Beyond Commitment
Dearest friends: Here you can spend twenty-four hours a day at the hospital, working hard every minute and seeing that, for all your commitment, you seem to get nowhere. Here, though, the satisfactions are different. You can spend hours trying to find a vein in a six-year-old child who has been in the hospital for two months because some charlatan has practiced surgery on her and you can’t understand what he has done. With thirty people watching you, expecting a miracle that you can’t work, but can only pray for, you can ask the Holy Spirit to help you to enter that last vein on the head and hope that it holds long enough for a small transfusion. You can find yourself with a body on your hands while trying to operate on what in Italy would be a simple hernia of the navel. This thirty-year-old woman waited six days in her village with an occlusion, and dehydrated because they expected the “snake” to find its own way out of her belly. After only three weeks working at the hospital, you seem to be in another world. But then the Spirit takes hold and finally you find that vein, and the mother kneels at your feet with eyes full of gratitude. Then perhaps you live with a satisfaction you never had before. Here you seem to have gone back a thousand years in an instant. But these people need what we need, to feel loved, supported, and accompanied, and to know that there is something that makes life worth living. Often you reach a lonely village after half an hour of unpaved roads, without knowing if there’s a road or not, and you see a homestead of grass huts where people live with an unimaginable dignity and who after their treatment pray for healing. Yesterday Traces arrived. I devoured it. It’s true that in order to understand things fully, in some way you have to lose them.
Andrea, Hoima

A Simple
Concrete Gesture

A letter received by the Fraternity secretariat
Dear friends: First of all, sorry for my delay in paying the Common Fund last year. I am always late for everything, but this time it was too much! I am getting married soon and since I am faced with a lot of expenses for the preparation, I was tempted to set the thing aside and not pay up. What a temptation and what an unhappy choice for me and for my desire for happiness! This is really the extreme temptation these days: to live by fleeting moments, by passing emotions, letting things roll over you like water flowing over pebbles, without anything putting down roots and bearing fruit. But I want my life to bear fruit and, for what I have experienced, I can say that my branches do not grow unless they are fed by that living fountain of hope that is the Church, and Christ through her. The Common Fund is perhaps the finest gesture for witnessing that my life belongs to an Other, fine because so simple and concrete, like the help that the Fraternity gives to my life, the life of my future wife, and that of my friends.
Guglielmo, Avellino

Solemn Profession
Dear Fr Giussani: It is with enormous joy that I inform you that on Saturday, February 14th, I shall make my solemn profession at the Trappist Monastery of Vitorchiano. I am infinitely grateful to the Lord for this gift of His and for the mercy I have always received and keep on receiving. To this grace is added another, that of our new foundation in the Czech Republic; the new founding community has been appointed this month. So it is especially significant for me to make my profession on the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius; it unites me in a particular way with the sisters who will leave. I ask your prayer and your blessing for me, that I may belong completely to the Lord, and love Him and serve Him in every instant with undivided heart, for the whole of my community, and for this new miracle that the Lord is working among us, through our poverty. For my part, I assure you of continual remembrance in prayer: May Mary keep you always with her love.
With filial affection and gratitude,
Sr Milena, Trappist Monastery, Vitorchiano

