Dear Fr. Carrón: Hospitality works miracles. I’ve heard it said, but now I’ve experienced it and am sure, very sure, because I myself am living proof, and because I consider myself truly and without a shadow of a doubt a miracle of hospitality and of welcoming. I’ll tell you all about it. I was born in Milan, and lived there for 37 years. In the environment in which I grew up, I wasn’t allowed to get angry, because it would have thrown everyone into a crisis. I couldn’t freely express my desires, my ideas, myself, in order not to create differences or conflicts. Doing so, I ended up in all my relationships behaving the way I imagined the person in front of me would want me to. This way of living suffocated me, and I dragged along my existence. I reached the point of practically not knowing any more what I liked, what I wanted, what my desires were; I sensed that I would have liked to be happy, but I didn’t understand how. Not knowing what I wanted, the biggest anguish for me was making decisions. When I graduated from classical high school with top scores, I didn’t enroll in Chemistry, my passion, because I was afraid that I wouldn’t succeed, and instead began studying Law, because it was thought easier and, above all, because my father advised me to do so. I was living in continual internal conflict, nurturing hopes and desires that were regularly frustrated. Work, the only thing to which I felt called, was not enough to justify my existence; I wanted much more. I would have liked to get married and have children, but how could that be possible for someone like me, who couldn’t even understand if I truly loved a young man or not, conditioned as I was more by the fear of solitude than by the desire for a true companion? This suffering I bore inside caused me to become sick. Three years of therapy ensued, with no results; no doctor or medicine succeeded in giving me what I had lost, or perhaps had never had: joy, and a reason for living. Then, two angels (yes, two angels: Eva and Tiziana) introduced me to a family that, very simply, proposed that I spend a period of convalescence with them. I accepted, and there, with them, I was reborn, or better, as my friend Fr. Claudio said, there, I was born. Like a child who, full of wonder, opens her eyes wide to the world, I began to understand and feel what my desires were, what I wanted, what I liked. I was amazed and very happy to hear people tell me that we are made for happiness; I believed, as I had been taught for so many years, that happiness was something for those who are in Paradise, and that pursuing it too much was a sign of egotism and sin. At the age of 38, for the first time in my life, I got angry with my parents, with my brothers, and even with my boss at the office, without fearing Lord knows what disastrous consequences. At work, where I never manifested much the fact that I am Catholic, I began to freely say so, and to post Mass announcements and Movement documents on the bulletin board. With the help of my friends, I’m organizing a School of Community at my workplace, and I’ve proposed giving Traces to my friends or colleagues, because I want our experience to enter their homes and, if God so wills, to have new friends who say their yesto life. I’ve become capable of making decisions, small and large, and I take immense pleasure in exercising this capacity of mine to choose, that is, to adhere to what makes me be free. I’ve begun to experience the hundredfold here below. I have bonds that are more than family ones, with the many friends of the community of Crema, where I lived. I can truly say that now I am finally what I have always wanted to be: I’m myself, finally myself. I have learned to recognize what I truly want, and so in friendships, I try to see the positive in everyone I know, but I no longer settle for companionship that does not correspond to me. Thank you, Fr. Giussani. I truly feel you as a father, in my innermost being. Thank you, because through you and the people you have generated, I have finally encountered Christ. Thank you, too, Fr. Carrón; through the Exercises you have become more familiar to me. You have been given to us for our fulfillment. And thanks to you, Fr. Mauro, because I recognize your paternity in what has happened, and happens, to me.
Encounters in Togo
Dear friends: I went with some friends from Togo, a country in West Africa, to the parish of Somaglia, a small town near Lodi, Italy (where the parish priest, Fr. Gianni, has begun to love us), to meet Msgr. Philippe Fanoko Kpodzro. I did not know that I had before me the Archbishop of the capital, Lome, and President of the Episcopal Conference of Togo. I had wanted to meet him simply because my friends from Togo had asked me to accompany them. When these friends told him that we are doing a lot for them, he thanked me for everything we are doing. I replied that we should be the ones to thank him for his service to the Church, and that we are learning from our friends from Togo. I gave him an issue of Traces and a text in French, and the conversation naturally flowed into telling him about the Movement. As often happens, he told me that he knew it well, and that, unfortunately, it is not present in Togo, but that he hoped he would be able to meet it soon. When my friends jokingly told him that I was their head, he told me that being a leader demanded great responsibility. Responding that I was in no way the head, I told him that it was enough for me to follow those whose gaze is fixed on Christ. He said, “Jesus never makes mistakes, and those who follow Him can’t mistake their road.” We took leave of each other, expressing reciprocal gratitude. We left with his blessing, and he left with the desire to be able to meet us soon in his country.
