“The Pope, These Millions
of Youngsters, and I”

The text of an interview with Fr. Giussani published
in the Italian weekly, Panorama, on the eve of World Youth Day


edited by Alessandro Sallusti


“Oh yes, I am moved.” Despite the thousands of young people he has encountered and brought up, in spite of the Pope having a preferential relationship and it seems that even God Almighty knows him well, he still manages to be astonished. He is Msgr. Giussani, 78, the founder and guide of Communion and Liberation, one of the most important theologians and intellectuals of the moment, at this turn of the century. He is watching the Youth Jubilee on television, in his country house just outside Milan. He has just finished reviewing the program of the CL Meeting that is about to open in Rimini, and which is the other great Catholic event in Italy this summer. Yes: the Jubilee. Perhaps it’s because those two million youth look so little like the Church and so much like daily life, perhaps it’s because among them the Pope looks less old and tired than he actually is…. The fact is, those questions about life and about faith, about the need to believe and about the Mystery, ring out effortlessly from Rome and reach the beaches, where they seem less boring and distant than they usually do.
Thus, while John Paul II forcefully brings God onto the stage of this Summer 2000, “Don Gius,” as his people have always called him, breaks the silence that has surrounded him for some years now, by agreeing to answer Panorama’s questions.

You were saying you are moved. By what?
I am struck just at the thought of those hundreds of thousands of youngsters, who are only the vanguard of an even bigger crowd. They have come to Rome from the whole world, perhaps curious to set eyes on the Pope, to spend time with him. But I was even more deeply moved by the ability this Pope has to relate with the youth, spending his tireless strength with them, speaking of Christ in the life of man kind.

Do you think that the fascination and the triumphs of John Paul II coincide with those of the Church?
It’s fine to identify the Church with the Pope, but…

The problem is that the Church, or rather, the Christians may not be like the Pope! The issue your question highlights corresponds to the vision of Church of all those who, whether believers or not, listen to this Pope, who is so human and so insistent on putting today’s man on his guard against excluding Christ from among those who have a passion for man’s destiny.
The question then is whether, really, all the Catholic movements and those who lead them are seriously and actively listening to every move the Pope makes or suggests.

Are they?
Today, the ecclesial movements show a willingness to follow John Paul II’s voice and his relationship with everything that surrounds him. So if we were all like the Pope, then we could speak of triumph.

Don’t you think that today the Church speaks a bit too much about morals and too little about faith?
I think so. I understand that many people, even among Christians, especially the intellectuals or those who play an educative role, are bogged down with the preoccupation that the faithful should be “good.” But this way ethics can be interpreted in function of our preferences, whereas for a Christian faith lies in the acknowledgement of a fact that has happened. Then, the moral system is obedience to the demands of that fact.

The philosopher Umberto Galimberti maintains that Christianity as we know it will last just two more generations. Gianni Vattimo, less pessimistically, contents himself with forecasting that in a few years the Church will make a self-criticism in matters of sex and behavior. Is this possible?
I have the impression that Vattimo says this because he perhaps believes in nothing apart from that which he prefers, even in the realm of Christianity. As for Galimberti, he has probably not yet become critically aware of the original content of the Christian experience.

With CL, you have met the young people of the years of the ideologies, then those of the years of utopia, and now those of the years of market cynicism. Which of the three periods was the most dangerous?
That of ideologies—a risk that has been present ever since the French Revolution.

Ideology develops one factor of the experience of life, of the cosmos, and of human society, making it overflow its limits, and substitutes this for the Mystery that made all things by proclaiming some aspects of it as the rule of life or of justice for man.
In as much as ideology is generated as the ultimate point of view that man reaches, it will pervade man’s feelings and criteria and shape his mentality, becoming more and more a universal prejudice.

The youngsters the Pope has before him today are immersed in a virtual world. Doesn’t someone like you, who has preached the historicity of Christianity, risk no longer being understood by the Internet generation?
To start with, the possibility of creating and enlivening a movement that arouses a proposal, a hope, and a certainty in all sectors of society and in seventy countries (even in New York), is far from being a virtual phenomenon: it is a very concrete one. If so many people follow us, this proves, I think, that the module of our proposal can arouse enthusiasm even in those the press and television call “the virtual generation.”
To speak of the Christian event and of the faith as something involving the flesh can be a proposal affirmed as the root for the fulfilment of one’s personality, a proposal addressed to the young, and to those who are no longer young, even today. I have no fear at all.

You have recently written an essay on power and works. What is, or what should be, the relationship today between power and the Church, between business and faith?
I’d say it must be what happens between two persons: dialogue. But in order to dialogue, you must have the same aim in mind and pursue it sincerely, and you must help each other. The Church must be aware that through so many contingent situations the Mystery of Christ is asking for something; the State must work with human principles. I believe the only condition for this to happen is that both the Church and the State be guided by persons whose feeling for humanity is stronger than their attachment to their own agenda.

