza cristiana [Traces of the Christian Experience]. The words of that Italian priest, Fr. Giussani, struck him–but it stopped there. The Church had nothing to do with life. Christianity was only a fascinating memory, but far off, tied to childhood, when his grandmothers had spoken to him of Jesus. It was a lost point in his heart. Life was something else, it was involvement.
The following year, Fr. Giussani came to Santiago and Aguayo met him. “In valuing my need for justice, for freedom, he challenged me. He showed me that the problem of power is, first of all, something that one has with himself, independent of the system. And then he showed me that there is a point, faith, that affects everything, that makes you discover who you are. But Christ was still far away.” Before leaving for Italy, Fr. Giussani launched one last challenge: “Come and see.”
Two months later, Aguayo was in Italy at the “Équipe,” a meeting of the university students. Those kids, so full of questions, shook him. He moved to Milan, where he took courses at Catholic University and participated in the life of the students. The first thing that he did was to go and see the headquarters of the Christian Democrats. It was empty. “But the classrooms where the meetings of the CL community were held were overflowing. There was a tension toward everyday reality: studying, vacations, singing. Slowly, a question arose: Who makes all of this? It couldn’t be the fruit of an effort, but of a Presence. Here was Love. That emptiness that I felt in Chile when I was involved in politics was filled here.”
His friendship with Fr. Giussani was persuasive, to the point of saying: Christ and His Church are the answer. He met Alessandra at Catholic University, and they fell in love. He talked about it with Fr. Giussani, who told him, “Now that you are going back to Chile for a year, you will verify if this relationship is for you.” Aguayo thought he was crazy. “I repeated to him, ‘I fell in love. We will decide what to do.’” And yet... he obeyed. For a year, he and Alessandra didn’t see each other. “What had seemed absurd to me was revealed to be a gift. That Love became flesh in the distance of our relationship. That year was marked by the discovery of a faithfulness, an intensity that I had never felt before.”
They were married in 1986. The decision followed that they would live in Chile. “We sensed that we could offer what we had met in a place where there was a need. That place was my country.” In Chile, their home became a gathering place for friends almost every night. Then came work. In Italy, Giussani had told him repeatedly, “When you get back there, you have to do something to provide employment to your friends.” But he didn’t agree, and in this he was stubborn. He returned to his work at the university until, in 1988, reality pushed his back to the wall. Some friends had started a school in San Bernardo, in the outskirts of Santiago, but it was in serious trouble. One day, they said to him, “You take it over.” He thought that he could resolve everything quickly–by closing it. However, unexpectedly, being with those kids fascinated him. The work fascinated him. But they lacked money, and they were given an eviction notice. Aguayo called Fr. Giussani to ask for help. The dialogue to understand how best to help was concise. “I went from philosophy to the price of bricks. I thought that I had understood everything, that I was all set with my cultural–political projects, and here I was starting all over. And the enthusiasm that I felt for reality was priceless.”
Today, the school has 2,000 students and is the most prominent school in San Bernardo. Things are going well. Aguayo could even rest on his laurels. “It’s not in my temperament. Now this Love surprises me in details that perhaps I would not have been able to grasp before–like the girl whom I helped to find a job and who now reads Dante to the kids. I look at those who are looking at Christ. You become a child again because you discover that you are happy in the joy of the other.” So the more one grows older, the more he becomes young? “My youthful ideals found a safe harbor in which to grow. I didn’t give up anything. I have the taste of the hundredfold, and it continues.”