The Inexorable Positivity of Reality

We publish here Giovanni’s letter to his father, who works in the Pirelli skyscraper, after the tragic event of April 18th
“I am afraid of living prayer as the last resort”–these were my words to Gio on the evening of April 18th, looking at the hole in the Pirelli Building. Because of the experience that I am living, that I have encountered, my concern was not that I might doubt the existence of Christ, but that I might view it as a consolation. What brought me to say that Christ is the first thing above all else was not the fruit of reasoning. It is what you and your colleagues made me understand by the way you lived this dramatic circumstance. I have finally (I think) understood what is meant by what Giussani calls “the inexorable positivity of reality.” You made me understand it, you testified it to me, Dad, when in all that chaos you managed to phone home as soon as you could, to tell us that you were all right, and then set right to work, staying up all night, because now more than ever “there are things that need to be done.” And Fiorenzo (whom I don’t even know) demonstrated it to me when he phoned our house and, without wasting time with formalities, asked where you were because people had to get together to re-organize. Mother and Maria showed it to me in a moving way when they did not run “desperately” to look for you, but prayed. In short, Dad, what I want to tell you is that you have made me understand that in front of the “gutted” Pirelli Building, the inexorable positivity of reality is not saying, “but God exists anyway.” It is something entirely different, it is a group of people who respond immediately to what has to be done. We (or at least I) always make mistakes because we struggle with our reason to look for Christ in the things that happen, but at the most we can identify Him in what goes well for us. The greatness of God, on the other hand, the inexorable greatness, is that it is reality itself that continues to question us. And man’s freedom lies in facing it, in responding to it. You don’t know this, but Friday morning around 9:30 I went to the Pirelli Building, and I saw you with the others behind Formigoni, who was being interviewed. And your faces, after a tragedy and a sleepless night, were anything but tired and sad. Quite the opposite. So then I said to myself that in my little sphere, responding to reality was going to class at the Academy. And I was glad to go, not because there was a class that I might like, since I didn’t even know this. I was glad to go because it was there and my freedom was to face it. Well, the only thing I want to say to you is “Buon lavoro” (“good luck at work”).

New York
The Policeman at the Way of Cross
Dear Editor: I wish to share my experience with you of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. I was asked three days beforehand if I wanted to go to the Brooklyn cathedral of St James, cross over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall in Manhattan, then proceed to St Peter’s Church next to Ground Zero. I am a police officer with the town of Southold in the eastern-most part of Suffolk County. I thought to myself that this would have even more significance to me considering the tragic events of September 11, 2001. I was asked to wear my uniform and that I would be in a procession along with others. As the stations started, I knew this was special, this was different. I could feel sadness, hope, and a sense of sacrifice as we went along–a sense of sacrifice for what Jesus did for me and for my fellow men and a sense of sacrifice for what the police and firefighters did for the people in those buildings. I was so proud to wear that uniform more so then any time in my 16 years of service. To be a part of something so real and to be spiritually drawn to represent the hundreds that died was such an honor, an honor I will never forget. Many people thanked me after the service was over but I was at a loss for words. The words were not lost though when fellow firefighter John Bartlett spoke. To my friends I say, “Thank you!!!” for letting me be a part of this. I will truly never forget it.
Henry F Santacroce

The Growing Grass
Dear Fr Giussani: I had read Giuseppe Pontiggia’s book Nati due volte [Born Twice], and I proposed it also to my economic law teacher, offering her Traces as well, which contained an interview with the author. I was a little afraid of her reaction, because it seems that she is not a practicing Catholic. My teacher knows a lot about the Movement, and not only was she rather enthusiastic about my giving her Traces
, but she also asked me what else she should read in it. So I, very glad, advised her to read the Pope’s letter and yours. The next morning, she thanked me for giving them to her. I am not Italian; I come from Albania and have been in GS for a year. Just think, when I came to Italy I had not even been baptized. But God wanted me to enter GS and encounter Christ, and thus receive the three sacraments of Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation at the age of 16. In this short time I have spent with GS, I have seen changes, and when I look at the past, I see that the grass (as Cesana said at the Triduum) has grown very high, and not only that, it is green and beautiful. I learned also something very beautiful and above all useful for my life: to accept reality as it is given to me and to welcome it always with open arms. My parents, too, who grew up in a completely Communist environment and know very little about Christianity, are very happy about what has happened to me and hope that it will happen also to my younger brother, who is 12. And just think, Fr Giussani, that what a 16-year-old Albanian girl and an extraordinary person like you, who above all have never even met, have in common is one thing alone: Christ. God bless you always and may He aid you in every little instant of your great task.