Theresa, Mary Ellen, and I, together with Kathy and Antonio Silva, went to Raleigh to meet Shawn, Joshua’s friend. Shawn met Joshua in prison, and had just been released a week before, after 5 years of incarceration. After Joshua met him, Theresa began to write to Shawn as well. Then, Kathy and Antonio kind of “adopted” him and continued with the correspondence. Saturday was the first time we were meeting him in person. We went to his apartment. When we arrived, he was so happy that he ran to greet us. He’s a 24-year-old kid, full of enthusiasm. He immediately invited us in, and we sat down on the floor, because he didn’t have much furniture yet–his bed had just arrived. Not that he used it much. He said he spent his first night wide-eyed looking at the ceiling because he couldn’t believe it. In addition, he worked night shifts. We asked him if he at least slept some during the day, but he said absolutely not, because he didn’t want to miss anything. Theresa immediately asked him to tell us about his friendship with Joshua. He told us that he was struck by the way Joshua was in the prison dormitory–when they met, forty men slept in bunk beds in a dormitory. He was struck because Joshua spoke about interesting things. So he began staying close to him–actually, physically close. (Joshua told us this the next day, laughing, saying that at one point he had to say, “Enough already, move over!” because he couldn’t even move his arm to write a letter.) Once Shawn was able to peek at what Joshua was reading. It was the first page of The Religious Sense. He said that when he finished reading it a horizon opened up for him. Then he was finally able to get Joshua to loan it to him and he liked it so much that he went to the “spiritual” group he was attending (black magic and witchcraft!) and told everyone, “Enough. From now on we’re reading this book!” The others looked at him, a bit annoyed, and told him he could put his religion book in the “religion book” section. “You don’t understand!” he responded, “This book doesn’t talk about religion; it talks about life! If you want to understand what life is, you have to read this book!” I was very impressed, especially because the night before, Paola and Eliana, her colleague, had been at our house, talking about their experience. Eliana said she had encountered CL because she was struck by The Religious Sense: they were reading the tenth chapter when she first arrived at School of Community. I told this to Shawn, and he answered that he also liked that chapter very much, and in prison he continually tried to look at everything, identifying with everything Fr. Giussani said. “Were you able to?” I asked, amazed. “Yes, because Joshua taught me that even if you’re a prisoner, it doesn’t mean that you’re not free.” He came to live in Raleigh in order to be close to another CL friend, Rob Jones, who will be his sponsor for Catholic instruction and for Baptism. Actually, he said he wasn’t sure whether he’d been baptized already or not. Some time before, he had written Theresa that, in any case, he thought it would be better to do it again, because the first time it didn’t stick, and he wanted Luigi (what he calls Fr. Giussani) to baptize him.
Sara, Washington, DC
The Granddaughters’ Baptism
Dearest Fr. Carrón: Last year in my first grade class, I had a girl who wasn’t baptized, because her parents, wanting to respect her freedom fully, had decided to wait until she could choose for herself one day. They had enrolled her in our school, though, because some friends had spoken highly of it. The child “happened” to be assigned to my class. With her innocent “lack of something,” she reminded me of the presence of Jesus, and renewed in me every morning that benevolent nostalgia that says, “I miss you, Jesus, but thank goodness that I miss you!” So, before entering the classroom, I would pray that the Lord would make my daily work a fertile ground for His handiwork. On the morning of May 12th last year, her father came into the classroom with her because he wanted to speak with me. “You know,” he said, “we wanted to tell you that we can’t wait anymore, after what we’ve seen here. We want to have our two girls baptized on June 22nd, and we wanted to ask you–in agreement with the parish priest–to prepare not only V. but us as well for this event.” Just a few days later, an elderly man met me after class, saying, “I’m V.’s grandfather. I’ve come to thank you because I’ve learned that my granddaughters will be baptized, thanks to you.” “No, I’m not the one you should thank…” “So, I’d like to thank this school.” “No, it’s not even the school.” “I’m a Christian, and I love the Church. You don’t know how much it has distressed me to know that my granddaughters haven’t even been baptized. I tried in every way possible to give my daughter a Christian education. I taught her her prayers; I sent her to catechism, and I brought her to Mass, but then she met a boyfriend who estranged her from the Church and a teacher who told her that God didn’t exist. From then on… It’s been terrible for me! Yesterday, I learned of the Baptism, and that I would be their godfather. I beg you, with patience, a bit at a time, continue doing what you’ve been doing.” “But I didn’t do anything!” “Then tell the directors of the school: I beg you, continue…”
This fall I began my final year of classical high school, and the first day, our philosophy professor began with an overview of this year’s syllabus, including Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. After listening to just the brief summaries of the lines of thought (above all that of Nietzsche, who, to quote the professor, “destroyed the cornerstones of Western thought”), I began to feel a kind of nausea. When I heard that “man creates refuges for himself because he fears the becoming of the panta rei, and so he creates God and all the rest,” I felt my mind vacillating, caught between everything I was sure of up to a moment before, and the abyss of dismay that comes when you begin to ask yourself, “What if they’re right? What if I’m really living a huge collective lie?” In addition, I felt deeply frustrated at the thought that even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to find any good arguments against those theories, except for my experience. I began thumbing through my classmate’s calendar, one of those kinds with lots of quotes, and one of them had the name of Padre Pio. As soon as my eyes fell on the page, a whole series of connections came to mind, and then something in me rebelled against that dark and claustrophobic vision of the world. The experience I’m living is not just an idea, a theory to defend, and, most important, it isn’t limited to the present, but sinks its roots deep in history. It is, as we always say, a fact. So, is it possible that Padre Pio, and thus Saint Francis and all those we call saints, who lived and died throughout history in this certainty of truth, were simply a bunch of nitwits, and nothing more? Can a philosophy, even one built upon the most unassailable logic, be true, even when we feel it not to be so with our whole selves? Is it truly an act of presumption to think we understand the truth better than a philosopher? I also thought of all that I and thousands of other people saw and felt at the Meeting this summer–the testimonies, the exhibits, and all the beautiful things we experienced. If we recognize these things as profoundly true, it is impossible that they can be voided by a simple reasoning, just because it sounds convincing from the point of view of logic.
