edited by Paola Bergamini

Summer Camp

Dear Friends: The summer vacation in the shadow of the Sequoias always continues to be a place of wonder and encounter for us in the California CL community–like the wonder at the vast sea of stars viewed at night far from city lights, or the wonder at mountain vistas during the Saturday morning hike, or the wonder of meeting an unexpected friendship. Take the story of Matt, a researcher from Chicago. During a summer in Switzerland working on a physics project, he met Samuele, an Italian doctoral student, who introduced him to his circle of friends in Milan. When Samuele came to the US for a conference, he invited Matt, now working at CalTech in Pasadena, to join him on the California vacation. “I did not know about any of this,” Matt admitted. “I just thought that Samuele had great friends in Italy. Now I found that this is something here and it is a part of this Movement.” But the wonder of the first encounter brings with it a question: “What happens when you are alone? What are you bringing with you? Because we are not always together in the day-to-day.” As Salvatore from Los Angeles said regarding his own life, “With work and an MBA program evenings and weekends, I have fewer opportunities to see my friends. But you are never alone. If you beg, you have every possibility for someone to rekindle the desire in your heart.” Another answer to Matt’s question was found in the life of Vanessa, a young mother of four. Some years ago, as a recent graduate from UCLA, Vanessa decided to travel to Italy, where she met a young man, Simone. The two started seeing each other, but over time Vanessa could tell her boyfriend was changing. “Simone had slowly become a part of the Movement. I tried to put the brakes on, but by remaining faithful to the relationship with him, I began to see that it corresponded to my heart. I could not negate that there was a humanity that I had never experienced before in my life.” The two eventually married and began a family. Imagine the surprise when, during a visit to her parents in California, Vanessa discovered the local CL community: “I had always associated the Movement with Italy, but now I can read Giussani in English and talk about these things in English! It is amazing. I feel like I am at home.” So the concern is not to keep a recollection alive, but to unexpectedly find faces of people I can belong to, a place where I can be at home. As our friend Giorgio Vittadini once said, “Christianity is beauty! The first Christians were known as those who met at the Portico of Solomon… You do not build a mentality starting from values, but you build a mentality starting from places.” These places include the monasteries of the so-called “Dark Ages” that Luca spoke about on Thursday, where “barbarians” for whom human life meant little could encounter men whose lives pointed toward a unifying ideal, lives which gave birth to Western civilization as we know it. There are other places like the “Mass rocks” that Fr Roddy told us about on Saturday: great stones deep in the Irish forests where Catholic priests and faithful in the seventeenth century risked their lives to offer Mass when it was outlawed by the British occupiers. These are places where people whose hearts burned braved great challenges to witness to the answer to that burning.
Damian Bacich,
Los Angeles

The First Vacation

Fr Giussani: I have just returned from the CL Summer Vacation in Nacogdoches, Texas. This was my first CL vacation. The vacation was a wonderful experience for me. I felt a closeness to everyone there, even though I had never met some of these people. I was invited by my son, Stephen, and I wanted to experience what he talks about. I now can understand why he feels so close to this community. The speakers helped me understand the community better. When the ladies talked about how we have to educate ourselves in order to educate our children, they made me realize something that I have always felt I should have done with my children. We grew up being told, “Do as I say, not as I do,” but when these women talked about having our children follow our example, it made a lot of sense to me. If my family, friends, and those that I interact with daily see me as a Christ-like person, then I don’t have to preach to them about what I believe in. They will see me and want what I have to offer, just like I want to be what my son is, a true believer and follower of Christ. I am very thankful for the experience and am looking forward to the next vacation so I can have those that I love experience this. (I will be inviting them to come with me.)
Rosa V. Sanchez, Texas

