A New Beginning

The complete text of the interview with Cardinal Ratzinger for the documentary on the fiftieth anniversary of CL, transmitted by Rai Uno(the main Italian public service television channel) on September 10th. “On one hand, a firm fidelity to the essence of the Catholic Church and, on the other hand, a spontaneity, a freedom that offers new realizations of this faith”

edited by Roberto Fontolan

Your Eminence, what were the circumstances of your first meeting with Communion and Liberation, and what was your impression?
If I am not mistaken, in 1970, along with a group of Frenchmen, amongst whom was Fr De Lubac, and others, like Hans Urs von Balthasar, we had decided to create a new review called Communio, and we were looking for an Italian partner. Balthasar had come to know the young people in Milan belonging to Communion and Liberation, and he told us, “This could be the group that we are looking for.” So we met them and spent a day together. It was an interesting discovery for me; I had never heard of this group until that moment, and I saw young people full of fervor for the faith, quite far from a sclerotic and weary Catholicism, and without the mentality of “protest”–which considers all that was there before the Council as totally superseded–but a faith that was fresh, profound, open and with the joy of being believers, of having found Jesus Christ and His Church. There, I understood that there was a new start, there was really a renewed faith that opens doors to the future.

In the introduction to Massimo Camisasca’s book on the history of the Movement, you quote the method of announcement that Fr Giussani used in the sixties and seventies to develop Gioventù Studentesca (GS–Student Youth). In regard to this, you speak of “a new language and new method of communication.” What were the characteristics of this method of Fr Giussani?
I know this part of the history of the Movement through Fr Camisasca’s book, and I think I understand that what was new for Fr Giussani was that the teaching of religion was not a scholastic discipline like the others taught in school, such as mathematics or geography. It was an encounter with a living reality, with the person of Jesus, in the living reality of the Church, which therefore penetrates the whole of life. It has an intellectual–but not merely intellectual–content, which quite rightly touches other disciplines, a content that throws light on the whole of life. So, Fr Giussani spoke about and discussed not only elements to be learned at school, but his teaching created spaces of common life, of Christian experience. Above all, he was always most attentive to culture because, for Giussani, as far as I have grasped from his insistence on the theme of beauty, human culture is the necessary consequence and the matrix of a lived faith. He therefore touched on the many cultural contexts, from music to art in its various forms, to life lived together. In other words, this discipline of “religion” necessarily regarded a vast ambit that concerns the whole of human life.

Fr Giussani began in 1954. What do these years suggest, these years of a Christian experience that has struck and involved so many and, at times, aroused controversy, in some cases even from the Catholic side?
The cultural contexts before the Council, during the Council, and after the Council were very different. Then, in 1968, the general problematic of Western culture exploded, and the protest against all of the past. Thus, in a context that changed many times, Fr Giussani found continuity, the identity of his intention, which is the identity of the Catholic faith–that is to say, the identity of an encounter with Jesus Christ. Precisely this is a dynamic identity, which enabled him to contextualize this reality of his in ways that were adequate to the changes in the times. It seems to me that the fundamental point for Fr Giussani is that Christianity is not a doctrine, but an event, an encounter with a person, and from this event of an encounter is born a love, a friendship, a culture, a reaction, and an action in the various contexts. In these forty years, the discussions over how to realize Christianity today, how to realize the Second Vatican Council, have necessarily led to controversies and clashes; but something that doesn’t clash with anything is nothing–don’t you agree? These very controversies prove that there was really a position present that was worth defending, worth living. I would speak of an open and living ecclesiality, outside the usual organizations and structures, but totally rooted in the true roots of the Church.

You know the experience of Communion and Liberation well. What does it represent in the life and reality of the Church today? What contribution can it offer?

Naturally, one could “take refuge” in the word “movements,” which is an indicator for interpreting this reality. With Communion and Liberation, a communitarian realization of the faith is born, which , as I have said, does not arise from the existing structures, is not created by an organizational idea on the part of the hierarchy, but is born of an experience of faith, of a renewed encounter with Christ and, thus, we can say, of an impulse that comes ultimately from the Holy Spirit and is inserted as a free reality, open to all in the Church as a whole. And it offers itself as a way of living the Christian faith deeply and in step with the times. A reality like this certainly has precedents in history but, as such, it is new and must naturally look for its place in the context of the Church: on one hand, with the hierarchy, with the parishes, with the basic Church structures; on the other hand, with society. It seems to me that the great contribution of CL comes above all from the fact that it is a movement that carries a great human, theological, but even general culture; a movement that brings a catholic expression of culture to fertilize our present-day culture, and also offers a theology, rethought by a Christological event, faithful to the great constants of the Catholic tradition but renewed in the present-day cultural world and, particularly, in the world of the university. Thus, there is, on one hand, this important element: a firm fidelity to the essence of the Catholic Church, that is to say, to the apostolic and episcopal structure of the Church in communion with the Holy Father, and therefore to the pastors who are the government of the Church; and, on the other hand, a spontaneity, a freedom that offers new realizations of this faith.

