Dear Fr Giussani: I was deeply touched by the humanity of your letter to the Holy Father. The filial relationship that can be perceived here enkindles in me, too, the desire to have such a relationship, in which the intensity of a gaze and the simplicity of a heart grateful to Christ repose in the correspondence of a gaze and a heart equally grateful to Christ. How beautiful and great is the relationship that is born of the encounter with Christ! To belong to a father, to know that there is a good presence who watches over the truth of our lives, this is what I have begun to live in the experience that has involved so many people throughout the world, but that at the same time I can say belongs to me as if to an only child. We haven’t met, but I belong to you like a son, because in the mystery of history, your “yes” came to grasp my “yes;” your “yes” operates now with a paternal strength just as the “yes” of the Holy Father operates with paternal strength in you. All this can only be the fruit of the providence and goodness of Christ, who in an instant gave me an entire history: belonging to the event that can sustain the hope of men, belonging to the history of the Movement, belonging to the history of the Church, belonging to Christ.
Children in Mission
Dear Fr Giussani: We have just been guests of our son Francesco and his wife, Manuela, who since September have been living in Lebanon, close to the capital, with two other families of the Movement, Maria and Matteo, Paola and Emilio, and their two children. We have always supported, shared, and experienced the Movement’s charitable and missionary activities, but having touched with our own hands what this has generated, what AVSI today is generating throughout the world, has convinced me more than ever of the goodness of the experience of the Movement and of the type of presence and effect it has today in society through AVSI. I must say that our stay in Lebanon was marked by special encounters: the evening we arrived we met their Italian and Lebanese friends, including the Secretary of the Apostolic Nuncio, Fr Alberto from Madrid, in a restaurant run by Jocelyine, a truly remarkable Christian woman. This woman fought for the Lebanese cause. When she was twenty years old she was a university student and headed the guerrilla fighters on the Maronite side. She came to understand that war with its horrors did not serve the freedom of Lebanon, but created greater divisions between the various Churches. So after ten years of guerilla warfare, she decided to dedicate her life entirely to God, through caring for children and families, the only wealth left in Lebanon. She opened a family advisory bureau, the first and only one in Lebanon. The restaurant is a way to support the bureau, and is a missionary place: a big icon of the Madonna welcomes guests. We traveled to the valley of the Maronite saints and patriarchs, together with Jocelyine and Fr Alberto; with Maria, who, with the sisters of Mother Teresa, manages the distance adoptions; with Matteo, who follows the project of the Center of Formation and Services to farmers and livestock breeders in the agricultural region of Jbeil, to which a good four hundred farmers turn for assistance; with Paola and Emilio; and with Emanuela and Francesco. It is a wild and beautiful valley, where in the 13th century the Maronite monks took refuge from the Islamic invasion. Every day there was a surprise! For us, grandparents by now, it was a bit like returning to the origin of our experience of the Movement, and we are full of gratitude. We returned home with a greater gaze upon reality, the world, and our other children and grandchildren who were waiting for us at home and who welcomed us back with such attention and affection that they made us even happier and more grateful to the Lord for having met you, dear Fr Giussani, and with you the educative experience of the Movement.
Rosy and Giuliano, Lecco
and a New Heart
I want to share with you my experience at the CLU vacation in Yosemite.
When we went on the second hike toward the waterfall, I realized that, thirteen years ago, I had done exactly the same hike alone, while I was traveling on my own across the U.S.. As I was hiking that first time 13 years ago, I was full of awe and awareness of the Mystery, which I tried to address in my thoughts and later in a poem entitled, “Covenant,” which was even published in a Polish-English magazine. From the perspective given by time, I realized that the poem was quite sentimental. Nevertheless, it expressed a genuine desire to be happy. Thirteen years passed and nothing really went the way I wanted, I imagined, or I asked for. Sometimes, I looked at the poem and thought about my naïveté or sentimentality.
This year, while hiking with you, I realized that it was not naïve and that the covenant had been fulfilled in every second of my life before I knew about it, before I realized it or asked for it. First of all, I no longer hiked alone, but in your grand company; in a unity; in a companionship that makes me believe that my happiness is, indeed, assured; in a companionship that regenerates me like a splash from the Yosemite waterfall, as this companionship, despite all of our human misery and weaknesses, is like a baptismal fountain of hope; a continuous, renewable covenant.