Daily Friendship

Dear Fr Giussani: This has been an exceptional year for me, and my family, full of grace. In fact, in the difficulty of the distance from home, of the languages to learn, and of my studies, I have rediscovered, thanks to the friends of the Montreal community, the beauty of the event of Christ in the most everyday and “carnal” way possible. Every particular of the day and the week was marked by a little group of people who tried to be companions for each other, striving to remind each other about the reason for everything. This way of being companions engendered in me a great sense of gratitude to the encounter I had with the Movement and, in addition, it allowed me to enjoy reality with more zest. I would like to name everybody and describe all the circumstances that helped me but, obviously, it’s impossible. I remember only that I’ll never forget the paternal gaze of John Zucchi and his whole family; the beauty of being at home with Mark Basik, cooking, discussing medicine, and trying out all the restaurants of Montreal; the hospitality offered by the CLU; Antonio and Tommaso; the unique opportunity, with the doctors’ School of Community, to share the Movement’s judgment in the human experience of day-to-day life in the hospital; and the Via Crucis lived together in Old Montreal as if it were my first encounter with the Movement. And last, but certainly not least, the dinner with John, Cecilia, their children, and his Eminence Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Primate of Canada, in Forlì, at the end of the Meeting with my Fraternity: after only two minutes, the feeling of being a foreigner, the distance, the different languages, the weariness, were overcome by a present fact, an exceptional evening. The Cardinal filled us all with joy with his parting words, “You’re a beautiful family; the Church is alive here.”

At Lazarus’ Home

Dear Fr Giussani: This summer we spent about three weeks in Palestine, in Bethany (the place of Lazarus’ resurrection), to try to give Samar a hand in the orphanage she runs for Palestinian children…. Samar is a woman from the Memores Domini who has chosen to give her life to Christ, dedicating herself to raising abandoned children. The tension that moves her is that of giving a future to these creatures, unloved even by their own parents. She does so through simple gestures, offering them the possibility of instruction, supporting them, allowing them to have a roof over their heads. Clearly, she must educate them as Muslims, respecting their Islamic origins, otherwise the children’s relatives, even though they were the ones to abandon them, might kill them, so as not to have shame fall on the family because of a Christian relative. We were moved by Samar’s charity. Even though she is deprived of the joy of being able to tell her “children” about the One for whom she gives her life, she never hesitates to face the grave difficulties inherent in her condition as a woman and as a Christian in an Islamic land, because she wants to be able to continue this work. We are witnesses to how her totally gratuitous love can bear the fruit of hope for the entire world, today so evidently “placed in the evil One.” On August 28th, we went to Bethlehem to bring two children, Nabila and Norma, to see their two little brothers in another orphanage. They belong to a wretched family that subjected their fifteen children to tremendous violence. Nabila was raped, and her mother burned her all over her body, and beat her to the point that she has broken teeth and a disfigured face. The brutality of these abuses made us forget the need for forgiveness, so that hatred and revenge dominated our hearts. When we arrived in the Basilica of the Nativity, the place where God was born, Nabila asked Samar who Jesus is, and Samar, after a brief explanation, invited her to ask Jesus for what she most desired… Shortly after, the little one, relating what she had requested, told us, “I asked Jesus to forgive my mother!” The repercussion that her prayer provoked in us was enormous: a 13-year-old girl taught us what forgiveness is like! This miracle happened thanks to Samar, whose discrete love guided Nabila toward forgiveness of those who had persecuted her.
Roberto and Pasquale

