The Gift of Hope
The following is a letter that a teacher wrote to his friends after the suicide of one of his senior-year high school students
Wednesday afternoon, I received a phone call: “Paolo has killed himself.” I couldn’t say anything but a Veni Sancte Spiritus for him. And then a whirlwind of events and thoughts followed. I had given him an oral examination in Latin just the day before. Reality is so raw sometimes. I hurried right away to Paolo’s home with Rita, a colleague of mine. At the hospital, the recitation of the Rosary accompanied the moment of his last breath of life. How deep is the abyss of the heart, I said to myself as, soon after, I looked at the flowering beauty of his face, transfixed by the recent death, and then together with my students I asked myself, “Why?” plastering over my inadequacy the feeble “God only knows, God only knows,” and then, to him, “What have you done, Paolo?” floored by the violence of his gesture, so against God and against life. I left the small room where Paolo lay and met his uncle, who took me by the arm and said to me, “You see, don’t you? Fr. Giuss was right when he made us say, ‘If it weren’t for You, my Christ, I would feel like a finished creature.’” We became friends this way. Yes. Jesus. “An infinite power is needed to be this mercy,” resounded in my ears right away, while my mind’s eye saw this year’s Easter poster. Yes, because an infinite power is needed to ask not, “What have you done?” but, “Do you love me?” The next day, walking toward home with one of his classmates, one of those who had asked me why Paolo had done it, I responded that the question, put in this way, would only lead to the sad rage of an incomprehensible enigma. I told him that perhaps the truer question instead was “What is his destiny?” Or better, “What is my destiny?” The response to what happened is neither a theory about hope nor the titanic force with which one attempts to resist pain or exorcise it, but it is Christ present. Either He is concrete in the concrete history of this life, or we are daydreamers to believe in the resurrection. Without Christ, there is nothing, as was witnessed by my colleagues who hid themselves or who, like some of Paolo’s classmates, already were arguing in exquisite detail about the responsibilities for what had happened. Instead, Christ has surprised me in this period because He is alive in the companionship of the Movement, which makes me “stay” before the reality that is in front of me, even in its rawness, and which made me understand, through the mere fact that “it was there” through the unity with the other teachers of the Movement, that true responsibility is not ascertaining guilt, but being aware that reality, this reality that has touched me, has called me out to convert me, to change my life. “Where are you?” I began to ask Christ from the first moment. Christ is here, and He is truly risen. I have seen Him in what He has brought forth and is bringing forth in these days. Within the cross of this fact, He has planted the seed of a “new beginning,” of His resurrection, which is His staying with us, alive and new every day of life. I told this to the students of Paolo’s class in the three days of shared living with them: we are not alone, and He is here. Not a theory about hope, but “the” Hope, which is His sweet presence. The real is inexorably positive because He is here. And not only this, but He brings about the rebirth of life. The victory of Christ is the Christian people. It is true! It is demonstrated in the inexhaustible thirst for that Presence that is documented in the friendship some of these students have with me, the thirst for a Presence that dries our tears and says, “Don’t weep.” This is hope.
My city’s job-search center organized a work orientation course for people with physical and psychological handicaps and asked me, an interviewer for a firm, to participate in simulated job interviews. An interview with a paraplegic young man with evident vision difficulties came up.
I began with the usual questions, generalities, birth, residence, etc., and then came the painful part, asking about his percentage of disability and membership in protected categories. I continued with questions about studies, specialization courses, and work experience, and discovered that, notwithstanding his problems, he has not given up, and has attended courses and attempted to work. I came to the more personal part about his family and free time, and asked him, “What is the most beautiful thing that has happened in your life?” He answered, “The faith. I have gone through some very difficult times and, without the faith, I wouldn’t have made it.” I pressed further. “Do you belong to some group or parish?” He replied, “I have a friend in Communion and Liberation. I’ve never attended because of my physical difficulties, but through my friend I have learned their way of looking at life and this helps me a great deal.” At the end, I asked, “What’s the reason for your life? What makes you face the struggle to get up every morning?” “Always moving on, improving what I am, and the faith that makes me live.” Giuseppe taught me two things: the greatest contradiction does not halt the prayer for destiny and, in any situation, it is possible to experience the human companionship of Jesus. This founds hope. Life is truly a great adventure.
