Giotto and September 11th
We had invited the mayor of our town to the Meeting in Rimini. Together we visited the exhibition, “The Event according to Giotto,” presented by the curator Roberto Filippetti. With the mayor, we decided to offer it to our local population as a slide show. At the beginning of September we set to work, involving some parish priests, friends, and the head of the municipal Department of Culture. The municipal administration offered its sponsorship, financing the project, and the place chosen to hold it was the city’s civic center. After the attack of September 11th, we asked ourselves what this event we were organizing had to do with what had happened, and what it could contribute to understanding that those dead had not died in vain, otherwise reality would not make sense. Three things convinced us and clarified the usefulness of what we were organizing: reading the comment by Panebianco in Corriere della Sera entitled “Forgetful people in our midst,” the contents of Opening Day, and the sight of the photo on the front page of Tempi, as part of the coverage of the Perugia-Assisi Peace March, of the demonstrator with the sign: “No crescent, No star of David, No cross of Christ = No problem.” We said to ourselves, “This is the relativistic and nihilistic idea we have to fight with the weapons of education.” It is not the idea of God that generates monsters, as a secularized mentality widespread even in our little town seems to think; if anything, it is a distorted idea of God that can generate monsters. Giotto was a great help against this form of “relativism and nihilism.” If educating is proposing a tradition, the frescoes in the Arena Chapel, illustrating the Event which is the origin of our tradition, were an intriguing occasion for us to educate ourselves and others to recover the best of our cultural identity. We talked about this with our mayor, who seconded our intentions and made this statement to the newspapers and the local TV station: “We are proud and honored to sponsor an initiative like this one, that aims at recovering the Christian roots of Italian art and culture, which our society needs today more than ever. In particular, after the recent dramatic events, it is evident that dialogue with Islam is more necessary than ever. But dialogue with other cultures is possible only if we are fascinated by and aware of our own identity. Thus everything that helps our people to recover or go more deeply into our religious and cultural tradition is very welcome.”

More than 150 people attended the event, coming also from distant and unexpected places. Many people we meet in the street still stop us to thank us. One person told us, “My husband is not a believer and does not go to church, but he was so intrigued by what we saw and heard that now he is always looking at the pictures in the book we bought.”
Angelo and Lisetta, Valerio and Luciana

Dearest Eugenio…
Scalfari [a well-known Italian journalist], I was struck by the first part of your editorial entitled, “This is the time of the foxes and weasels,” because it expresses the bewilderment of today’s man, the bewilderment I read every day in the eyes of my students. Sadness and loneliness, to the point of a strange apathy that paralyzes engagement with life, to the point of desperation. Your words forced themselves onto my reading as a cry, not as an analysis that explains and becomes resigned. Thus, you made me look into my life and ask myself how to take this cry seriously, a cry that comes from you, me, and all my students. To know why every morning we shouldn’t pull the covers over our heads to keep out the light streaming through the window, is what, after all, we all want, whether we are aware of it or not. A knowledge that introduces us forcefully and passionately into life, a knowledge that is not the fruit of an analysis, but only of a gaze–like the gaze a child feels trained on him as he climbs the steps to school after his mother has left him there. Yes, dear Scalfari, your cry made me come back to myself. I know the bitter depths of desperation, my life bears the scars of many failures, and I could have given in to the apathy of the lack of meaning, if it had not happened that God held out to me His fleshly hand and grabbed my fragile, weak one. Christmas is this. My heartfelt wish is that you may have this too, so that you may rediscover that among all the failures, even the religious ones, a God has remained among us with the tenderness of a man, that merciful tenderness which makes us watch, surprised and curious, the rising of the sun.