Does this happen?
I am tempted to say that it’s hard to find people in authority who measure their projects starting from a mortification of their personal advantage (even in the realm of thought).

The so-called “political arm” of CL was allied first with the Christian Democrats, then with the Italian Socialist Party, and now with Forza Italia [a moderate right-wing party]. Were you ever afraid of political manipulation of this mixture of faith and politics?
There are no “political arms” amongst us; we simply have people brought up to be responsible for their family, their work, and others (society, country, state and the world). At any rate, in so many years we have tried to make things more agile, by addressing our human proposal to the hearts and the heads of the youngsters and of those who are no longer young.
Obviously attempts can always be made from outside to manipulate a reality that lives in society–all the more if that reality is particularly lively, beautiful, and useful. But any movement, even a political one, can be born only if it has a soul.

That is?
For us the relationship with politics is born of an educative concern for the destiny of every person.

In 1992 CL was one of the first organizations that put people on guard against the Tangentopoli Clean Hands initiative, an operation that was soon defined as a feigned revolution, a betrayal of the people. Do those words still apply?
In order to answer this question one must read what actually happened with attention, sincerity, and no prejudice.
Here we see clearly the difference in the conception of man proper of the Church and that given by a purely naturalistic education. If man is a responsible subject of his own actions, no action can forget the extreme weakness of the one who generates it. Psalm 129, the De Profundis, says, “If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive?”

Was Tangentopoli only a matter of human weakness?
Man’s weakness can be recognized as something that stands on the borderline with nothingness. This makes eminently true the scene in the key moment of Act IV of Ibsen’s drama, Brand, when the protagonist cries out, “Will the whole of man’s will not be enough to attain salvation?” Who cannot perceive the stolidity of some statements that some leaders of Clean Hands, who thought they were the most perfect persons in society, cried out or wrote in newspapers? This is why at the time we said that an action that, in order to punish some culprits, destroys a people in its unitary awareness and the welfare it has achieved, has something unjust about it, at least in the way it is carried out. Those who suggested Clean Hands could perhaps belong to a society of men who presume to establish the highest good for society–normally identified with the favor granted to a social set-up in which the good that is safeguarded is precisely what they want for themselves.

What was the outcome of that period?
I could simplify it with the image of a crack that has opened up in the foundations of our society, a cloud of deception that makes it difficult to see the dawn of a better tomorrow when it comes. We were left, though, with the heritage of an appeal for “social” honesty, so we owe them a word of thanks for their efforts.

You have stated that in your old age your way of being a Christian has changed. In what way? Did you ever harbor doubts?
In the human reality wholeheartedly lived, both biologically and as awareness, the time that passes brings with it an evolution that, for good or for bad, makes decisions stand out more clearly. Thus a clearer certainty is born about the forms of good and of evil, about what is good and what is bad. As a consequence also the will for the one or the other gets stronger.
I think I have learnt that what appears doubtful is only an invitation to be clearer and more consistent.

You have spoken several times of death, of the anguish of feeling “the body going into decay.” Indro Montanelli speaks openly of euthanasia. Can interruption of prolonged therapy in no-hope cases and genetics really not be reconciled with the faith?
I think that interruption of prolonged therapy in no-hope cases and genetics are irreconcilable with the faith only if they claim to eliminate or refuse obedience to the Mystery of Christ

When does this refusal happen?
Death is the point where every ideology comes to a standstill, because it establishes a borderline, beyond which there is only the Mystery. It is the most evident sign that life does not belong to us. This is why we cannot do as we like with it, let alone be the ones to set a limit to it.

Now I ask you: what is the Mystery?
Saying “After death there is nothing” is an insult to reason in every way. For “the whole of life asks for eternity,” and “our voice sings with a reason,” as the first song in the history of our Movement says.
The word “Mystery” is the only word in the human dictionary that points to what is there beyond death and to all the consequences of evil. Yet the Mystery has taken on the whole of the human form in Our Lady’s womb. If It is Mystery, then the Mystery can do even this. No human reason can be dissatisfied with this answer. In fact, faced with this announcement, human reason can only be silent; it will pick up the mechanism of a rational logic again when the awareness of man who is endowed with reason is struck by the existence of Christ, dead and risen.

Shouldn’t we be afraid of death?
When you face death, the fear of the fact that it strikes by destroying a conscious existence will not be cancelled. But the thought of the Man who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” will be a foothold for a new breath of air.

Let’s go back to the youth. What does it mean today to teach a young person to have faith?
In our Movement the educative effort pivots on the way in which we can reach certitude about Christ today, so as to develop the great Christian certainty in our own awareness. Hence, the whole of our life, with all its positive aspirations, with a clearer and clearer awareness of our weakness, incapacity, or evil, may be rooted in the Mystery of Christ.