To Live in the Present
This is a testimony an Asian friend sent to the CL responsible
of the Philippine community
Dear Malou:
For us all, including our children, this holiday to Phuket has been an
experience of grace in a way that none of us was expecting.
I may say it was like a “blind date,” where the partner turned out to be
much more beautiful than expected! We have travelled a lot and probably
we have not finished yet. But, wherever we go, it does not take long for
Jesus Christ to make Himself, and His company, visible in a physical
way. This is what has always surprised me most. This is, to me, the most
peculiar characteristic of our experience and of the Movement itself: it
never leaves us alone.
After the Philippine contingent left, the following days were spent
by the remaining group mostly lazing on the beach, exploring the
nearby rocks for fish, shopping around, and evening Mass. We felt almost physical pain when we finally left to
return home. What we came back with, however, is not just a memory.
Memories are always sad because they are in the past. What we came back
with is a company, and a company is in the present, which is what we
need because we live in the present.
Paolo, Malaysia

A Regenerated “Yes”
Dear Father Giussani:
I am a priest of the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota. During my 32 years as an ordained man, I have longed to be in the company of priests where I felt belonging. Sometimes this desire was alive because of experiencing a piece of it, but most of the time I emptied this desire, or reduced it to some companionship that did not allow me to be who I am and, therefore, did not answer the desire of my heart.
This was not the fault of other priests, for in reducing them, putting limits on how they might reveal a Presence to me, I was unwittingly putting an obstacle in the way of the belonging I so deeply desired.
The habit of reducing a desire began to change on a ski vacation. One day, the group of us priests had a two-hour sharing of what you had written in The Religious Sense on being regenerated. Fr Jerry had proposed this to us. We wondered what it means in our experience that the Presence of Christ could be conceived and made Flesh every day.
The next day, while riding a chair lift up a Colorado mountain, Fr Jerry asked me and another priest if we would be part of a group of priests that might be formed in this charism he had found with you and many others that so regenerated his life as a priest following Christ.
Not long after, ten priests began meeting once a month. We gather for social time, prayer, and dinner on Sunday evening. The next morning we have prayer, an hour of silence, and then we read and study together a lesson from your writings. We have used In Search of the Human Face and At the Origin of the Christian Claim so far.
I was confounded by this company in the early months, but I was increasingly attracted by the charity in the group. Regardless of how any of us would slip into nothingness through doubt, anger, confusion, or other ordinarily undesirable realities, there would be so much compassion. The usual limits to loving the other were seemingly absent in this company. My attraction to this prompted a change in me so that I gradually stopped giving answers and fixing. The only response desired was the event of Christ made flesh.
It is so wonderful now to not want to reduce the desire for a companionship among priests that regenerates. Thank you for the “yes” of Mary in your life that has generated a “yes” that brings a companionship that yields a freedom, and healing as the journey unfolds.
Fr Joe, Rochester