Until It Hurts
Dear Fr Giussani: I am a medical student in Zurich. Last Christmas, I agreed to go to Calcutta to work as a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa. During the trip, the friend who had invited me made two statements which impressed me, and I was only able to understand them after I arrived in India: “We are not going to Calcutta to feed or heal people or to change things, but we are going, above all, to love;” and again, repeating Mother Teresa’s own words, “When you give, give all the way, until it hurts.” I thought, “How can I love, except through the help that I can give? And what does it mean to give until it hurts?” The day after we arrived we went to the House of the Dying, the first one founded by Mother Teresa. Here, divided into two wards, lie dozens of men and women, on the verge of death from hunger and infectious diseases. I thought I was there only for a visit but they gave me a coverall and told me to take the patients to the washroom. Seeing the condition these skeletal bodies were in, covered with sores and excrement, I was assailed by a thousand worries, especially sanitary concerns. All the good will with which I had armed myself was helpless in the face of that misery. In the following days, I worked at Prem Dan, an old factory near a bidonville
, which houses handicapped and other sick persons. One morning, they brought there a young man exhausted by hunger, covered with fleas, and wearing only a rag. I examined him with a couple of volunteers: he gave no signs of life, was completely dehydrated, and had no perceptible pulse. Not having a drip available, I was certain he would soon die. Feeling I had no means to help him, I gave up and couldn’t bear to stay with him any longer. That evening I found out that he had picked up a little: my co-worker had massaged him all afternoon with oil, and by evening they had succeeded in getting him to drink. The next day he ate, and I was left open-mouthed in wonder, while an older volunteer shouted, “Milagro!”–explaining to me that these miracles happen every day. On our way home from work, we would stop in the streets to give occasional medical aid, and each time, I asked myself what sense it made to medicate a wound carefully when the next day I wouldn’t see it again and it would get dirty immediately. As a good Swiss student, I was used to having everything planned and under control, but Calcutta was an excellent place for me to come to terms with the limits of my efforts in the face of reality. I soon understood that the problem was not only “professional.” Faced with daily misery, essentially with no end in sight, I could not in any way understand how the Missionary Sisters could manage to keep their joyousness. I would never have been able to budge myself from all my objections if one morning I had not realized that what moved the Sisters was, first and foremost, acknowledging a Presence in wonder and simplicity. We were spreading cream on the patients’ skin. I found that dry, withered skin, marked by illness, repugnant, and I was wondering just how my friend next to me could do this task so enthusiastically. Noticing that I was watching him, he suddenly said to me with a smile, “This person here is Jesus.” This simple statement instantly moved the center of gravity of my actions from “What can I do?” to “Who do I have in my hands?” I started then to watch how the Sisters live and the value they give to the words “love” and “freedom.” If the world came to an end at any second, they would be living for Christ! If freedom expresses the place where one’s certainties are placed, for the Sisters the only freedom is Christ. There is nothing else that they have to defend, since they own nothing except two saris. This is why they are free: their relationship with reality is immediate, they stand in front of Jesus; there is no room in between for ifs, buts, or howevers. The question “What can I do?” must not be the last word on the relationship between me and the patient, because if this were so, as soon as I lack a drip I am no longer able to face the man who is suffering. What I can give him is what I need, too: an embrace of all his person, his suffering and his desire for life and happiness. Without this total embrace, working busily on a single wound means reducing the mystery of suffering to a piece of diseased flesh. Mother Teresa invites us to give ourselves “until it hurts”–in other words, to the point of giving up, and not without pain, the affirmation of our own good plan in order to be effective instruments for the charity of Jesus. Accepting to be the instrument of an Other has meant, for me, understanding the reasonableness of prayer. A volunteer was taking care of a dying patient, together with a Sister. Noting that the devoted care they had give him up to that moment could no longer placate his atrocious suffering, the Sister turned to the volunteer and said, “Now we pray.” The last word on suffering is to ask for the companionship of Christ. Reality, even though so different from the reality of India, has confirmed the insights I gained in Calcutta: with my friends, in my medical studies, and in my work at the hospital, affirming Christ in the everyday remains the only way to respond to man’s need.

