The Beginning, Fifty Times Over
The continuous jolt of something exceptional

by Carlo Dignola

In Latin, hic means not only “here.” It has a temporal sense; it also means “in this circumstance,” “in this moment,” “here before me.” The pilgrimage to Loreto for the fiftieth anniversary is all in this adverb that Fr Pino adds to the prayer of the Angelus, perhaps to be put back into the Angelus. This is not the “CL Jubilee,” or at least it is not the fortunate half-century of a successful lay association to be celebrated amongst the telegrams. The word on this October 16, 2004, is not “fiftieth,” but “now.”

The House of Nazareth

It’s raining at Loreto. Around Our Lady’s house there are 45,000 people, 600 coaches, thousands of cars (parked miles away, and then everyone trudged up the hill on foot). This house was brought here in 1294 by the “Angeli,” a Greek family from Taranto (not by angels, or winged cherubs, according to a legend deriving from a philological interpretation of their name). The Muslims were entering Jerusalem and the Christians took away the most precious thing they had, the house where Mary had said “yes” to the angel.
Outside Italy, in the seventy countries where CL is present, some of the communities just a handful of people, today similar pilgrimages to Marian shrines–famous and less famous–are taking place. Gyor in Hungary, Manaus in Brazil, Oostaker in Belgium, Plovdiv in Bulgaria, Mount Febe in Cameroon, Lourdes in France. Here at Loreto, it is almost impossible to get into the town, let alone the Basilica. On the altar in the main square, with Fr Carrón and Fr Pino, there are bishops and a cardinal: Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; Archbishop Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; Archbishop Paolo Romero, Apostolic Nuncio in Italy; Archbishop Angelo Comastri, Papal Delegate for Loreto; and other bishops. The President of Italian Catholic Action, Paola Bignardi, sent a message of warm greetings to Fr Giussani; she says that CL and Catholic Action have “the same objectives,” “challenges that can surely not see believers (…) divided or indifferent to each other.” Here, “where even the stones recall ‘what great love the Father has given us’ with the gift of His Son, wonder and thanks invade the heart. In the house of Nazareth, feel our association near you.”
The Basilica is full and you can’t even get into the square. People are watching from the portico of the Apostolic Palace, from the nobles’ balcony. Tens of thousands are following the ceremony from the streets round about on twelve mega-screens. Outside the town walls, the marshals stop us, efficient and inflexible. We are in front of the “Pizzeria Santuario,” but we can’t see a thing from here, neither the Holy House nor the Church. We got up at the crack of dawn, drove for six hours, two hours blocked in the traffic at Bologna. But that’s nothing; some people left the day before. It’s nothing; Descartes traveled here on foot from Venice when he sensed that “cogito, ergo sum” was not invented by him (but the history books forgot to tell us this).

Starting over from the beginning

On the card given out to the pilgrims there is a painting of two poor people with dirty feet kneeling before a pretty dark-haired girl with a naked child in her arms. It is Caravaggio’s painting of the Madonna dei pellegrini. On the back is written, “Oh, Our Lady, it is you who give certainty to our hope!” It is Fr Giussani’s writing. There is already a song in the air; it is as if at least half of what CL has been in these fifty years were all in the song. Fr Pino’s voice intones discretely, with his usual clarity, “Dear friends, in this moment, each of you is brought back to the truth of his being. What would we be were we not to acknowledge the great point in which everything originates?”
Not one word about what has been done in these fifty years, and 2004–or even 2011–seem almost nothing. We recite the Angelus, the trace of that first instant that has traveled across the centuries intact, from mouth to mouth. It is the “paradigm of the nature of Christianity,” Fr Carrón says, and we could wind up here, telling God that we have not learned anything else. It is always like starting from the beginning, from that tiny instant that history has not buried; and “where better to remember it than here, near this house where it happened?”
The wind is blowing today. It sweeps along the streets of Loreto, then leaves the hill and drives down the plain of Musone, caresses the ancient Pontifical Marches, tinted by sun and shadow, then it rises again to sweep the pine-tops of Cònero, bounded to the east by a sapphire sea. The rain pours down; people put on all the coats they have. It’s cold, colder than expected; after standing still here for three hours, you feel it. The umbrellas are not much use; we try to shelter near the wall, but we can’t see the screen from there, we can only hear the voices: “Come, O Creator Spirit…” Suddenly, in a beam of light, to the north we can see Castelfidardo, and Osimo behind it; to the south, Recanati, “our senses with your light inflame…”