Studying Far Away from Home
I have four children, all of them musicians. This year, my third son, Emanuele, had to attend his second year of high school far from home, in Pescara, because of the request of his violin teacher, who lives there. When school ended he came home for a few days to rest, but he had to leave again almost right away. Before leaving, he was sad about the separation and the trying work that awaited him. I felt that words would have served little, and so I gave him Vittadini’s article from Traces (no 6, 2005). The following is what he wrote me.
“Dear Mamma: I was thinking about what you said to me but, above all, I was thinking about my future. I was crying because I was sorry to leave you all, and a question arose: “What if violin doesn’t correspond to me? What if, doing all this wearying work, I’m just wasting my time?” I re-read the article and it struck me because it made me become more conscious of what I am doing. I am facing this period of study and “isolation” in a way I never had before, with a reason. The reason is that everything I do, I offer to Our Lady, who is our example and our hope, because she is the one who sees to it that what I am doing will not be in vain, even if one day I am not a violinist. Every moment offered to Our Lady becomes a moment gained for life. I am more aware of myself, of what I am doing. I entrust myself to an Other with the certainty that everything that happens to me is for a good, for my destiny, and that Jesus helps me and is present, and is my life. I hope that this is the right road, also because music is just too beautiful! And it is the way that best expresses my being.”
Every Finish Line
Is a Beginning
Every year, a commission from the school where I teach goes to the prison of San Vittore to do diploma equivalency exams for the prisoners who attend the school. This year, I began by testing a 30-year-old man from Senegal. After the usual few formal questions on a subject matter that doesn’t even exist in that place, that is, physical education, I dismissed him with a banal, “Thank you, you can go now.” But he did not get up from his chair, and after a few moments of silence, said in limited Italian, “You know, Ma’am, my parents wanted to make me marry a girl I didn’t love, so I left, and came to Italy, and started working illegally as a sidewalk merchant, and then what I’m here for happened, but in the meantime I encountered Christianity, and I converted.” As he was pulling a Rosary out of his pocket, he added, “Inside here, you can’t live without this: it’s the only hope.” Other moments passed by while he looked me straight in the eyes and then said, “Would you mind if we said an Our Father together?” I nodded because the words were stuck in my throat, and in front of my Math teacher colleague, the prison guards, and the other prisoners present, sitting one in front of the other at the school desks, we made the sign of the cross and recited the Our Father. Moved and grateful, I tried again to bid him goodbye, extending my hand to shake his, but he pressed, “Do you know that I write poetry? I won first prize in a competition organized among all the prisons of north Italy.” I expressed interest and asked him to recite one for me, so he got up, went to his cell, and returned with his booklet of poems. He read a few of them to me and then added, “Can I give one to you? I’ll write a note inside.” His note said, “Every finish line is a beginning.”
Naming Our Newborn
Dear Father Carron: I am writing to tell you about a story of friendship surrounding the birth of our fifth baby. We had always liked a certain girl’s name, Sabrina. On the day of her birth, after we had announced our new baby’s name to everyone, our good friends Father Michael Carvill, Father Vincent Nagel, and Father Luca Brancolini, along with Franco Soma, our visiting seminarian, came to the hospital to see us. They told my husband that the name was not connected to any saint, nor had any meaning of Christian origin that they were aware of. To my dismay and irritation, Father Vincent asked why we didn’t just name her Mary. Well, I was very angry. Naming my child, I felt, was my privilege, and how dare they come to the hospital and rain on my parade. Nonetheless, what they said got under our skin. My husband and I spoke together the next day about how uneasy we were now with the name we had chosen. These priests were our point of reference and we knew they loved our new daughter’s destiny. The day after her birth, we changed our baby’s name to Mary. I have to tell you, it was one of the most peaceful experiences I have ever had, because in that moment I learned that even my baby’s name is for me. Now Mary is four months old and for these last four months I remember to pray throughout the day to Mother Mary as I work and play with my children.
Tara Sareen, South Walpole, MA
I just came back from work, I was listening to some music, and started reading Traces. I found myself lingering over the article entitled, “Charitable Work is the Law of Being.” It came to my mind the period when, during high school, I used to go to charitable work at the assisted living house for elderly people in my hometown on Sunday afternoons. We were a group of kids, so grateful and glad for that friendship we had met that we wanted to share some of our spare time. I got attached to the Movement through the friendship with Ciro, lived up until I went to college, when a new adventure began. He worked in his grocery shop and used to get up at dawn and go to the market. Whenever I could, I would go help him at the shop, or deliver the groceries to customers with my scooter full of bags between my feet. His relatives were always asking me why I was there working for free instead of hanging out with friends. However, the closest people would say, “These guys even share their sleep.” Now, my own work takes up most of the day. After the Fraternity Retreat in Rimini, I realized how much charity is what I feel as most correspondent, is what is missing the most when work “swallows” me completely or when I complain–and this happens often–because I derive my satisfaction from situations like the success or failure of my professional career. Charity is the only gesture that responds to that sense of lack that Carrón was talking about, the lack of familiarity with the Mystery.
