Fifty Years of Vacation

The Time of Freedom
The family vacation in Sardinia with Walter, his wife and children, Fr Giussani, two priests, and some friends from Memores Domini. Inside the unfolding of the days, the grandeur of a human experience

by Paola Bergamini

Sardinia, one morning in late July… Walter, at the door, looks at the dark sky full of clouds. He turns to his wife, “I’m going to the bakery to get some pastries. There’s no way we can go to the beach today.” Nearing his car, he sees a note on the windshield wiper. He opens it. “I’m at the beach. Giuss.” He thinks, “It’s not possible!” The day before, Fr Giussani had said, “I’m going to see the barber in Sassari. The one I met last summer. He’s a good guy, attractive for his moral authority.” And he had done so; he got himself a ride and returned late in the evening. And in the morning, there he was, on his little beach, waiting for the others, the Memores Domini friends, two priest friends, and Walter’s family, with whom he spent those ten days of vacation by the sea. The same bursting vitality, the same passion for every moment of life that fascinated those who met him, showed through in those days of “rest.” Every day was articulated by the parish Mass, the walk to the beach, playing ball in the water, the discussions with those around him, lunch, the afternoon rest, and the recitation of Vespers at sunset. Then, in line at the phone booth to call “that boy,” “to hear how he’s doing.” Every moment full.
July 27th, the birthday of Anna Chiara, Walter’s daughter. On the beach, Fr Giuss sees her arrive with her mother and two brothers and invents a song with her name. As soon as she reaches him, they start talking. “What are you going to do when you grow up?” “I don’t know.” And from there they talk away, until they’re interrupted by the brother, who is good at math. Fr Giuss shoots point blank: “What’s today plus two?” And the other, “The day after tomorrow.” “Good! You really know math!” The two children run off into the water and Walter comes up: “Fr Giuss, the one who worries me is Luigi, the little boy we’ve adopted. He’s violent; he doesn’t want to study…” “Well, you can go to Heaven even without a college degree. This boy will make his way, not like you think, but how the Good Lord wants him to.” “We’ll see. In any case, I told him today that if he doesn’t catch three fish in 15 minutes like I taught him… he’ll stay closed in the house for a week!” The priest friend intervenes, “What kind of method is that? Fishing is an uncertain business…” Fr Giuss raises his voice, “If he acts this way, he must have a good reason. He’s the father.” When the fifteenth minute is up, the boy pulls in his third fish and Fr Giussani smiles, “See? You don’t have the sense of authority…”
1979. A phone call comes from the CL office. “The Pope wants to see Fr Giussani the day after tomorrow.” There are only a few hours to prepare such an important meeting. But what worries him aren’t the things to say–the experience speaks for itself–but… the trip. Frenetic hours to organize everything down to the minute–the ferry, the plane, the ride to the Vatican… “Are you sure everything is ready? To be safe, would you bring me to the pier an hour early?” When he returns, he’s radiant. “A lion, the Pope! He told me, ‘Be what you are. But be sure that it’s all over the world.’” And his priest friend mutters, “Oh God, we couldn’t restrain him before, who knows now?!” And so it was.