THE HOPE OF THE WORLD… AT THE UNIVERSITY
by Anna Leonardi
The experience of the CLU, in the stories of three university students, takes on the colors of different lands. Giovanni Cesana in New York, Lioubov Beschastnova in Moscow, and Anthony Usidamen in Lagos, Nigeria, testify to how their lives at their universities, and hence their studies, have been provoked and transformed by the permanent encounter with the Movement.
Giovanni, with a degree in medicine, came to Columbia University for a research project. “After a few months, the possibility opened up to continue the specialization in general surgery that I had begun in Italy. In America, this specialization demands a 110-hour work-week. Every day, wake-up is at 3:30 a.m., and after the “rounds,” you’re in the operating room until 11:00 at night.” Giovanni asked Chris, who had been doing his specialization in that department for three years, how he managed to live. “I don’t have a life.” “Why do you do it?” Giovanni pressed. “I have to finish what I started,” he responded. Giovanni provoked him: “For you, work has become a drug. When you save someone’s life, you feel like a God.” Giovanni explains, “Work becomes the new religion, and the professors its priests. They teach you how you have to sleep, eat, wash, and what drugs you can take if you feel tired or distracted. It seems like the only way out (if we take away Christ) is death. In fact, the statistics reveal that the surgery specialization has the highest suicide rate in America.” In the first months after his arrival in the U.S., Giovanni and his university friends found themselves facing a question when three students, one after the other, threw themselves off the NYU library building. Giovanni relates, “Those of us in CLU asked ourselves how we could tell all our companions that life is positive, that it is beautiful. In America, it’s hard because it seems like everything has already been proposed. Especially in New York. For example, in the subway, there’s a continuous flow of preachers who want to convert you to their vision of the world.” How can one announce Christ in this setting? Giovanni talks about his meeting with Fr. Giussani, when he wanted to put before him, too, the dilemma of whether or not to accept the proposal to specialize in surgery at Colombia. He had described the harsh environment in which he would have to stay for three years, telling him how it would be impossible to live in the Memores Domini house and to participate in the gestures of the community. But Fr. Giussani answered abruptly, “Do it! Life is obedience to reality, because reality is Christ.” Giovanni continues, “The entire life of CLU in New York began again from this sentence; that is, it became obedience, but in a dialogue of comparison, meaning, in a friendship, as I had occasion to understand in that talk with Fr. Giussani.” Giovanni had told him about a Chinese colleague who did not understand some Jews’ negative reactions to Gibson’s film, The Passion. While he was trying to explain it to her, he realized that she knew nothing about Jesus. So, he told her what happened in Palestine 2,000 years ago. When Fr. Giussani heard all this, he asked Giovanni, moved, “But now, is there someone with this Isan who talks to her about Christ?” “And I trembled, because that someone was me. I realized that education isn’t understanding 99.9% of CL, because then the .1% happens to you, and you’re stuck. What supports you is that there is someone with you. This is what CL in America is trying to be.”
For Lioubov, an Eastern Orthodox woman who lives and studies in Moscow, this year has represented a new stage. “My friends and I have tried to live CLU in the form encouraged by the Movement: the common fund, the little vacation, and School of Community. At the Opening Day, I said right away that we were there for Christ, so that the content of our proposal would be clear, even for those there for the first time.” As Lioubov feared, upon hearing this, many students left, “but those who remained, truly remained.” They have been reading The Religious Sense weekly for three years now. “We can’t manage to finish it,” smiles Lioubov, “such is the density of our meetings.” Lioubov relates about the December inauguration of the Library of the Spirit in downtown Moscow (c.f., Traces, Volume 7, No. 1 [January] 2005), and how Fr. Pino came from Italy for the occasion. “I had to convince many of my friends to come to the meeting with him. For them, not knowing him, it was absurd to give up an evening of study. “I bribed them with an invitation to dinner. But then everyone was so struck that they buried him with questions. At the end, nobody cared anymore about the dinner!” Lioubov is the only person living the experience of the Movement at her university. “Alone, you run the risk of losing the meaning of what you do, then you intuit it, and you’re sorry. But I have understood that in order to affirm the meaning of everything, I didn’t have to come up with special gestures [which she couldn’t organize by herself].: It is enough just to be there.” So, during a course in French literature, Lioubov got up her courage and proposed a lecture to the class on Claudel’s The Announcement Made to Mary. “At the beginning, it seemed like the class didn’t follow me, but when I stopped talking, they all seemed happy about the suggestion, so much so that the teacher added the text to the course syllabus. He thanked me for my way of studying, but also added, ‘But, don’t believe too much in all these myths!’ For me, it was an occasion to tell everyone who I am.”
Anthony, a Nigerian, relates how his life was before the encounter with the Movement: “I wasn’t used to following anything; I didn’t think about anything. I just lived as it came. And the culture I live in facilitated this growing up without meaning. When I was a boy, I had a lot of desires, but the negativity all around me made me believe in the impossibility of achieving them. With the Movement, my heart has begun to live again, because I have understood that there is a meaning inherent in all things.” From that moment on, Tony engaged in his studies with all the energy he was capable of, full of the desire to know, certain that even his exams have to do with happiness. At a CLU diaconia, Tony and his friends asked themselves how they could share with others this new way of staying before reality. “We put our creativity into play. We used music and Leopardi’s poetry for public meetings. It wasn’t a project, but the witness to the beauty we have encountered. If it is true for us, then it is true for the whole world.”