In spite of the fact that it was the same hike (and I am a person who likes to do new hikes), it was new, as I had new eyes and a new heart! Just like Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Hopefully, I have not only new eyes bu–thanks to the charism of Father Giussani and your friendship–a new personality!
Ewa, Normal, Illinois
Toward Our Destiny
I met the Movement during what I would call a stormy meeting with Fr Poppi [of the Fraternity of St Charles Borromeo]. I had gone to see him at the parish office to discuss some issues–among them, the Christian faith. I grew up a Catholic but reached a point in my life where I reasoned that the Church was a set of rules that I endeavored with great difficulty to observe. Instead, what I wanted was to apply the truth of Christ in my day-to-day living as a continuous process.
This is why I told Fr Poppi that I was looking for “faith with a permanent connectivity with God.” Our discussion was not smooth. I wanted him to agree with my point of view on some issues, but he was firm and certain on his position; he appeared totally committed to the truth of the Catholic Church. This took me by surprise because he was not quoting the Church’s doctrine as such but was talking of a life. Before I left his office, he invited me to meet “a group of friends who meet weekly.” He gave me the book The Religious Sense and another on the Communion & Liberation Movement. I did read both books but I must say I could not understand much.
One evening, out of curiosity, I went to meet the School of Community earlier proposed by Fr Poppi. Sooner rather than later, it became evident to me that Fr Giussani was talking to me in a very firm and specific way in the text--each paragraph we read, he was on my case.
It was a whole new world opening to me… beautiful, yes, but resoundingly provoking. It invited and required me to make a radical change in my life. I found myself at a crossroads, faced with a choice: to embrace this rich, fundamental truth of the Christian fact as proposed and revealed through Fr Giussani or to regress into my skepticism and assumed neutrality. Ultimately, I made a conscious decision not to attend the community schools any more. I noted that, by staying away, I was trying to run away from the truth. It was now obvious to me that I had tasted “something” exceptional, and I needed much more of it. To be honest with myself and fulfill my desire, I went back to the School of Community, this time committed to participating fully by asking questions and giving my personal experiences in the discussions held with my colleagues. Truly, the Church recognized as a life, loved and lived in companionship and in simplicity, is the type of faith I was looking for–one with a permanent connectivity with God. I recognize Fr Giussani’s “yes” as the starting point of my own encounter. I thank God for him and for all the others who have said “yes” to this proposal, and who in turn are proposing it to all they meet in their lives, through the way they live wherever they are. I pray that all remain faithful on this journey toward our destiny.
A Soldier’s Heart
Joshua is a young man who encountered the CL community of Evansville before he left for Iraq with the U.S. Army.
I am 23 years old. My true dream was to be a “rock star.” After attending the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, I started my internship in Nashville where I worked with Dolly Parton, LeeAnn Womack, Allison Krauss, and some others. But, after a while, I decided to go back to school to become a teacher. The war in Iraq was going on, and I was seeing people, young and old, die for me. I enlisted in the Army on January 24, 2003, as a combat medic. I was never one to want to take lives, so I figured I could save them instead. My friends in CL and my family deserved to have the freedom they were born with. The people in Iraq deserved that same freedom. The soldiers in Iraq did not need to be dying for me. I felt it was my obligation to do my part to make sure they made it home to their families to enjoy the same pleasures that I enjoy. I am not an extremely patriotic person, but it was my duty, to myself and my friends.
