"Death, where is thy victory?"

Andrea (second from right) at the vacation of the community in America, in New Hampshire last May.

Dear Father Giussani: At the U.S. CLU vacation on May 31st a friend of ours, Andrea Azzoni, received a head injury during a game. After going through surgery to remove a major blood clot from his brain, he died on Wednesday, June 2nd. This event was the biggest provocation for our lives in this moment. The immediate question was: should we continue the vacation after this accident? So we waited and looked to Fr. Antonio, Fr. Michael, and Lorna, the people given to us to follow. Our hearts begged for an affirmation for that which gives meaning despite our fragility. We continued because, as Fr. Antonio told us, we recognize that what we have been given is true and makes our lives human. It does not exclude anything; we do not have to be scandalized by the fear and sadness we experienced. We prayed for Christ to manifest Himself so we could understand that the cross is not the last word. In this moment our unity, as a people, becomes evident. And it was not because we felt closer in a sentimental way. It was the gaze, the asking, the begging we had with such attention for a miracle that made the Mystery present. It would have seemed easier to be distracted in the period following the accident, but instead, the way we prayed, the way we stayed together, was the greatest sign of Christ's presence among us. The miracle that can change the world is our unity. What moved us the most was the "yes" of Andrea's parents to eventual death of their son. "Christ gave us Andrea for twenty-seven years and we enjoyed every moment. And if He chooses now to take him back, we accept." Andrea's brother Riccardo, who is a part of our friendship in Chicago, after spending a day in the hospital, came back to us and thanked us. He said, "If this had to have happened, there is no better place for it, because this is home." We recognize now, after his death, Andrea died to affirm the meaning of our friendship.
We realize this event is something that is for us forever, and not in the sense of simply remembering, but to have the courage to announce it to everyone. The desire to start again renews the certainty that life is worth living only because this experience is true. Sadness and gladness go together, urging us on. We offer everything because everything is given, including the drama of this event, for us to deepen our relationship. Andrea's death proves that everything proclaims the glory of Christ. Out of this event sprang a true desire to make a judgment together, this judgment, together. This event reassured us of the fact that following this charism is the possibility that our humanity can be fulfilled according to the truth. We want to thank you, Fr. Giussani, for giving us this awareness, this way of facing reality. You truly are a father. "Death, where is thy victory?" With gratitude and affection,

Annemarie, Sebastian, Julio, Thom, Stella, Rebecca, Mike, Lorna, Leah and the rest of the U.S. CLU

Dearest Father Giussani: I want to tell you in just a few words about the experience of being physically close to the Azzoni family while their son Andrea was dying. His parents are people of great faith. Among the thousand things to tell, I mention only this. Wednesday evening Dino, Andrea's father, told me that he had been thinking for some time about opening his consulting engineering firm to our young people at the Politecnico, so that they could learn to work under the guidance of people who already know the job, and could at the same time earn a little something. He told me this at dinner, a few hours after Andrea had been declared clinically and legally dead. And he told me with an immense gratitude toward all of us. This morning, as soon as he was back in Italy, Dino phoned me to thank us again and to ask how he could make an offering to the Movement in the States, in memory of Andrea. I said to him: "Dino, I have been thinking about what you told me Wednesday evening and I believe that this is the most beautiful way for you to continue to live and in a much greater way than before your fatherhood of Andrea, by becoming everyone's father." After a few seconds silence, he said, "I have to thank you again, because you have a deeper insight into everything. Yes, I have to do that." Gius, how true what you tell us all is! Jesus redeems pain and makes it rational, he makes it a human path that bears fruit. With Love,