Days of Grace
in Freetown

Dear Fr Giussani: This Christmas we had the opportunity to go to Sierra Leone with our parents, to Fr Berton’s mission. We came back changed, because sharing something so great unites us more than spending many years together. The first impression was that of seeing the worst things possible, a real hell. Ten years of war have left Sierra Leone in terrible misery. But the war only worsened the situation that was already one of suffering. It was evident at once that those people lacked two thousand years of Christianity, years that in Europe have patiently generated and re-created the “I,” man, a man who has the sense of family, of work, and of responsibility. The impact with all this was hard, and when you’re faced with certain situations it’s difficult not to feel the weight of your own sins. Yet they were days of grace because, at the same time, we were able to witness the miracle of men who, by their presence, were bringing Christ into that nothingness. The encounter with Fr Berton was fascinating, because it is so clear that he is not holy because of his capacity for bearing with others or for mortification, but because his thirty years spent in that place have profited his humanity. In such dramatic circumstances, it was moving to meet a person so truly joyful, ironic and so full of faith, because a humanity of that kind is unthinkable without the company of Christ. “In life, the encounter is everything; the rest is all nonsense,” Fr Berton told us once, and we saw the proof of this during those days. It was even more beautiful to see how our mutual friend, Ernest, is growing in the encounter, so much so that in those days we saw the birth of the Movement in Freetown. How moving it was to see Ernest take the microphone and, before five hundred people gathered for the annual feast of the Family Homes Movement, announce, “Now the youth of Communion and Liberation of Sierra Leone will meet with me and the Nembrini family on the beach for a moment of reflection.” Then sixteen young people got up and came with us. It was a group of workers and students about twenty years old to whom Ernest proposed the Movement some months ago, and the “raggio” (ray–a youth meeting) was marvelous. We lived the beginning once again in meeting those youngsters, half of whom spent their childhood fighting in the jungle and who now spoke to us, moved by their friendship with Ernest, by their need for a merciful embrace, for a home to belong to–which is what we need, too. Two thousand years are swept away by those faces. This Christmas, everything happened once again, with a simplicity and beauty that left us moved. As those youngsters said goodbye, they told us, “At first, we were just trying to understand this experience. Now, with you, we have seen it and we can live it. Pray for us always.” We saw hell and heaven. For example, when we saw a choir of children mutilated during the war singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” it was not hell, with heaven in a far country, which we would soon leave; it was not the pain and the hope of a people different from us. It was the hell that our life can become, because, after all, we are all mutilated, wounded and undefended like those children; and at the same time it was the heaven that we are already tasting, the hope for which weak, wounded men, but living men, are the glory of God. This is why, mysteriously, Ernest, those sixteen youngsters and Berton already represent salvation for Freetown, for Sierra Leone and for the whole world.
Stefano, Andrea, Marco, Bergamo

The Time
for Germination

Hi Rose: The work with the kids is not simple, because even with their limitations they ask you to be all there and I realize I can’t give myself by halves. The temptation to bend them to my will and close them up in behavioral schemes is strong, but I would be the first to suffer. I would not be what I want to be: a man. My happiness cannot sidestep them, but often I think that it depends on how they answer. Often the teachers ask me, “What makes you do it? Why do you dedicate yourself so much?” No one is making me do anything; it’s just that I can’t resist it, because I am the one who has been loved and esteemed first, and more than I esteem myself. On the other hand, I believe the most important thing for them is to have a positive experience; I want them first of all to deal with someone who loves them. Even if now they say no, one day, if good crosses their path, perhaps they will be able to recognize it more easily and their freedom will be more ready to adhere. I want to tell you just one fact about a boy who was here with us last year. Massimo was the classic delinquent: eyes of ice, strong personality and a negative influence on the other boys; he used to drive us mad. I spent a lot of time with him, just to give the others a chance to work. Simona (my coordinator and friend) and I spoke to him often; it was like talking to the wall. Massimo did not finish the course last year and we lost sight of him. Before Christmas, another boy called me to tell me that Massimo’s mother had died. We went to the funeral and found Massimo there, totally downcast, with a hard expression on his face. When we went to greet him he saw me and said, “Hi Salva, you’re here, too…” He could not finish the phrase. He broke down in tears and embraced me. Behind me were Simona and Giorgio, whom he also embraced. Simona told him, “Come and see us.” The following day I was in Milan with the boys to see the exhibition on the favelas in Brazil. Simona called me by phone and told me, “Let me pass you someone.” It was Massimo, telling me that the first thing he decided to do the first day without his mother was to come and see us. When I got back to the office, Simona told me that she had spoken with Massimo, who had told her, more or less, “I cannot go on being as I was before. What would my mother say in heaven? Before dying, she told me she was sorry for leaving me. I told her I loved her, and then I thought, ‘Now you can go, I managed to tell you the most important thing.’ My mother couldn’t talk any more. She made a sign with her head and then died. Last year, I said I was not afraid of anything, not even death, but after seeing my mother die, I can’t be scornful any longer.” So the relationship with Massimo, which seemed lost, has begun again. I thought how important it is to sow the seed; when and how it germinates don’t depend on me, but on Jesus who is always with us.
Salvatore, San Macario