At the Table of St Francis
Dear Friends:
I teach in a high school in a large and wealthy suburb of Toronto. It is a typical yet above-average Canadian high school. But, I still needed something more from what I was doing there. I began to volunteer to serve food to the poor with my parish once in a while. However, that was not enough. So, I decided to book some time at St Francis Table, a food pantry and outreach center, and try to go with some students. I spoke about this with the friends of the CL community and with my principal. Everyone was willing to help. This was two years ago. We went as a gesture for Christmas 2002 with 6 students. St Francis Table (run by the Franciscans) is in the poorest part of Toronto. Many clients are homeless or suffer from mental illness and addiction. St Francis Table asked my school to come more often because they were so impressed with my group, which has grown to more than 25 students. Recently, Bishop Wingle came to the school to say Mass and eat dinner with my students and the principal and vice-principals. There were about 20 of us and there were also students who volunteered to wait tables. The evening ended with two students giving a testimony of their experiences. Mariana went first and then Chris. This is what Chris said to everyone:
“ Twice I have made the trip to St Francis Table, and I feel as though a third is needed. Most likely after the third, I will want the fourth, and after the fourth, the fifth. Yet, I find that the more I go, the more I hate it. I hate the drive down, and the busy traffic. I hate the grime that covers the streets, and the smog that hangs in the air. I hate seeing the people and the conditions in which they live. Most of all I hate analyzing their lives, and the feeling that I develop while I do so.
Not so much am I overcome with a sense of grief yet rather with a feeling of guilt, mixed with the realization that whatever help or aid I do provide is merely a chip off the mountain of despondency that has engulfed the over-populated metropolitan area. It is at this point that I feel like turning around and running home. That is, until I hear the hilarious, yet comforting laugh of my teacher, Mr Daniel Mammarella, which seems to lighten the mood of the whole situation. Seemly unfazed by his surroundings, he leads the youth of Ontario down the alley behind the liquor store and in through the wooden screen door of the small restaurant where we are introduced to Sam. If nothing else, the greatest part of this trip was meeting this rather odd little man. He is the chef of St Francis and works all day preparing food. At first I thought he was one of the brothers, but later was informed that he isn’t even Catholic! This absolutely blew me away. His life is filled with more complications and problems than most of ours put together, and he still unselfishly gives all that he can. As a part of this St Francis team, I did everything from mopping the floors to serving the tables, which on my first experience was nothing short of bedlam. I have worked with the “Out of the Cold” program, but there was a difference. The reason I went to that program was for community service hours. The reason I went to St Frances table was because Mr Mammarella asked me to. I believe that because my motives were pure I gained the true meaning and was able to realize what this societal field trip was all about.
At the end of the night I am tired. More than physically drained I am mentally drained. On the drive home I don’t care to talk much. I just think about the city and the traffic, and its constant need for more money.
I will go again, dreading every minute of the trip. I will go again for Mr Mammarella, for the People, and for myself. I am only a rookie in this whole “soup kitchen” thing, but I have met some amazing people. I’m really sorry but I can’t remember most of your names, and I know your all probably laughing, but that’s not the point! You’ve proved to me that things can change, and the world is not as bad as I once thought it was. For every bad experience that I endured, I was introduced to a new and amazing person, willing to give all that he had, and this made all the difference. Going to St Francis Table is more than just something good to do. I think its something we all must do, not only to better our world, but also to better ourselves and grow into God’s conception of a human being.”
The words of the students moved me to tears. I was so struck. I wanted to say thank you to them but instead they surprised me, as they always have. I pray that God will stay with them and that each one of them will be open to whatever God has planned for them.
Daniel, Toronto

The Glory
of Christ’s Presence

Dearest friends:
As many of you know, my mother had been seriously ill for some time and last
Sunday, February 22nd, she died peacefully in her sleep. I would like to
express my sincere thanks and prayers for the love and companionship so many
of you showed to me and indeed to her during her life through many gestures
you made. Some of these were simple, like a small question about
how she was, while others of you made the sacrifice of prayer. Many sent e-mails
or texts from different countries or travelled to be with me so I did not
face this circumstance alone.
Now at this time of sorrow and grief at her passing from this world,
completely unexpectedly, I am experiencing joy–joy that she has gone
forward into the glory of Christ’s presence and will be waiting for me when
I make that journey too. It is even clearer now that this friendship is, as
Fr Giussani described it at Christmas, “Our indestructible company.” I am
fortified because I am loved. I am loved because of you. And you, my dear
friends, are like my mother was and truly is now to me, the face of Christ.
With deep gratitude,
Siobhan, London

To Be Christian
in Bulgaria

We’re two students and a teacher in Bulgaria. We had a little winter vacation in Spiazzi di Gromo, Italy, with the GS youth group. This was the first time I’ve had the possibility of participating in a vacation of that kind. Everything I saw and learned, the goodness of the people I met, charged me with positive energy. After the experience, I feel a bit different and happier. The country where I live has entered into a new phase of political, social and cultural development. But the good that our people achieves with great effort is accompanied by very dangerous phenomena–violence, drug addiction, moral decadence–that strike the people, who have been deprived of the stability needed against the challenges of the times. Thus, we look for a support in our national traditions and in Christian values. We are aware that the transition to a democratic society and the aspiration for European integration can only be achieved by people with strong ethics. The Christian has a unique characteristic in his conduct; he isn’t afraid to be what he is. This is truly very important, because so many people here live with a mask on, hiding themselves. The Christian unites in himself the natural and the supernatural. The little vacation I participated in means a moral improvement. It teaches us the Christian virtues–friendship, justice, mutual assistance, love for the people… In a society like this, we can protect ourselves from social vices such as egotism, hypocrisy, aggression, drug addiction, etc. The relationships among people, the benevolence, confirm the fact that Christianity is truly the religion of peace and love, that it unites us and makes us more good. The founders of this society have chosen the most powerful nucleus–religion and the Church–so that they might discover the meaning, the aim and the dignity of life. We thank you all!
Your Bulgarian friends, Emanuela, Svetlana and Ivo