Dearest Father Giussani: I want to tell you briefly what happened during the CLU vacation in the U.S. The second evening of the vacation, Andrea Azzoni fell while playing ball and was immediately rushed to the hospital. We were all aware of the gravity of the situation and very upset. When the ambulance arrived we were all gathered on the ball field and as soon as the ambulance took off with Andrea and his brother Riccardo, accompanied by Fr. Michael and Elvira, we came together to pray to the Virgin, Saint Riccardo Pampuri, and Enzo Piccinini. We were all gathered there in prayer with a great confusion in our heads and to tell you the truth gathering to pray, more than a conscious request to God for a miracle, was a recognition that by ourselves we would have been paralyzed in front of what had happened. While we were awaiting news from the hospital, Fr. Antonio and I asked ourselves what we should do. The immediate temptation would have been to suspend the vacation and have everybody go home. We realized that such a reaction would not only have contradicted the reason for our vacation, but also it would have been a declaration of desperation or paralysis as the last word on the subject. We thus continued the vacation, even with all our suffering and bewilderment at what had happened, but certain that He who holds us together permits us to face reality as He wishes and accompanies us with familiarity to the Mystery just as He communicates it to us, recognizing thus that everything is for His Glory. The rest of the vacation continued in a climate of intense, humble unity among all of us and gratitude for the charism we have encountered, without which reality would be only inimical and relationships ephemeral, not truly human, and the world would have no purpose. The faith of Andrea's parents was a great help to us.
Andrea had been there with us only to affirm the truth and beauty of what we have encountered, even without knowing any of us (he had arrived the day before to see his brother Riccardo, who is studying in Chicago), and what the Lord asked reaffirmed to our eyes, which at first had lost the way, that He always finds us again and, by grace, keeps us faithful to Him. Our humanity can embrace everything because He has embraced us first; we are not so aware of this, but by choosing to belong to this place, in the time that God wills, we will understand it. Dearest Father Gius, I hug you close. I feel that the infinite paternal love you have for each of us is accompanied by so much suffering for everything that the Lord ultimately asks; in my little way I want to be as close to you as possible. Until very soon,


Dear Father Giussani: My brother Andrea had come to see me in Chicago to celebrate my American degree (a Master's) and had happily accepted the invitation to the vacation of the university students. I was very glad because I had always wanted him to meet the people in the Movement. Things didn't go the way I had imagined, but in the fact that his tragic death happened in these circumstances, I see an even greater fulfillment, if possible, of my desire. He died surrounded by people who know how to love a person for his destiny, the truest friends that one could want. The Lord chose to have me go through pain, touch it with my own hand, and feel it intensely. But these were also days of grace, for His presence which was so evident among the friends who stayed with me through it all. Even now I can't imagine a second of what happened without their companionship. Their presence was so amazing that even the nurses were struck by it. One, thinking that we were all relatives, said to me, "We've never seen a family like yours." Another asked Maria Teresa, "Who are you all?" Her answer ("friends") was evidently inadequate, and she insisted again, "No, who are you?" These were days of grace also for the deeper relationship that was established between me and my parents. They impressed me particularly for the way they talked about my brother. My father said that a child is a very great gift. When you find him in your arms just after he is born, it is a real event. It is something that happened through you, but that you didn't do yourself. Then, as the years pass, with the training you give him, you can be tempted to believe that he is yours, and to lose that original awareness. When something like this happens, it is clear once again that what you had was a gift and all you can do is give thanks for the years you spent with him. This is an unimaginable capacity for love: the love that goes so far as to let go of the beloved.
The Noli me tangere which I have often talked about with you, and the idea of love embodied by Girolama in Miguel Maņara (which, by the way, we had just read during vacation) came to my mind. I understand that they love me in the same way: what more can I want? Just like his life, also his death, the sacrifice of his innocent life, will be (and in some measure already is) a sign of the Lord's love for us. "Cross and resurrection," you wrote concerning Enzo's death just a few days before; faced with the still, serene body of my brother, I began to intuit this great mystery. The cross, sacrifice, our pain and the offering of my brother's innocent life are the mysterious, but necessary vehicle of grace. Manzoni says it too, as Father Pino reminded me: the Lord "never disturbs the joy of his children, if not to prepare for them another, greater and more certain one." My mother pointed out to me that this phrase is found at the beginning of all the troubles, when Lucia leaves the town of her birth, going across the lake. It is thus a certainty that we have from the beginning, not some kind of final reckoning, a balance sheet between joy and pain that we draw up in our old age. My mother again, talking with Father Michael, said that she felt she had suffered enough in her life, especially in these last few years when she has had to take care of my ailing grandparents. However, she often stopped to think that this sacrifice was made up for by the fact that she had two fine sons. What was happening with my brother, however, showed in a terribly real way that God never makes these calculations. The Lord, Father Michael said, gives everything, He wants our complete happiness, but he also asks everything, and does not hesitate to put His children to the test. He does this with those He loves most, as with the Virgin, the first to live through a pain like this. Now, what we can do is offer this grief of ours.
If God exists, as has been evident in these days, He will know how to take it and transform it into good in the places and ways He chooses. We pray in the meantime that He will continue to manifest Himself as in these days. Already many relationships have changed, with my parents, with my girlfriend and with my closest friends. With a heart full of gratitude,