Most of all in recent years, Fr Giussani’s thought has aroused wide interest outside Italy, too. Many notice a particular accent, an originality that makes him especially interesting for present-day man. What do you think of this?

The various publications, the Rimini Meeting, other public events, the presence in the universities and in society, in the great problems of the world, all the way from Novosibirsk to Brazil, demonstrate the multiplicity of Communion and Liberation’s contributions, the wide range of these realizations, all rooted in a personal friendship with the Lord. This seems to me the fundamental point: the personal encounter with the Lord, with His Body that is the Church, guarantees on one hand the identity and communion with the whole Catholic Church, but at the same time opens up to widely different initiatives, above all in today’s intellectual world. Today’s intellectual and academic world is a context where Christian faith finds most resistance; although Western intelligence was born of the faith, today it is secularized and seems almost to exclude the fact of the faith. Therefore, the placing of lived faith in today’s intellectual and cultural world, and that of the university, is one of the contributions that in my view are most important and of greatest interest for the universal Church.

You have recently spoken of today’s dramatic historical and cultural context, marked by the opposing tendencies of Western laicism and the integralism emerging in the Islamic world. How do you see the Catholic’s task taking shape before these challenges?

We have to avoid a secularism that excludes faith, that excludes God from public life, and transforms it into a purely subjective factor, and therefore also arbitrary. If God has no public value, if He is not a need for all of us, then He becomes an idea that can be manipulated. So we must oppose this radical secularization. To acknowledge that God has something to say, not only to the individual, but above all to the human community, is a factor of enormous importance. On the other hand, we must not fall into integralism, as at least a part of Islam presents it today. The distinction between the political sphere and the sphere of supernatural faith was born from the words of Jesus Himself who makes a distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. So, right from the start, Christianity makes a distinction between the State–understood as a secular, but not secularist–reality and faith, which is another thing, another level, a superior dimension–the Lord says to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” We have to acknowledge, therefore, the reason common to mankind and its distinction from faith, which respects other religious expressions, too. At the same time, with this just and necessary distinction that frees us from integralism and from mistaken theocracy, we keep reason pointing toward God, opening reason over and over again to God, keeping in mind therefore the great moral and cultural directives that are born from faith and are addressed to all. In this way, we are helped to build a tolerant world, but a world, too, that has a great human and moral responsibility, as we have been shown by God, who gave Himself for us and thus revealed true humanism.

In conclusion, your Eminence, if you had to indicate for CL a horizon of action, of commitment in this context, in this moment of contemporary history, what would you want to stress?

Living, as I do, on the margins of Communion and Liberation, though with great sympathy, the question is very demanding for me. But I would say this: They must simply keep on living above all a very deep faith, a very personalized faith, always rooted in the living body of Christ that is the Church, which guarantees the contemporaneity of Jesus with us. And, living this, they can have a strong enough identity to be able to commit themselves in various activities. Never forget the poor, never forget today’s great social problems, but never forget either today’s intellectual world, which in the end comes to dominate and must not be left to itself, it must not be left without a light to guide it.
What is Cl
Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement founded by Fr Luigi Giussani. Its origins go back to 1954. It was born in the city of Milan and, after spreading quickly throughout Italy, is now present in about seventy countries on every continent.
The essence of the charism given to CL can be indicated by three factors:
- First, the announcement that God has become man (astonishment at it, the reasonableness of it, and enthusiasm for it): “the Word was made flesh and dwells among us.”
- Second, the affirmation that this Man–Jesus of Nazareth, died and risen–is a present event in a “sign” of “communion,” that is to say, the unity of a people guided, as a guarantee, by a living person, ultimately the Bishop of Rome.
- And third, only in God made man, so in His presence and, therefore, only, in some way, through the tangible form of His presence (therefore ultimately only within the life of the Church) can man be more true and mankind be truly more human. St Gregory Nazienzen wrote, “If I weren’t yours, O Christ, I would feel a finished creature.” So it is from His presence that morality and passion for man’s salvation (mission) spring up securely.