An earthly story

The Angel’s words to Mary are like this: a light that splits the darkness of the world, but they remain a mystery, an unknowable depth, like the last horizon that appears and is lost over there, beyond the hill of Leopardi’s Infinito–because, as Fr Giussani says, “To unveil the Mystery means to unveil something that remains a mystery.” And yet, it is as if, for a moment, you can see the tissue of which this mass of molecules that is the world is made, as if you can feel the weave with your fingers. A rainbow forms an arch from the Basilica to the ground, towards the ploughed fields. The wind shakes the loudspeakers, making them sway, distorting the words of the Hail Mary. The story of that girl is a simple one, an earthly story. The aura of that story has remained intact in the Marian songs which, in so many languages–Latin, Spanish, Russian, Irish–bring to the ear the echo of that morning’s total, spousal, revolutionary adherence to Being.
We say the Rosary. At intervals, Nori reads Fr Giussani’s comments, and the Gospel springs to the eyes. “Mary, also a pilgrim, goes to Elizabeth: She walked those 80 miles of mountain road hurriedly. What is born of this morning light is charity.” The simplicity of this prayer of the people gradually rolls out, verse by verse, bead by bead in the heart. It is something refreshing. Giussani once said that if the Christian people has been kept safe, it is thanks to the Rosary. There are dozens of these rosary beads here in the museum, made of paste, of coral, of opal, of Lebanon cedar, carefully preserved along with the paintings of Lotto and of Pomarancio, as if they were masterpieces. At the fourth joyful mystery we are “almost petrified by astonishment” at something that was totally unforeseeable as we traveled, something new.

The “I” at the center

What is CL after fifty years, which everyone here has counted, one by one, like a chain of joyful and sorrowful mysteries, if not this? The Hail Holy Queen says, “After this our exile, show us…” We are all like this, people with no fatherland, packs on our backs, and obstinate children following us, some of them rather fed up with this Movement today. We have come here because we have sensed something important, or we turned up here by chance in this town, because of something we heard, stuck here on a rickety stool, under the rain, outside the walls of the town, on the fringes of this event that has only one center–your “I.” An Irish girl sings Nazareth Morning in her own language, someone in this Italian village hangs his head, moved: that morning is now.
Carrón said so: “What has brought us here, one by one?” Never as a “group,” because you don’t last in a history like this one, unless you are stupid, if it is not for yourself. “It is a love, an attachment that we cannot do without.” Communion and Liberation has existed for fifty years, but Carrón asks, “What fascinates us now?” What drew us “to the point of adhering” has a man’s name, Jesus. “We would have to cancel a whole life, if we were not to say it today. But as we say His name we cannot fail to think of the one who made us know Him in this way.” Then he says the finest word of the day, the only one that speaks of the past, the one that digs into the damp earth and lays a foundation for the future: “Thank you, Fr Giussani! Hear today your children’s cry of gratitude. You were the one who made us know Christianity as an event, and it has been the continuous happening of Christianity as an event that changed our lives, every time you convinced us.” Otherwise, everything could all of a sudden fall apart in our hands or, slowly but inexorably, crumble like dust.

Something new

Fr Giussani had repeated it the day before in the pages of the Corriere della Sera, with the patience of a father. “The beginning of faith is not an abstract culture but something that precedes this: an event. Faith is taking note of something that has happened and continues to happen, of something new.” A group of priests passes, dressed in white. One of them is wearing a Peruvian stole. Fr Paolo is there amongst them–who knows if he is still working in Taipei? They are singing Miraculosa Rainha dos céus, and it makes you think more of “mirar” (look) than of a miracle. The Prelate of Loreto, Msgr Comastri, greets us with affectionate words. Archbishop Rylko reads the message from the Pope, who addresses Fr Giussani as “Dear Monsignor.” During the Mass, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe recalls the words of Novo Millennio Ineunte: “We shall not be saved by a formula, but by a person.” And he comments, “This is the core of the educative and communicative passion of the Christian experience as it is lived and proposed by the Movement.” Another rainbow appears in the sky, higher up.
At the end, Carrón reads a message from Fr Giussani, who never tires of dialoguing with this people of his: “Oh Our Lady, it is you who give certainty to our hope! This is the most important phrase for the whole history of the Church; the whole of Christianity is expressed in it.” Carrón raises his eyes, smiles, and says, “Congratulations, Fr Gius!”–recalling that the previous day was his eighty-second birthday. We conclude with the recitation of the Angelus, and now we understand why.

Hic – Here

Giussani has always said that everything, everything began when, in the seminary, he was astonished for the first time at the prologue of John’s Gospel, which says, “Verbum caro factum est” (“The Word was made flesh”). Here in Loreto, on the front of the altar inside the house of Nazareth, is written “Hic verbum caro factum est” (“The Word was made flesh here”). Perhaps, after fifty years, we begin to glimpse that hic. Not only was the Word made flesh, but it happened right here, in this house where Mary suckled Him, the Mystery. It happened here in Loreto, today; and we get the suspicion that even factum est, (eghéneto in Greek), is not the past tense of the verb.
The ceremony is coming to an end, and people are collecting their backpacks and umbrellas. A portly local vendor with an embroidered waistcoat doesn’t miss his chance. He opens his souvenir stall, winds down the shade and puts out his souvenirs, statues of Our Lady, medals, even Christmas cribs. It almost makes you laugh. We always try to make some moments of life last, but if they don’t happen over again, there is no hope. “Oh Our Lady, it is you who give certainty to our hope!” He looks a bit puzzled; he senses that despite the forty five thousand people, he’ll not sell much this evening.
Renato Farina is right when he writes that perhaps Christianity, and Fr Giussani’s teaching, is all in that “Oh” that is printed on the cards.