Lunch with
the Cardinal

Dear Fr Giussani: I am grateful to you for all you have given me and give me today through the life of the Movement. Everything has become and becomes an uncontrollable experience. My wife Valentina “does not work,” as we say of the women who stay home to take care of everything and everyone: husband, natural and fostered children, and relatives who are seriously ill. One of my daughters, Annachiara, is expecting her fourth child; Carlomichele is working for a training firm; and Luigi, whom we adopted, has opened a house for homeless children. I coordinate initiatives and structures offering hospitality, meeting, every year, 7,000 youngsters and adults in need of everything. On Christmas Day, Cardinal Tettamanzi of Milan promoted a lunch to which I was invited as the representative of the charitable works of the Company of Works, and the promoters of about ten realities in the diocese accompanied some of the people they are helping. As we entered, the Cardinal gave us a letter addressed to all the emarginated people who could not be physically present at the lunch: “Lonely women and men, those abandoned, the sick, the poor and the needy whom I would like all the same to meet and greet one by one… I wish you all a Merry Christmas! Through the presence and the nearness of the structures and the people who assist you, you can feel the love of God who loves you. For Jesus’ birth is the most beautiful sign of the Father who caresses the face of each of you. He caresses you so as to tell you of all the tenderness of a Father who gives you what is most dear to Him, His Son Jesus. This lunch is meant to be a sign of this ‘caress of God.’ I am truly near you and pray for each one of you. And with you I thank all the people and the volunteers who are near you. Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi.” After asking many questions about our works, the Cardinal asked me to express his feelings of affection and gratitude for all those belonging to the Company of Works, for the Movement and, in particular, for you, dear Fr Giussani.
Walter, Milan

The Faith Journey
Dear Friends:
I’m writing today with news of very exciting events here in the Twin Cities. I am so grateful for these experiences and the evidence they are to me of the incredible working of the Holy Spirit. A woman that met us first by attending the “public day” at the National Diaconia after reading a bulletin board announcement at her parish invited us to participate in her parish Lenten Soup Supper on March 5th. Gary, Melissa, and I went to talk with the group about our experience in the Movement. About 10 days ago, she called to say that she had some friends interested in learning more about CL and that she and “up to 4” others would like to join us on Thursday, March 25th. Coincidentally (or probably not), my St Cloud friends, Ann Jansen and Ann Steichen, were also coming to our house that very morning to bring their little girls to spend time with mine for a sleepover. I waited with anticipation and asked our new friend (whose name is Bunny, like mine) to refer her friends to Carron’s “Exaltation of Being” article from the October issue of Traces on the Internet–that we might study it together.
Imagine my surprise last Thursday when Bunny and EIGHT of her friends were at my door! It was incredible. Not only did they “come and see,” they opened their hearts to us in a way I have never witnessed so quickly in a friendship. Most of them had read the article in full and were struck by the “nothingness” that they know about from their own experience. I asked some of the women who were with me what was memorable to them from that morning. What struck them most is the openness these women had–driving the distance to meet with strangers about something they weren’t sure they understood. But they were feeding off the excitement that was pouring out of Bunny, and were willing to try it. Also, as we talked, it was so obvious that we had the same heart... the same longing to know Him. What most struck me was that these women were so open to Father Giussani’s thoughts and how it might impact their faith journey. I guess when I first heard that these women were going to be around the age of 50, I immediately thought that they would be set in their ways and not open to hearing what we were there to talk about. Instead, I saw a hunger to share freely about their own experiences of “nothingness” and how excited they were about the “possibility” of going further with the CL Movement. We’ll see what God has in store, but Bunny is hoping for a School of Community starting in the next few weeks. All I can say is WOW! And thanks be to God.
For now, please pray that we are open to what God has in store. As Angelo said on the phone to me, I must beg in the words of the Angelus, “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” This is so amazing to me, because I tend to think that I need to “do” something–I do need to do something, but all that “something” is is to say yes.
Thanks for being with us. In Him,
Bunny, Minneapolis

To Understand

Dear Fr Giussani:
Congratulations on the fiftieth anniversary of your gift of the Communion and Liberation Movement. It is by no coincidence that my parents are also celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary this year. Why would I compare these two great events happening on two different continents, amid two different cultures?
It is only through the gift of your writings and true fraternal friendship through my belonging to Communion and Liberation that I have come to fully appreciate the beauty of what my parents have always lived.
We have recently been discussing charity in our fraternity meetings and Schools of Community. Now I finally see what my parents have always lived. Their life of giving with a simple heart, to see a need and to give of themselves without question, without complicated justification, and without the need for recognition is what I have only recently begun to understand as true charity. Their unconditional love and acceptance of the good and the bad in life and in the lives of their children finally now makes sense.
For most of my adult life, I have tried to deny what my parents lived. I did not perceive living life in a simple charitable way as a desirable way for me. I could only deny others’ needs through indifferent behavior, afraid to look simple, afraid to deny myself for the needs of someone else. I could not accept the freedom of others to make what I saw as mistakes, and therefore I never allowed myself to experience true friendship.
So here I am, at forty-eight years old, “following” Someone else, Something else, through a relationship with the most unlikely group of friends that I could have ever imagined. It is in this following that I have finally begun to truly live, and I thank you for this gift!
Bruce, Evansville