Mattia, Civitanova Marche
Dearest Fr. Carrón: I’m writing you just as I would write Fr. Giussani, and I want to thank both of you for the way you show us the road of freedom and the truth. I would like to tell you about the last twenty-two days I spent with our foster child of the last 8 months. I am married, with four children. Sonia celebrated her fourth birthday with us. She arrived in October and left again in June. When they told me the judge’s decision that Sonia would have to go live with her mother’s relatives, I felt a terrible, lacerating stab of pain; I hadn’t expected that this child would become such a daughter to me, that I would feel so much her mother. That decision, immediately, corresponded neither to the good nor to the desire of anyone, starting with my little girl, who I could see was so happy with us. I rebelled, and would have liked to act like that prodigal son you spoke of at the Meeting, who, pursuing his own desire for immediate good, picked up and left. Then, I thought right away (the miracle of our companionship) of how Giussani looked at reality and how he always helped us to live it: reality is given, and often it doesn’t correspond to our image of good, but Christ is there, waiting for us. I understood then that not only did I have to accept the judge’s decision, but I had to love it, otherwise it would have been inhuman for everyone, above all for “my” girl. It was like embracing a cross. I grasped onto prayer. I asked everyone to pray, from the Poor Clares to my friends. I prayed, “Lord, if You don’t walk with me, I’m not moving one step!” Then everything happened almost as if by itself. I found myself with an “impossible serenity” that has not abandoned me since; in the evening, I was amazed and grateful for what had happened during the day, for how I managed to be with Sonia and for how she let herself be consoled. How true it is that children breathe as we do: notwithstanding the painful difficulty, Sonia followed me, and I followed the certain hope that Destiny is good for me, as well as for her. My meeting with the new family (the mother’s cousins) was beautiful. I had to like them, and driving to meet them I prayed that I would like them. And even more happened–we liked each other! What a wonderful thing, what a grace… I felt that I was an instrument. What a freedom to feel that I am just an instrument in the hands of God, because everything goes as it should go. The last night, Sonia was crying, and asked me, “Mommy, you’re my Mommy for a while, but are you forever?” I hugged her tightly, “Yes, sweetheart, I am forever.” The next day I brought her to the family house and while she walked away with her load of toil and hope, I had the sensation that even my last prayer had been answered. She didn’t feel abandoned again, but entrusted to those who would continue the road. I spent the month of July reflecting and musing on what had happened. Then, the heights of happiness: a letter from Sonia and her new mother came. “Lately, Sonia talks about you often, but the beautiful thing is that she is certain that you love her forever, and this makes her smile return. … Thank you for what you have transmitted to her, and what you have transmitted to us, too.” This letter was the most recent sign of God’s tenderness for me, and I am certain that such a happy experience was given to me to live so that I would not be afraid to say another yes.
On the Mount
of Olives, Together
It is the day after our CL Opening Day. It is very easy to see the Presence of God in these people... This is indeed the “company that He has generated” (I finally get that). I have seen it before, but my memory is short and I have to live it again and again to really let it sink it. It is times like these that help me realize something very important: it is not because of our perfection that our getting together helps me “feel” a “nirvana-like” Presence of God (and trust me, I never feel a nirvana-like presence of anything). It is precisely because of our brokenness, our different-ness, and, in some cases, our downright peculiarity! That we come together at all is the only proof I need of His presence. He is the one that gathers us in, just as we are. I am sure that some of the early guys felt exactly the same; I can imagine one of them thinking, “Man, these guys are a real pain in the neck. I wish so-and-so weren’t going to the Mount of Olives with us. In fact, why do I have to take so-and-so in my caravan??” (And I admit it, I have my so-and-sos, as do you!) But I want to see Jesus more than I don’t want to be with so-and-so or stand next to him on the Mount of Olives. But if I don’t stand next to “him” I don’t get to stand next to “Him.” If I am going to see Jesus, I have to deal with it because, for some reason, Jesus prefers this guy too...
Esmeralda Negron, Florida