Fifty Years of Vacation

A Sketch of Life
A recent GS vacation. The same enthusiasm, the same simplicity, for fifty years

by Paola Ronconi

Summer 2003. San Martino di Castrozza. Four hundred GS high school students from Milan spend a week together, with the title of the 2003 Meeting as their theme: “Is there a man who wants life and desires happy days?” A year later, six students, a teacher of theirs, and a priest tell us how it went–a full-flowing river. Giulia and Marta tell about the games in the meadows upon arriving, about the Mass that introduced the vacation, the Liturgy of the Hours, the songs, and, every other day, the hikes. “Last year, every evening we dramatized sections from Miguel Mañara by Milosz.” And the testimonies: “Last year,” Giovanni tells us, “Franco Nembrini told us about his family and about the lessons he teaches on Dante.”
Cristina, a gym teacher: “Every initiative, organized and thought up before departing, tries to be an exemplification of what we say, starting from School of Community.” And then, doors open to imagination: “The party–one of the afternoons is spent with a big party in town. We divided into four teams representing the four Spanish quarters (see Miguel Mañara), so it entailed preparation of costumes, and setting up the refreshments for us and the people of the town.” Giovanni: “And Traces sales!” Cristina: “Why a party? The idea is that you celebrate when you are grateful for God’s presence, and you do it as well as you can.” “One evening,” Alberto recounts, “there was a slide show projecting Giussani’s quotes about the beauty of the mountains and Creation, next to old shots of him and his students on hikes. The title was, “That foretaste of paradise on earth.” Cristina continues, “If a book is proposed for the summer, we set up a little presentation. Last year, a teacher spoke about Chesterton’s The Winged Dagger.” “I take care of the spoofs,” Matteo says. “Sure, we prepare them in Milan, but you have to pay attention to what happens on vacation so that these skits come out well, and last year I got to be friends with the people I did them with. It was something I didn’t expect.” Giulia: “It’s true that everything is organized, done beforehand. But it’s up to me that it doesn’t all become a rigid formula, if I’m into it or not. And when I am, it’s real happiness.”
What happens becomes the starting point for understanding a bit more, for entering more into things, with one condition: keep your eyes wide open. Giovanni recounts: “The hike. We reach a meadow where we should have been able to see a gorgeous panorama of Cimon della Pala. But it’s foggy. All this walking to see the fog?!” Fr Giorgino: “We stayed a moment in silence and watched.” All of a sudden, the sky opened up. Fr Giorgio Pontiggia, in the evening: “Life’s like that; often things are hazy, but we have to be certain that behind the fog there’s Cimon della Pala, even when we don’t see it. I remember that I went back down, happy.”
Even correction finds the right moment. Giorgio: “For one evening, some students and I proposed a song. Introducing it, we described it as a song that talks about daily life, but the text really wasn’t so pertinent! And Fr Giorgio at the end corrected us.” Fr Giorgino: “To be together, everything could go well, but the concern is that there be an education, and the sign that you want to grow is also in letting yourself be corrected.”
But the vacation ends. “The vacation,” says Cristina “is like a sketch of life. We help each other so that this intensity will continue. We try to keep up our relationships during the summer, and every form of technology is welcome–sms, e-mail, phone calls. For those who remain in Milan, one or two days a week are organized with get-togethers for watermelon, treasure hunts, then picking up School of Community again. In vacation spots, we try to find someone of the community to visit.” Alberto: “One summer in Senigallia, my sister and I hung up a sign outside the Church where we went to say Lauds. Two from Turin joined us. After years, my sister began university in Turin and she met the CLU members right away.” “The GS t-shirt is fundamental!” Giovanni says. You recognize each other, and how!” Cristina: “And last of all, the next appointment is at the Meeting in Rimini.”
Fifty years after the first vacation with Fr Giussani, the students no longer write postcards, but quick sms’s. The enthusiasm and simplicity of heart, though, are the same.