Charity in the Tunnel
Dear friends: I have just come back from my first weekend in Madrid. On Friday, the professor I will be working with picked me up and took me to the university. There I immediately began to understand the Spaniards’ life style: the university campus includes a swimming pool, tennis courts, and gyms, which are used also by the professors during the day, as well as kindergartens for the professors’ children and a dance hall. I met Roberto (a Movement friend from Milan) and some of his friends from Madrid for their charitable work. The charity project started at 9:30 pm (!!!), and they explained to me that it consisted of preparing dinner for the poor and then going through the streets to distribute it. I participated, somewhat perplexed, carrying the hot broth and following them in the smelliest, most abandoned tunnel I have ever seen, where live some of the homeless and desperate people of this sunny and pleasure-loving city. I saw a scene that I have trouble describing: while the city is beginning to enjoy the movida
, these young people arrive (who for eight years have been going into this rank tunnel every Friday night). The cardboard boxes start to move and out of them come incredible characters, shabby and smelly, each one with his own history. I saw them come alive thanks to this visit from friends. Saying that this charity project is feeding the poor is extremely reductive compared to what I saw; I understood that those elves of the night who popped up out of their cartons, whom no one cares for, wait all week for the moment when someone comes to pay attention to them, to take an interest in them, to listen to them tell their stories, incredible stories in some ways, because many of them were successful men, professionals with university degrees (there is even an engineer who speaks four languages perfectly and ended up there after his wife’s death), who for one reason or another could not handle the burdens of life… and then, sure, the CL kids bring them some cigarettes to smoke and something hot to eat, but this seemed to be the most marginal thing the other night. Imagine me there, well dressed, distributing hot broth and watching this meeting of “friends” hugging each other (well, I too was hugged and kissed by these street people, in my capacity of the evening’s foreign guest, and I was not psychologically prepared for this), laughing and becoming alive again, involved in discussions of which I understood practically nothing. Running through my head were thoughts like: “This is a great beginning! If this is the beginning of this adventure, who knows what the rest will be like!” The project ended at midnight (these are Spanish hours!). I was amazed by the welcome and the familiarity I was shown by the Spanish CLers, full of enthusiasm and gifted with a simplicity, which we have lost a little bit along the way, and they certainly do not renounce enjoying life.

Pray for Us
Samar sent us these words from the orphanage in Bethany, where she brings up eighty Philistine children
Dear friends: Many Christian greetings to you from Bethany! Bethany, that small village, the Lord’s favorite place, and the house of so many friends of Jesus has been now for two weeks under very strict curfew. People are suffering so much due to the lack of food, and the constant shooting and bombing… there is no way of even sleeping at night. My children are all locked inside, the little ones are all in one room, the big ones in another, and the housemothers have to be like a shield so that none of the children will look out of the window. Yesterday, the neighbours came out of their house with their four year old daughter. As they tried to get her to a doctor, the little girl got a bullet in her head, but luckily it was not a live bullet. Over the voices of the military cars, and higher than the voices of bullets, the words of Jesus are being repeated: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” And the words of the Lord are such an amazement... love your enemies... forgive… and how many times? Let us confess that Jesus is the Lord of humanity. May we again receive Him in our hearts, and praise Him, and say, “Yes Lord, you are our Christ and Savior.” In Him,

The Things that Change
My life has changed and is changing ever since, against every prevision and expectation, while everything seemed to be falling apart and I felt alone and far away from everyone, something happened. Against my will, a few months ago, I took part in a course organized by the company I work for, and there I met a person who, without using too many words, without saying much about herself, and without my being able to explain how, made the Lord enter my heart in a way that could not be refused. And I, with great fear in the beginning, and then with humility, and finally with wonder and immense gratitude, understood that it is true that there is nothing greater than feeling first forgiven and then welcomed. The first time I participated in Vittadini’s School of Community, I would have liked to run away, far away, not because I felt rejected, on the contrary, but I asked myself, “What am I doing here, what right do I have? I have erred too far and maybe it is too late!” But that face was always by my side and accompanied me with discretion, always present. Then I asked myself, “Why did I suffer so much before?” Perhaps, or rather certainly, nothing happens by chance, not even the most difficult trials. About a month ago I celebrated my 38th birthday, and I decided to name it “the birthday of the things that are changing.” Truly they change when you least expect it, and when some change… others don’t change any more. Since then–it happens every day–people who, before, saw me in the office, today stop me in the halls, in the cafeteria, and ask me what has happened. Every time I try, I attempt to explain it, they ask, “Stefano, will you take me?” Even if I cannot do much, except to tell what is happening to me every day. What I wanted to tell you is that it is true, really true, that it is a fact… among a million faces I would recognize that one. It is a fact also that today I am happy, certain, and sure, just as I am certain and sure that nothing could have changed in me and my life unless He, through a woman’s face, had chosen and decided to do it.
Stefano, Melzo

A Trip to Milan
On a recent trip to Milan, I was given a rare and unforgettable experience through the thoughtful kindness of friends. Giulietta Grosskopf had been an exchange student in our town in the United States some twenty-five years ago and she and her family have remained friends for all these years. I knew of their commitment to Communion and Liberation and had an opportunity to read English translations of Luigi Giussani’s impressive writings that the Grosskopfs had made available. So it was not surprising that knowing of my love of art and my life-long preoccupation with it as a painter and teacher, they wanted to share the wonderful experience they had when they encountered the unusual work of the renowned American artist, William Congdon. As a result, they arranged a visit to view the paintings of this late American artist. The paintings we went to see were housed at the William G Congdon Foundation. My friend, the composer and pianist, Giovanni Grosskopf, made a very profound observation and one with which I strongly concur. If I understand his comment correctly, he feels that Congdon was an artist that looked first of all at reality as it is, and upon looking found that there was more in that reality than the reality itself, that there was a Presence behind that very reality. The powerful effect that both the large and small paintings of William Congdon’s art had when I first saw them has remained with me and, I believe, will continue to inspire me and cause me to look deeper into all sincere artistic expression. The integrity, the strength, and the ability to express the deepest held convictions, beliefs, and observations one possesses is truly one of God’s most beautiful gifts and one which Congdon surely had. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the wonderful friends, old and new, who embraced me with such warmth and affection and made my visit to Milan a precious memory.
Rhoda, Vinalhaven, Maine