Dear friends,
The beauty of the following lines has to be shared. It is an article in the magazine Vocazioni (Vocations) written by two friends of ours, Carla and Roberta, twin sisters, now cloistered Augustinian nuns in the convent of Lecceto near Siena, Italy. Montepulciano is their and our hometown, where we grew up, a small town with a population of 3,500. In these parts, CL is not appreciated, just like all the Church. In all, there are two families in the Movement. Our being in the Movement amounts to ardent participation in the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples and the Retreat (when we have the chance), and joyous expectation of Tracce, Piccole Tracce, and 30 Giorni: sharing, with tears in our eyes, a “slice of life” described in the articles… or the desire to receive the Christmas or Easter poster. Our being in the Movement is lived in our every-day lives, in repeating Veni Sancte Spiritus. Veni per Mariam at the beginning of every day with our children, in reading the recommended book on St Riccardo Pampuri… We have no structure and it is an occasion for celebration when we are able to accept an invitation from the community of Monte San Savino, near Arezzo. A great celebration in our hearts! We live by a beauty we have received, and only by mercy do we remain faithful. We live more with less! Our friends Carla and Roberta grew up in this reality, and today, as cloistered nuns, they still live by this beauty, but in the fulfillment of their vocation, just as we do in our vocation as fathers and mothers.

Roberta: “‘The watershed comes between a conception of Christianity as a moral and social commitment, a Christianity understood essentially as morality, and a Christianity in which Christ–and in Him God–is the Center’ (J. Ratzinger, Avvenire, March 11, 2001). This point was and is the watershed for me too, whereby the experience of Communion and Liberation has not remained just a name, an ecclesial term, but has been deeply impressed on me. I realize now that the banal, apparently ordinary, gratuitous circumstance in which I was offered a special kind of friendship was, even more than the proposal of the Movement itself, precisely my most profound encounter with faith, because I encountered Christ Himself, no less, and all His fullness. And to think that for me it means speaking of the most profound experience of Christ that has crossed my life through the Movement. The miracle is that all of this has remained intact, that it has been found again now, more fully, in a new reality which does not erase anything of what has been, in which, living for God alone, one begins to know that everything comes from God and everything is a gift. This is the most profound silence that I am living. And now here, in this space of prayer, which makes room for Mercy, I feel the truth of Fr Giussani’s words when he speaks of ‘a nothingness that is not lost,’ which is my life, which is the brief and limited experience that has happened. Speaking now of what has touched our life with the Movement of Communion and Liberation means speaking of a fulfillment that is not up to me. There is an ‘already and not yet’–everything has already been given, and everything awaits completion. I am finding all this again in something eternal, which the word ‘covenant’ expresses and makes greater.”

Mariacarla: “It is certainly not a cliché to say that all of life is tied to a ‘beginning,’ and that in that beginning everything is already there. Looking back over the steps in my vocation, I cannot help noting this: a ‘Beauty’ marked our life, from the very beginning. In fact, everything had a beginning in a parish in a town in the province of Siena, in Montepulciano. Following the Movement of CL from Montepulciano, during high school, did not therefore mean for us following a faceless experience based on organization (the Meeting, Spiritual Retreat, Happenings, vacations), no matter how good, but was, primarily, the experience of a ‘Face’ which became the companion and dwelling place of our daily life, realizing that life is embraced by a friendship, an aid and guide on the path toward the Beautiful and Good, the True, the Just; toward Destiny. All this engaged my heart, everything that I was and am. It grabbed me from within and exercised on me an irresistible attraction. So following the Movement meant following, within this friendship, some simple, concrete indications: faithfulness to daily prayer in the first place, then willingness to work in the parish and to give time for charity at the orphanage. It is a question of listening with new attention to everything that happened around us, and living the relationship with it in a stretching toward good, toward Christ.”
Carlo and Enrica, Montepulciano