To Embrace
All of Reality

Dear Fr Giussani: We are young people of the Centro Alvorada in Belo Horizonte and we are writing to tell you how our story has grown over these two years. The encounter with the Movement determined it; we don’t know how. For our part, we have only given a bit of faithfulness to the School of Community and, as Cicera says, “the greatness of the certainty of being before Christ floods my heart and makes me live all the aspects of reality, following the Mystery, showing me that my desire to be happy is always greater.” We all study and many of us have begun working, some as bank messengers, others in nursery schools, because it’s essential to be able to bring a paycheck home. In the beginning, we were afraid that the lack of time and the tiredness would limit our life as GS. We talked about it and we asked for help because alone it isn’t easy to see and embrace all of reality. Our slogans are, “Work is the expression of man in his entirety;” “If Christ is in everything, then He is also in our weariness and lack of time;” “The Madonna worked for Jesus and her house was beautiful”–initially expressions that we merely repeated, but then they filled up with experience. Taisa, who makes photocopies at the nursery school, told us that her work has improved ever since she decided that every photocopy was for Jesus and for all of us. Everton, Raquel, and Carolina decided to lengthen their walk to work so they could go a ways together and recite the Angelus. All this led to the desire to tell about what has made us happy, so we put together a show of music and poetry entitled, “Work, expression of being” for our colleagues and friends. It was very beautiful and we offered it for you, because we want everyone to be able to meet you. We all share a great pain because Osias and Daiene have drifted away, one attracted by a rock group and the other by bad company, and they are unhappy; we pray for their freedom and “we imitate,” as much as is possible for us, the faithfulness of God, waiting for them continually. This place is here, and a lived experience can’t be erased.
Carolina, Cicera, Everton, Nego, Raquel, Taisa and many, many other friends of yours, Belo Horizonte

Complete Happiness
Dearest Fr Giussani: I attend the fourth year of scientific high school. Thursday, December 6th, I participated in a meeting in which Nembrini, a Humanities professor, read and explained the first and second canto of Dante’s Inferno. While Nembrini explained Dante, he was also explaining me, describing my experience. By myself, I am helpless and impotent before reality and God, but through a guide (the community I had the grace to meet), like Virgil for Dante, he helps me and shows me the straight path to love as I would like to. I can begin the walk because God makes me worthy of this journey, which, because of false humility, I wouldn’t have undertaken. From that day, I can say that I’ve really begun to take my experience in GS seriously, and I can say that I am truly happy. Thank you from the heart for your yes, because it has made possible my journey toward complete happiness.
Francesca, Milan

Working for the UN
Dearest Fr Giussani: For several months now, I’ve been working at UNIDO, a UN agency for industrial development of small and medium firms in developing countries, with headquarters in Vienna. Often I ask myself and my colleagues what meaning there is in the existence of this huge supranational institution. Are there some points in common from which one can really start? Your urging the UN to have as its horizon the education of the heart of the people provokes me to work on The Religious Sense. To realize that I am made up of certain questions, that I am the desire for happiness, for justice, for my good and that of the world–this is man, this is the point of unity between every man, wherever he comes from. When I am with certain colleagues (Russians, Thais, Chinese, Africans…), with their silences, their impenetrability, I ask myself how I can help us to say “I,” how we can get to know each other, meet each other. For me, to say “I” is to say Christ, a name, a face that is completely foreign to them. What I have met can make people live and share life with anyone, anywhere.
Tommy, Vienna

Hard Head
When my son returns from the university, Saturday lunch is the occasion for telling all about the events of the last weeks. I tell all the negative things that happened to me, at work or elsewhere. And I season them every now then with an irritable, “Don’t do this;” “Don’t do that.” He, the eldest, looks at me with “respectful familiarity” and tells me, “Mamma, you lack certainty.” He says it so well that I stop and ask, “That is?” From his calm voice comes a portrait I don’t want to look at: “You feel like a failure, you have no faith in yourself, you’re always stressed, you have a guilty conscience, you’re all tense for nothing. And your face, you’re in a perpetual pout or you’re wearing a fake smile.” I take a good look at myself as he sees me, and I recognize myself. “What can I do?” Now everyone at the table is laughing. “Just ask for it, certainty, and start again.” I laugh too, for the joy of seeing that my son has grown big and for the gratitude to those who educate him. And I also laugh at myself, finally, at my short memory, at my hard head.
Signed letter