Gregoire’s Work

Once again, in Africa. Once again, moved by a circumstance. Gregoire is inaugurating a new center for the mentally ill in Benin. The situation in the Ivory Coast blocks travel to that country. For the inauguration festivities, Gregoire has invited many people and many authorities. The new center is beautiful; it is located on a piece of land he owns, but the Bishop of Port Novo has already made available another piece of land where, on July 8th, we laid the cornerstone. It is moving and extraordinary that such a man can gather over 700 mentally ill people in the centers of the Ivory Coast, and already here in Awrancou there are 87. But he does not want to be considered the initiator of a new way of caring for the mentally ill in this part of Africa that appears violent. In fact, he affirms that the One who initiates and builds is always God. The celebration and the education begin right here, from the people–from the people who suffer, because African tradition regards the mentally ill as invaded by evil spirits, which have to be neutralized. For this reason, the ill people are tied up and beaten. For this reason, they must fast and are never freed. Gregoire has become renowned. Many people know him, and know that they can entrust their own relatives to his care. He hasn’t a moment’s peace, running here and there, buying, talking, encouraging. He is very different from the indifference, the neglect, and the emptiness that seem to reign in these places. And above all, he prays… His son now regularly attends School of Community in Abidjan with Fr Paolo, our Capuchin friend from Alepé, and other friends. During his last trip to Italy, Gregoire had surgery because in Bouakè he had fractured his heel. Leaning on his crutch, he accompanies me to the airport of Cotonou, the capital of Benin; he asks for my prayers and those of all the friends of the Movement, and asks me to greet Fr Giussani for him. The people’s celebration for the center’s inauguration, with its talks, songs, traditional dances, and food for everyone, springs from a new consideration for man, a new respect, generated by the encounter with Christ of a small, almost insignificant man with a changed heart.
Marco, Udine

The Children
of Cojasca

I e-mailed this thank you note to Simona, the responsible for AVSI projects in East Europe, after I returned home to Italy from a summer month of volunteer work in Romania.
Dear Simona: I’ve been home almost a week now. I’ve seen my family and friends again, but I keep thinking about Cojasca, about the children I met, and the extraordinary people I encountered. In order to feel closer to them, I continue to recount and talk about all of them. The decision to leave for Romania, made suddenly, after failing yet another exam, didn’t seem so inviting at the time, and hearing the comments of relatives and friends on the destination I had chosen made it seem even less so. It was easy to find the courage to contact you, because I didn’t expect a positive response. But when you said yes, I panicked a bit. I really don’t know why I said yes. I’ve always been a timid and quiet person; I’ve always avoided situations in which I would have to expose myself in the least, yet notwithstanding the fact that I was going precisely to do this for the first time in my life, on the eve of my departure, and the day after on the plane, I felt inexplicably calm and tranquil. The first two days I stayed in Bucharest with Ramona. I spent the weekend sending messages and calling anybody and everybody in Italy, looking for a bit of comfort and company, without letting others know I was going through a bit of a crisis, and feeling lonely. Then, Monday, the day came for the departure for the beach with the second group of children. On the bus, I sat in the front, in my place, watching the road without making a peep. Behind me, there were fifty children who every now and then looked at me and laughed among themselves. For two straight hours, I kept asking myself the same question: “What am I doing here?” Suddenly, I heard behind me the voices of two or three children… “Hey, pretty girl?” “Top model?” I turned around and a girl said to me, “You’re beautiful,” and then hid. From that moment on, I don’t know how, I began to speak with her and the children around her. At the beach, they sought me out to play volleyball with them, or to get a laugh out of teaching me Romanian. And so I learned my first words. With their affection and desire to be with me, the children taught me to believe in myself, to jump right in and face every situation. If today I feel more confident and have more faith in myself, I owe it not only to the children, but to Alina as well. The first evening at the sea, to entertain the children, she thought of doing some songs with choreography in Romanian and Italian, and asked me for the latter. For half of the evening I hoped she would forget to make me sing and dance, but then suddenly I heard, “Now Maria will sing for us…” “Okay,” I repeated to myself, “nobody knows you here, so what does it matter if you make a fool of yourself?” So I got up, and in front of fifty children and about ten adults and passersby, I danced and sang at the top of my lungs. This loosened me up definitively, and afterward I could do (and did) anything, and the day after the children sought me out to learn the dance and the words in Italian. The possibility of being in contact with people like Ioana, Alina, Ioana, Cristina, and Diana, as well as with the children, helped clarify my ideas about university and my future but, in particular, Alina helped me the most with this. I was able to see her love, and the different and unique way she faces her work and loves the children, how she cares about their future, and, first of all, that they have one. With her example, Alina was able to show me my road.