Only by Grace
In Canberra I lived in a college with three hundred other students. One day, I got involved in a useless dispute on life’s great questions with a Mexican philosopher-free thinker-Enlightenment-anti-clerical doctoral candidate, when someone else joined in, taking my side with curiously intelligent arguments. Thus I met Tom, a Chinese Australian, a law student and a Catholic. From that day a friendship grew up between us, which brings everything into play, in which we try to share the drama of our personal relationship with Christ. It’s crazy! Immediately, spontaneously, we got the idea of reciting Lauds together. Then came our attempt to judge September 11th. We had lots of discussions. He asked me what I thought about his vocation… how it was for me. I could only tell him my story–i.e., Fr Giussani’s gaze on me–with the passion and yearning of someone who discovers he can share the greatest thing he has. Little by little this spread, even though not as profoundly, also to his little group of friends. We started simply waiting for each other in the evenings to eat dinner together (in Australia this is not normal; we usually eat all together in the dining room but each one keeps to himself). During the past month, Patchy and Anna started joining us every once in a while to say Lauds. Anna was a Protestant until two months ago. I was never concerned with creating a new “cell” of the Movement, but I received the grace of being able to live intensely my belonging with them. For me, this was the most unforeseeable aspect of an impressive experience, which marked the whole four months: the experience of God’s mercy. The mercy of someone who realizes how greatly limited he is, how unfaithful (because by being alone, especially someone lazy and messy like me becomes painfully aware of it!)… but who also realizes that he belongs to a very great history, to a man who in the concreteness of daily life holds him close. That is to say, I don’t know how to study, I really don’t know how to study, and yet the prospect I have in front of me is more fascinating every day! I don’t know how to meet people, much less to bear witness, not even for a second, and yet look at what an unforeseeable gift I was able to tell about! The Traces
editorial on the terrorist attack struck me and them: the wound of original sin is there, but so is the greatness of mercy as the last word on all the ugly possibilities of history. It is not a generic forgiveness at the end of time, but a mercy found in the moving greatness of the circumstances that are given to us every day. Thus we rediscover our “own ‘I’ as an indispensable factor in the world!” One of my last nights there, I was saying goodbye to Patchy… and she started asking me questions about my history, about my community in Milan. She surprised me, because we had never talked about this together, and I asked her why she was asking me. She said these very words to me: “I want so much out of life. But I don’t know what to do. I wonder what I am doing that is really worth anything. You are blessed, you have a place that takes this seriously.” “You are blessed”… I am not telling this out of pride, but because it is the literal definition of what happened. Through my littleness, the history that has impacted me was transmitted, the only thing about me that is worth anything. “We are called by His name! Our name would have no experience, no possible history, if it were not something that is born and arises from an inheritance. From an inheritance, yes, but which must be put into play every minute within the ups and downs of a possibility of evil.”
Giacomo, Australia

At the Time of Gladness
Emma died on November 18th, soon after her 52nd birthday, after a brief (six months!) and deeply suffered illness. She was for all of us (her family and her friends in the community) a great witness to the “inexorable positivity of reality,” capable, in this way, of transforming into grace something that is normally considered a disaster, to the point of telling those who came to see her, two days before her death, “Remember that our history is a beautiful one, that’s all!” She wrote this letter on October 30th to her colleagues in the middle school where she taught literature:

Dearest friends, I write to you, whenever possible, with great joy, because I feel the desire to express to you my affection and appreciation for your interest and attention to me in these months. All this has made me understand how important you all are to me! Now that my life has had to take a pause, I want you to know that I miss the school, the kids, you, seeing each other every day, and our encounters that are sometimes intense, sometimes fleeting, when we would tell each other about everything that happened to us in our daily lives. But thinking it over, it is as though this network of relationships has not been taken away from me, but rather left forever, fixed in a wider, undefined time, where your faces are always there ready to come into contact with me at any moment. It is just this dimension that I have been given to live which enables me to face everything with gladness, never feeling that I am alone, and to experience a richness and fullness of life that I would never have been able to imagine before. All this gives a greater and truer value to all the reality around me and gives a meaning to everything! I feel you close to me. I hug you all.
Emma, Pesaro