An engineer, Naples
Among the many adolescents I meet every day, I am particularly attached to Giovanni, who dropped out of many schools before enrolling in our course. He is a shy boy, closed, and he seems always to be defending himself, as if he were a fugitive on the run. Yesterday, I took him to his internship. During the car trip, we were silent. The whole space was invaded by his anxiety. I wondered, “What are you asking of me, Giovanni?” And I felt my own anxiety and my own fear. It was a request to embrace his, to carry his fear. But what can I do? Today, what can I say to this very awkward boy? Witness. I feel the anxiety, too, but I am not anxious. I feel the pain, but there is also beauty. It is a face. So if fear is part of life, little by little we must be helped, helped to see, and thus to carry it together. Giovanni, inasmuch as he can, with his weak strength, is attached. He is attached to the people who work together with me. Arriving at the place where some of our students are already doing an internship in information systems, the kids all ran to hug me. But I couldn’t let loose; perhaps I thought it better, more discrete, to be more reserved; I couldn’t get excited because although they were there, so was Giovanni. Perhaps, even for an instant, he would have felt lost, and so I didn’t let him out of my sight. I introduced him to the man in charge, his tutor. Umberto spoke with Giovanni by responding first to me. He was inheriting a relation; I asked him to enter into a relationship. I told him outright, “This is my kid. I am bringing him to you because I care about him.” And while he spoke, so firmly serious yet at the same time open and cordial with regard to this youth so evidently needy, Giovanni wiped his hands on his jeans. He was nervous; he sighed to me, “I’m nervous.” And when I went outside for a smoke, he managed to free himself from Umberto’s explanations. He ran outside, saying, “I’m afraid.” I didn’t know if I should maintain my reserve. I thought, “If I support him too much, he is no longer free and if I don’t support him enough he will fall. If I support him too much, I endanger his freedom; if I don’t support him enough, I endanger his salvation: two goods in a certain way equally precious, because that salvation has an infinite value.” Thus I got back in my car, entrusting him, hoping that he would make it. Then I went back to work. When I got home, I looked at the telephone. There was a missed call. I called back and it was Giovanni. He said that he had held out until 5:30. “You’re great! Until 5:30!” Not, “Why didn’t you stay until 6:00?” Both of us were surprised that he stayed there to struggle until 5:30. That’s what I said to him, and he to me. As soon as I woke up, I felt the need to call him to know whether he was at least going to try to go. It was his first day taking the metro alone, a stranger in the crowd, yet so heroic in his attempt. And yesterday, while I was greeting him, I extended my hand toward his, which was so sweaty because his flesh was pregnant with fear and trembling. I shook his hand. This simple fact moved me, this evidence of a possibility to love even in suffering.
Dear Julian: Just this: thanks! I am infinitely grateful because, cordially and radically one with the charism of Fr. Giussani, you help us and accompany us to do the “work,” as you like to call it, of the human journey, so totally human that it can only be done together with Jesus. I make a lot of mistakes (it seems like more than before!!), but there is something beautiful and true. At the bottom of things, I wish there were a mechanism, that it didn’t always require my “I” to live and that the road I am on would guarantee me. Instead, thanks to the work that you make us do, I “wake up” from this position and I discover that my humanity is a friend to me, that reality is a friend to me! It really is true that “everything works for the good of those who love God!” I send you an embrace.
Let Us Thank God for This Pope,
Who We Desire to Serve with Our All
This is the text of the message that Fr. Julián Carrón, President
of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, sent to all the friends of the Movement, immediately after having been received in audience with the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Palace
of Castel Gandolfo, on the morning of August 26, 2005
Dear friends: Just this morning, I had the grace of being received by the Holy Father, along with Fr. Pino and Giancarlo Cesana. The Pope showed much interest in our experience in all its expressions, particularly the educational aspects. He is also following the Meeting with great interest and, when explicitly requested, Benedict XVI told us to send a warm greeting to all those who took part. Let us thank God for this Pope, whom we want to serve with our whole selves.
August 26, 2005
Fr. Julián Carrón