I received the news about my deployment as soon as I arrived at Ft Hood, right before Christmas. As much as I knew it was going to happen, I was still scared. I think my family was more scared, though. My job is like that of an ambulance driver. We go out on raids (missions) to serve as the medical coverage. I thought it would be horrible there. I saw the news and everyone talked about it, but what I found, I was not ready for. It was horrible, seeing the way the people were treated there. They live in more poverty than anyone in poverty lives here. I found disease, starvation, cruelty, and hopelessness. We gave the Iraqis hope they never had. I found a new life for myself there. I, as well as most other people, realized that life and freedom are too precious to waste. I saw so many soldiers die, with babies at home they had never seen, families that will miss them forever. I could not let myself live without hope for another day. I put everything I could into bringing everyone home safely. If I had to lose my life to save a buddy so he could see his unborn son someday, then I was more than ready to jump in front of that bullet. We didn’t just save the people, we freed a nation as well as ourselves from our direction of life. Among fellow soldiers, we don’t really like to talk about the death and killing. Taking someone’s life is an experience that will never be matched. But saving someone’s life can also never be matched. I concentrate on the “saving” not the “taking.” We talk about home a lot, about families, wives, kids, and girlfriends. We talk about music, movies, food we would love to have, a nice shower, a flushing toilet, and some A/C; anything that keeps our mind off of the heat and exhaustion. I am a cradle Catholic. I went through phases where I was disgusted with the Church for things I didn’t understand. I have grown in my faith over the past several years. I have searched for God and found Him several times. But this war has brought me closer to Him than ever. I started to realize that death is not bad. Most people are scared, but one has to realize that life after this one is much more glorious. I have my moments of temptation and defeat, but I am always drawn right back into His loving arms. Knowing that He is right there waiting for me made the thought of death that much easier to take. He is all to me, my everything and everyone. He has blessed me with a family, amazing friends, a beautiful girl, and countless other things. Until Iraq, I was too blind to see everything I had. I couldn’t let myself live the way I was anymore. Life is so very precious and each and every blessing is one that deserves to be counted. I will not let life pass me by anymore. I am going to spread my joy and let everyone know what there is to live for, from the smallest to largest. I would like to thank my friends and family in CL and TEC for truly opening my eyes so many times to Christ, and for showing me a friendship that can never be equaled. I love each and every
one of you so very much. Please do not take anything for granted. You never know when God will call on you. Please pray for the Iraqi people and all the soldiers and their families.
A New Civilization
On Saturday, June 19th, the Washington, DC, “GS” community hosted a medieval festival, complete with crusaders and medieval princesses, sword fighting and jousting, singing and feasting, as well as a presentation of Paul Claudel’s play, The Announcement Made to Mary.
The idea for the festival sprang from an enthusiasm for what we have been studying these past few months in our School of Community. In Chapter Three of Why the Church?, Fr Giussani points out, “Medieval culture fostered the formation of an attitude whose distinguishing feature was an authentic religious sense–an authentic religious sense determined by an image of God as the totalizing horizon of every human action, and therefore, a conception of God as pertinent to all aspects of life, underlying every human experience excluding none. In other words, a conception of God as the unifying ideal.” It struck us that while we looked to the past to understand the genesis of such a mentality, this same unity was being lived in the present. This year, we began to risk more in the friendships among the teachers and students and we started to share all aspects of our life, judging everything together. We wanted to communicate our experience of unity to other friends in and outside of the community through a public gesture.
Everyone gathered around, under medieval banners made by the students, to listen to Francesca (Franny) and Kelly, two students from Georgetown Visitation High School, present The Announcement Made to Mary.
Kelly, who began frequenting the School of Community only a few months ago, related the experience of Encounter as illustrated in the play by Pierre and Violaine to her own encounter with the people in GS: “I used to think I was an atheist; it seemed stupid to me that anyone would believe, but now I have the experience in my life of happiness through the encounter I’ve had with my friends in GS. To experience God in them is amazing.” Francesca added, “Not only is it clear that the characters [in the play] who are in the end happy are the ones who were available to God’s plan, but I’ve seen this in my experience in GS too…You’re always asked to judge your experience, and the teachers are always asking the question, ‘WHY?’ And while that frustrates me sometimes, I realize that the moments I don’t live with that intensity are wasted.”
After the presentation, Fr José said Mass, reminding us in his homily that the joy we were witnessing was not the product of a memory that remained in the past, but was possible only through the living presence of Christ with us. After the Mass, we feasted on “roasted meat” and enjoyed the company of one another, bearing the mark of a new civilization.
To Be Able to Educate
A new high school teacher from Kenya wrote to Elena Ugolini after reading an article, “Manifesto for Education,” published in the last issue, Vol. 6, No. 5, pp.29-30.
Dear Friends: I was really struck by your article, “Manifesto for Education.” Educate me more about this so I will be able to educate my students in literature and in the Kiswahili language. I want to emulate Fr Giussani.