EDITED BY PAOLA BERGAMINI
A Necessary Presence
On September 22nd, I went to Beit Jala (on the West Bank) for work, to monitor an Italian cooperation health project. During the trip, my eyes and mind were still full of Opening Day. As soon as I got to my destination, I ate lunch in the Bethlehem Arab Society of Rehabilitation cafeteria along with the local head of the project. As he was bringing me up to date on the most recent events, I noticed a long line of patients, for the most part young, wheeling themselves in their wheelchairs in front of the television set, which was showing a staggering sequence of images that reflected all the pain and violence present in the life of this people: young people torn apart, spurting blood, mothers weeping or silently prostrate, men wearing black masks holding up tiny lifeless bodies like banners for an inevitable vendetta. I looked at those patients, still marked by this symmetrical hatred, and in the background, I could hear the words of the hospital administrator, reiterating once again, You see how so much suffering forces us to admit that the Christian presence in this land is still necessary in order to embrace these two peoples who are prisoners of their own particular rights. Vittadini, in his report on the adherence of men and women to the Christian experience had told us, It is a total embrace. This is what men today encounter and seek (without hesitating to denounce the ills of the world ).
He Does Not Want the Ruin of His Children
I decided to write you this letter in memory of Matteo Giani, a 14-year-old boy who lost his life in Varese on Monday, October 7th, by a tragic accident. The boy I knew was a kind boy. The delicacy of his behavior could have been taken simply for good manners. And he was indeed well-mannered. At first, when he and my son found themselves in the first year of middle school together, I thought for an instant that the fact of his being an only child, the object of so much attention from his parents, might explain his always-perfect manner. But as soon as I got to know him and had him about our house, I saw the friendship grow between him and my son, and his good manners seemed more and more what they really were: good up-bringing by parents who loved him very much and in the right way, taking the long view. They were careful to have true friends grow up around him and with him, and to help him grasp the good meaning of things. Sensitive, with a quick, sometimes saucy wit, he related to adults with respectful ease, while with kids his own age he knew how to intuit the fine points of each ones character. If he made a mistake, he begged pardon. He liked poetry, movies, and playing ball. He was curious about the world and about people. He created a good mood around him. And now that the Lord has taken him away from us, I want to say, The world is uglier without Matteo. His death is a wrench for his contemporaries who loved him, and they were many: his cousins, his schoolmates, his soccer teammates, the Scouts he had just joined, the GS kids. What does something like this entail, what does it mean, in terms of their existence, to Carlo, Andrea, Ignazio, Giovanni, Luca, Giulio, Letizia, Chiara, Giovanna, Bernardo, Giacomo, Mario, Nicola 14- and 15-year-olds who have to face such a painful loss for the first time in their lives, who have trouble finding the words, except those that our companionship offers to them, to express the suffering that is greater than anything they have gone through until now? How can they continue to smile at life, but without forgetting Matteo, without choosing the shortcut of distraction from the great mystery that is life? What a great responsibility, what an educational challenge, what a test of our faith as adults, parents, and teachers is presented to us by Matteos death, and even more so to others who knew and loved him. Can we be content with remembering him? How can we reawaken in our children the harmony of day, how can we help them still to smile at life? We have been told not only that God has welcomed him, but that He wanted him with Him, and this, I admit, is hard to accept. To accept this, we have to come to terms with the fact that each of us is a creature in Gods hands and to believe that He does not want the ruin of His children. These are otherworldly things, Fr Giussani once said. And in this way, with these thoughts in mind, I saw Matteos parents. In their grief, which was so great but never angry or desperate, they were concerned to comfort the friends of their only son and to reassure them that Matteo is with Jesus; the great and beautiful thing that was their friendship is not over; it is not something evanescent, vanished away, but can continue in the companionship of the Church. I saw this otherworldly thing, and I wanted to testify to what I saw.
The Living fountain of Hope
I have reflected on how little I value high hopes and have reached the point of thinking that hope can only be based on an act of faith, which represents a higher level of consciousness. It is no coincidence that the strength of a people lies in its faith, for every beginning, every undertaking has a hope implicit within it, if no more than that of reaching completion, and truly Our Lady, by saying Yes and entrusting herself to the Spirit operating in re, is the figure of hope. Hope and faith make the Pentecost possible. Go to a sanctuary of Our Lady: contemplate her divine motherhood that makes her the mother of all men, and your life will be regenerated by it. And every morning, by making a gesture of your own, as Giussani suggests in the wake of Dantes prayer, faced with the fears and burdens of every day, you can connect with this living fountain. Besides, who has truly sustained us if not the one who, by her being there, has revived this hope in us?