The Affirmation
of Another

I am a young man from Trento, and this summer I went to Banja Luka (Bosnia) as a dentist. I was motivated to go by my friendship with my parish priest. One is tempted to go with the expectation of resolving all their problems according to our timetable, our way of doing things, and our projects, but, instead, the first day, Fr Lucio called us to share with them what we are living in that moment. Two local girls were amazed that I had taken two weeks of my holiday to work with Caritas (Care) in Banja Luka. I was educated to live my work as the most concrete and arid aspect of my love for Christ, and to do so within the circumstances, a flesh, a proposal that Fr Lucio made to me. I understood that I shared their needs if I shared the meaning of my life. I returned to my work in Italy with a renewed consciousness. If I am a dentist, it is because of the talent I’ve been given (intelligence, the will to work, and manual dexterity), and if these are used, they bear a lot of fruit. I am grateful for all I’ve received in my life ; as Saint Francis said, give what you have, and you’ll discover that you are rich. In Bosnia, I recited the Angelus in the morning, and I was struck by what Mary said, “Let it be done unto me according to Your word.” Every day, I asked to be the instrument in His hands to accomplish His work. This way, it didn’t matter how much I was able to do (how many patients I could treat), but what I was able to be. You need to learn to look at the people you meet as friends whose life needs meaning and companionship, just like yours. You need to look at a person, and see his ultimate destiny, which is Christ, with a gaze that penetrates more deeply the substance of the person in front of you. My existence is either tension to affirm Another in my life, or to affirm myself (“Look what a good fellow I was, to go to Bosnia and help those poor people.”). I pray that I may just remain faithful to those faces (all the people who educated me), because I’ve intuited that accepting this tension and consciousness is the secret to satisfying my thirst for happiness!
Christian, Gardolo

in the Barracks

Dear Gius: In 1976, I was a reserve officer in a barracks in Milan (the Montello barracks in Piazza Firenze). Though I came from a wonderful family, and had been educated in the faith since early childhood, for some years I had completely abandoned any religious observation. One Monday afternoon, I was serving as orderly officer, when I saw that a soldier on guard duty at the main door had a strange yellow booklet sticking out from his back pocket. The title, The Book of Hours, made me curious, because at that time in the barracks, drugs weren’t common, but pornography was, and The Hours was the title of one of these kinds of magazines. I asked the soldier what that booklet was, and he responded, “It’s a book of prayers, Lieutenant, Sir.” That evening, when we went off duty, we met in my quarters, and after having talked about our experiences, he invited me to recite Vespers with him. When we came to the responsorial psalm, “For me, living is Christ, and death is gain,” I couldn’t hold back the tears, and he whispered, “The Lord has touched your heart!” At that moment, a new story began for me: a little group of soldiers formed, and we met weekly with the community at the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary Crowned in Porta Garibaldi; the Schools of Community; the various friends in Milan, Varese, and Carate… The story went on, with highs and lows, till our roads separated, but we always remained heartfelt friends with “that soldier.” Then, in 1977, when I married, I wanted to have “that special soldier” as my best man. Children came; I left my career in the military and, after a fairly long parenthesis in government work, another flower blossomed from our friendship: in 1990 I became a permanent deacon. Dear Gius, I’ll skip over the other wonders that the Lord has worked and that, probably, He intends to work here, in this little corner of the blessed land of Umbria. I’m writing you all this because “that special soldier” left us suddenly last July 18th. I believe you’ve already been informed, because he was an exceptional person and because he gave all of us a great witness of faith and Christian commitment in every field–family, school, society, and the Movement. His name was Cesarino. I owe this testimony to him as an acknowledgment of all he has meant for me and my family; I owe it to his wife, Adele, and his splendid daughters, to assure them of my affection and closeness forever.
Città di Castello