The Movement Today
On Top of the World
A solid upbringing, an important encounter, and, from then on, her life became fascinating and she made herself available to everything, from going to Africa to working in Paraguay, always with her friends in her heart
by Giovanna Tagliabue
Ever since I was a little girl, my greatest desire was that my life would be useful. I didn’t like to waste time, certainly because I saw my parents always working, and with a big home like ours (seven children), you couldn’t take it easy. When my mother managed to get ahead on the housework, she would bring us little ones to visit her friends or some sick person, or leave an offering in the home of some poor people. I think it truly is by osmosis that one grows up with the desire to be a missionary in “far away lands.”
I met Fr. Giussani in July 1968, in Campestrin di Fassa. It was like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. I didn’t understand why very well, but I intuited that I had to follow a man like this, because surely he would lead me where my heart desired to go. That same October, when I finished art school, I went to him to express my willingness to go to Brazil, but he replied, “Now, you can’t, but come to a meeting that might be useful for you.” In this way, entrusting him with my greatest desire, I discovered my vocation [in Memores Domini]. The next year, I left my job in an architectural studio to attend nursing school at the I.C.P. in Milan. I wanted to prepare for mission. Everything that was happening in the Movement fascinated me more and more–the friends in Gudo, the community at Mangiagalli, the school, the vacations with the healthcare workers, the sick, the songs–so much so that I didn’t think anymore about leaving. I wanted to entrust my freedom to Fr. Giussani so that it would be educated to the “totalizing gaze” upon life, and thus the experience of joy and the Infinite to which he testified. I ardently desired to help him build the Church through his charism and to be available for his indications.
In August 1973, during my first Memores Domini Spiritual Exercises in Pianazze, the Lord definitively fulfilled the promise. In the Congo (now Zaire), a group of ours needed a nurse and a doctor to continue the work of assistance in a center they had begun. So, that evening, I summoned my courage, knocked on Fr. Giussani’s door, and told him that I was ready to depart. He smiled at me and said, “I would like you to stay, but I understand that it’s important that you go, for you and for us.”
We hugged, and thus began my big adventure… as a missionary. Ten years in Africa and eighteen in Paraguay, with a stopover in Belgium to study tropical medicine and two in Italy to listen to the Pope (who asked us to go forth into all the world) and to strengthen my faith in the encounter with the charism.
If you ask me whether the separation from my friends was costly for me, I’d say no, because I always had them with me. In our experience, the communion among us isn’t abstract; it’s an experience of unity that marks your heart. You can be alone in Kiringye, but you carry within an “infinite us” that accompanies you like Jesus. The education Fr. Gius testified to us is that of a man who shows up at the central station at 9 in the evening to say goodbye before you leave for Brussels, and who writes you a letter reminding you to buy space heaters because he knows we were cold in Villarrica. How can you feel alone, even 6,000 miles away? If it weren’t this way, we wouldn’t be worthy of being called women and men.
Obeying a greater Good
The big challenge for me has always been relationships with the local people, a different culture, a different way of using your head, the things of life, the relationships among people who more often than not test your patience and your faith. Encountering “the different,” you have to ask yourself why you are together. If it’s not for love of the destiny of the other, then it’s impossible to live together. When I think back on my years in Africa, I see myself full of enthusiasm, young, grappling with the challenge of the language, charged with desire for the good, working tirelessly with my friends to build on the Ruzizi plain a more human place (a cooperative, a healthcare center, and a literacy school). Here, too, Fr. Giussani’s gaze never left me. It was even brought by Fr. Ricci, who came to us for 24 hours, facing his terror of animals to help us live our vocation deeply and to the fullest, in the openness to another charism. And we regularly received the cassettes of the Exercises, which accompanied us in the work of ascesis to be done.
We were in the first evangelization, and the people loved us a lot. It was very hard for me to return when my contract ended. I was happy there, and if it had been up to me, I would never have returned, but I understood that the true good was to obey the greater Good I had encountered, even if it cost me something.
A new yes
The experience in Paraguay forced me to conduct a serious work on myself. This time, I wasn’t the one who wanted to leave Italy but, instead, I was expressly asked to by Fr. Giussani.
It was a moment of great missionary work in the Italian hospitals with a group of CL nurses (we had done the famous “Three Days” in Varese), and I was living in Gudo with many friends.
What should I do? Either you renew your yes to Christ, or nothing you have lived is true. Either you give your whole life, or you don’t give it at all. So here I am, eighteen years later–even though, six months into my stay, I told Fr. Gius I wanted to return home. This new yes has enabled me to have a great professional experience, collaborating in organizing the university hospital, opening a nursing faculty, and creating satellite healthcare centers. But the surprising thing was that Fr. Giussani’s faith in me was such that he entrusted me with the small community of the Movement that had been born in the meantime in Asunción. God challenges you this way, bets on your nothing, and tests your freedom; He knows He never loses.
In this way, the face of Christ and love for Him have grown and grow in me daily with and in the community entrusted to me, out of which a people has flowered, generating Memores Domini houses, works, and also an elementary school.
All this happened because God is merciful, unforeseeable, and uses everything to build His Church. As Fr. Gius always asked us, “Who would have ever thought that from this young girl…”