Not the Usual Vacation
The CL summer vacation, if you are over 30 and without a husband and a regular brood of children, can present itself psychologically as a nightmare. 450 people, of whom 170 are children, the dining room crowded with couples and shouting children, field trips that leave at 10 and come back at 12:30, afternoons spent waiting for the days meeting or your friends to come back from their childrens naps I started three months before the CL vacation to beg my few friends in the Fraternity who were in my own or a similar condition to come anyway; all I wanted was a little company. The usual sacrosanct reasons for avoiding psychological upheaval fell on me, but I tried to hold firm, especially after the Fraternity Retreat, because that week in the mountains could become the chance to see the courage of those who invest every relationship with the Presence encountered, and to learn once again how to live in my flesh my faith in the Son of God. I needed a reasonable push, and so I phoned Fr Ambrogio: 30 seconds on the telephone were enough to answer all my ifs, ands, and buts, The problem in life is not to change people, but your heart. Ask for it! And in this way I began to have the insight that everything is for me. I left with my friends and started making that entreaty my own. In short, I was there. It was for me. And slowly, as if by miracle, a new world, the usual world, came forward in my flesh. I met the same faces I have been seeing here for years, with a few children more. I met faces I had never seen before, I began letting go and letting myself go, and so I asked and told and took an interest in whomever I had in front of me, and relationships grew. I met Chiara, whom I had been greeting for years without knowing her name, so it was time to take the first step. She told me she had been in a coma before having her youngest child, a beautiful, healthy, lovable boy. She was a woman who had had a miracle, and she possessed a profundity of judgment and vision. This was for me: I was in front of her, I was moved, I was there. The awaited appointment with Vittadini came; recounted by anyone else, it would not have been the same. I was moved by seeing a man who, over time, by accepting and living the life of the Movement to the utmost, has made his own the proposal to invest all his life in the flesh by faith in the Son of God. For me! Another friend came forward, with a question that was so heartrending because of her illness, but so carnal and true for everyone: Here I have lived something, I have encountered Someone, but I know that tomorrow, going home, I will go back on it. What can I do? The answer was simple and deeply moving: Pray to God to help you and let yourself be accompanied by the friends you have been with in these days. Now, I cannot really want to change people, only my heart, so I said No to the alternative trip of the ten singles, because I wanted to stay with these people hereand whom did I meet? Cecilia, with a wonderful family. We happened to recall an afternoon during our university days when we had asked ourselves, What will happen to us? For me: looking at her is enjoying now the road that someone else has taken, it is seeing the world with changed eyes, and continuing to hope in the certainty that staying with these usual faces, living this usual life, going on the usual chaotic vacations, my day takes on a different savor, different serenity, affection, and companionship.
The Steps of Children
A year ago, a Movement friend I hadnt seen for years said to me, I am grateful for having found you again, making a pun on my last name. Two years ago, I saw in a shop window a book entitled Le mie letture [My Readings], by a man who more than ten years ago took my heart in his hands, along with a people that I did not love. That evening, I did not buy drinks. I read it walking along the street, under the arcades of a city that I usually saw at night or by the early light of dawn. I spent that night in my rented room, continuing to read. That night I wept, crying out aloud. Finally, someone had reminded me that I am not alone; someone had reminded me who I was. The pain I felt was inhuman. It was an inexplicable, lucid, sharp ache, very different from a physical illness or one of the many more or less serious pathologies of the mind. I was furious with God, remembering that once upon a time, nothing existed for me that was more extraordinary, beautiful, and moving than the Cross and Christ. The next day I went into the little church of a Franciscan convent. I continued to go there for some months; I would sit and look at the cross, nothing more. Then came extraordinary encounters, that I do not even dare to write. The Extraordinariness, the Power, and the Delicacy of the Mystery have always saved me from Evil. Prayer, every day, is growing stronger, and I am taking little steps, big steps, entrusting myself always to Love. Only with prayer do we become tools of Love, learning to ask, always. We are truly in Gods hands every day, taking the hands of those who love us, keeping our eyes always open and our ears attentive. For heavens sake, this is what children do! And who did not feel loved when Fr Giussani spoke about going back to being children?