In the Footsteps of the Wandering Shepherd of Asia

The Russian translation of the first book of the trilogy presented in the Kazakh city. Speakers were the Rector of the Kazakh-Arab university, a philosopher, a pianist, a writer, and an astrophysicist. In a country with a Muslim majority, Giussani’s proposal brings together

by Botagoz Jhumanova

Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 17, 2003. Leopardi’s poem, Song of a Wandering Shepherd of Asia (what a coincidence!) resounded in the very heart of Eurasia on the occasion of the first presentation of a book by Fr Giussani, The Religious Sense.
At 6:30 p.m., the Reception Hall was already full of students, representatives from cultural centers, directors of schools and libraries, journalists, and, of course, our friends. A total of 180 people attended the presentation.

The philosopher

The first to speak was a famous Kazakh philosopher, a professor at the Academy of the Humanities, Vislavyi Zorin, who said, “I thank Destiny for letting The Religious Sense fall into my hands.” Then he added, “This book literally captured me, because it raises the same problem that I myself am studying. How can we pull ourselves out of immorality? This is the problem of the modern age. Why do suffering and death exist? What is the value of life? Where does everything that exists come from, and why was it created? Giussani maintains that the religious sense emerges at the level of these questions. And today, an event is happening that could prove to be historic, because through his book Giussani reveals a new method of knowledge of the Mystery through personal experience of our own humanity. He explains this in detail by means of reality and reason. So many people believe that reason has nothing to do with faith–in other words, that the modern mentality reduces reason to a group of categories, in which reality has a hard time fitting. Instead, reason is an opening up to the whole of reality, and faith needs man’s reasonableness.” Zorin proposed that The Religious Sense may become part of the Golden Collection of Kazakh Literature, a group of texts considered fundamental for the national culture.

The Rector
“ Many people may be surprised to see a representative of the Muslim world presenting a book by a Catholic.” These were the opening words of the Rector of Rukhaniyat Kazakh-Arab International University, Professor Mynbayev Murat Khazhi. “This book truly captivates people, independently of their religious faith, and Fr Giussani, wisely and profoundly, instead of dwelling on the points that separate, focuses attention on those that unite people of different cultures. We are taught to think according to the spirit of Darwin’s theory; many are convinced that we descended from monkeys and that God does not exist. Unfortunately, this ‘Soviet’ mentality continues to poison people’s minds. Each of us, inevitably, has asked himself the questions Giussani discusses. His book is a path to knowledge of the Creator’s mercy and the apex of creation, man.” Those who attended the presentation can say with certainty that what this Muslim encountered touched him in the depths of his soul and moved him to tears.

The pianist
The darling of the Kazakh public, the pianist Janiyà Aubakirova, a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters of France, accepted the invitation to take part in the presentation for one reason alone: the fact of having the same “eternal” questions about existence. “I am an absolutely realistic person, as well as a businesswoman, and–as the saying goes–a ‘victim of atheism,’” she said. “With time, you consciously and inevitably reach a perception of the existence of a mysterious sense; the existence of something inconceivable becomes evident,” she said with great sincerity. “In the last few years, something extraordinary has been happening to me. I often ask myself the question, ‘Concerts, full houses, success, applause, and then, beyond this, what is there?’ For me, this question became the beginning of a journey.” She then played pieces by Rachmaninov and Chopin.

The writer
Rollan Seisenbayev, a Kazakh writer and the editor of the magazine Amanat, known for his interest in the problems of the education and training of the Kazakh people, focuses great attention to man’s life in his work. Precisely for this reason, as he said, “for several nights, a severe, and at the same time kind, voice from Milan held me in his embrace.” Seisenbayev heard Fr Giussani’s name for the first time in 1985, in America, from a Catholic priest. “The Religious Sense is not a book for light reading; this book captures you completely. You can open it to any page and become engrossed in this great work,” he said. “The main thought of Fr Giussani’s books is the defense of man and the human, the love of truth.” Seisenbayev would like to publish some of our great friend’s texts in his magazine, Amanat.

The astrophysicist
What relationship is there between Marco Bersanelli, an Italian astrophysicist, and The Religious Sense? The most direct one. Studying the earliest moments in the history of our universe, Bersanelli states with certainty that science and religion do not contradict each other.
“ The core of the person is the need for an exhaustive meaning,” Bersanelli said. “One can live without success, riches, fortune, but we cannot truly live as men unless these questions resonate in us. Only in the eternal can be found the source of meaning of life, suffering, work, loving one’s wife and children. Without this infinite horizon, without the presence of the Mystery, friendship between men cannot exist; music, literature, and philosophy are not born. We are created for the Infinite, but we are not capable of answering this need. Nothing is more evident than the fact that life is given to us, that the whole universe was not made by itself. It is something other, mysterious and hidden, that traditionally is called God.”
The presentation was over, but what happened that day is just the beginning of a great adventure and a big job in Kazakhstan. Everything is in Christ’s hands.