Stefano Zecchi, the well known journalist and professor of aesthetics at the State University of Milano, wrote that: “for Don Giussani, loving beauty meant loving a truth that is constructive. Beauty is always a force that proposes, builds and never regresses, is never nihilistic, it has always been an idea of invention and construction of possible worlds”.
To build. During a period of time when everything seems to unravel, what is more necessary than to construct? Don Giussani was a great builder because he loved beauty and sought it out in every aspect of reality and in the depths of every expression of human creativity: from art, to music to literature. This search for beauty was the ideal that moved all of his actions, so that he would capture the attention of whomever he met and so invite them to participate in the movement directed towards the building of the kingdom of God. He was a great educator because he invited us to participate in this inexhaustible search. In order to educate, to construct, to bear fruit in life, it is necessary to live in light of that virtue, which Charles Peguy described as being the “faith that God prefers”: in order to educate, in order to build it is necessary to have hope. Our goal in life is to collaborate in the construction of the kingdom of God, and it is only an ideal so great which gives dignity to our being priests, to our being missionaries, to our being Christians -with the awareness that, ultimately, it is not our efforts that construct reality and that recreate it continuously.
As Pope Francis said recently, the greatest of Jesus’ miracles is that of “making all things new: this is what he does for my life, for your life and for our lives. Making all things new. That which He makes new in our lives is the motive of our hope. Christ who makes new all of the marvelous realities of creation is the motive of our hope. And this hope does not delude because He is faithful and cannot deny Himself. This is the virtue of hope”.
Cardinal Ratzinger once said: “The promise of hope is a gift that has been already given in a certain way, and that we wait to receive from Him alone who can truly give it”. The pages that follow hope to bear witness to how our life is knitted with the awaiting of this gift and how hope can flourish within even the most adverse and diverse of life’s circumstances. Finally, how it educates us to the search for beauty, that towards which we are all destined.
I met don Giussani during my first year at the Catholic University of Milan. Every Tuesday and Wednesday he would teach Introduction to Theology in a large hall full of students. While participating in these lectures, I often had the sensation of being in front of one of the great saints that my parents had told me about. I would think of don Bosco for example. Giussani incarnated the Christian teachings that I learned while I was little and gave them new life. His teaching linked what he taught with the origin of Christianity, in this way making Christ present. I began consciously intuiting the living character of the Tradition of the Church: a message passed down from the first encounter between Jesus and the first disciples that had arrived all the way to our generation and made a claim on our young lives.
The encounter with don Giussani was the most important fact in my life. The education that I received from him brought together everything that I had previously received up to that point, and allowed it to develop in a new way. He made it possible for the seeds that my parents and other teachers had sown, those who had accompanied me up until that point, to remain as active leaven for my path. He corrected that which was ambiguous or limited in me and he encouraged me towards new depths. Altogether he united my life by proposing that the faith be its true center.
When the Easter poster for Communion and Liberation was published in 1988, I was in the second year of a bachelor’s in philosophy. Below the image of Jesus from the Sistine Chapel, there was printed a passage from The dialogue with the Antichrist by Vladmir Solov’ev. In this scene, the Emperor, who had reunited the world under his power, asks the few remaining Christians what kept them linked to their creed: “Tell me then yourselves, O Christians, abandoned by the majority of your brothers and leaders, what is it that you hold most dear in Christianity?” The text continues with the response of the Starez John: “What we hold most dear in Christianity is Christ himself. He himself and everything else that comes from him, since we know that the total fullness of the divinity dwells corporally in Him.”
In that moment I became aware that I could repeat with all of myself the same response as the Starez. His words embodied the reality and the concreteness of my daily experience. Thanks to the encounter with don Giussani, saying that what I hold most dear was Christ, for me meant that I loved more than anything else is the company of friends with whom I shared the experience of the movement Communion and Liberation. In this company the great reality of the Church was made present. Don Giussani invited us in those years to affirm the identification between the material fragility of those faces, which made up our friendship, and Christ himself. This discovery communicated to me light and certainty, opening up wide my faith to the world and to history.
Don Giussani touched and directed towards what is good the lives of thousands of people in a similar way, announcing the living Christ, showing us the unifying force of the Spirit, making us fall in love with the beauty of the Church, teaching us to pray, opening our ears to the cry that rises from the heart of every man, and thrusting us to bear witness to the faith to whomever we meet.
photo: Copyright Fraternità di CL
The encounter with Fr. Giussani was the most decisive event that opened my mind and my heart to the horizons of the world and the Church. If I had to summarize in short the reason for the great gratitude for him, I would say: he made me fall in love with Christ and the Church. He did not present me a God closed off in an unapproachable past. He showed me Christ present in the communion of those who allow themselves to be reached by Him. He opened with force my reserved and quiet boyhood to the knowledge of man, art, music and poetry. He taught me what it means to accompany people, to help them to grow and flourish, without ever spearing them the path. In him I saw the possibility to value everything and everyone in their diversity. He filled me with curiosity for everything, because he filled me with the curiosity for Christ. He, who was such a great communicator, transmitted to me the passion for personal relationships and the urgency for everyone to know Jesus: the only true response to the infinite thirst that dwells in the heart of every man. Fr. Giussani never stopped quenching that thirst in those close to him.
If someone wants to know who Fr. Giussani was, they should read his writings, study his life, but together with these, they should above all look at what he has left behind, and continues living among us today, that which he gave birth to: the life of the movement in its many expressions. Giussani still moves many people today, a countless number of whom have never had the opportunity to meet him directly. How is this possible? What permits Fr. Giussani to continue living?
He entrusted himself to the Spirit of God: that which from him was born, has blossomed and grown from his obedience to Christ. Only by obeying God and entering into his will, can we ourselves enter into the secret of a life which does not die. Only in this way can our works and our life bear fruit that will remain and generate life in others. Fr. Giussani is a luminous testimony of all of this.
I saw that his solid faith was the only true light to comprehend all of reality, to learn to be obedient to God and to enter the life of Christ. This is the most profound reason for which we can affirm that Fr. Giussani still lives: because he let himself be taken by Christ who is the living one (Rev 1,18).
Photo: Msgr. Camisasca with Fr. Giussani, on “Maggiore” Lake (Italy), in 1990.
“Christ the King Boston High School.” “Hello, may I speak with Salve Fr. Medina?” “I’m sorry, but he’s in class now.” “OK, I’ll call back tomorrow.” The next day: “Christ the King Boston High School.” “Hello, is Fr. Medina available?” “I’m sorry, he’s celebrating Mass…”
Science and faith, yes. But it is only a problem of method: you need to call him directly on his extension. After several attempts, he respondes: “Hello friend, how are you? An interview on faith and science? Good, I have something to say.”
José Medina received his degree in Civil Engineering at Madrid, was later ordained a priest at Rome, and today is principle of a high school in Boston. For many years he taught physics. Sì, potrebbe avere qualcosa da raccontare sul tema di questo mese.
“When I became a priest, fr. Massimo Camisasca sent me to America and said to me: I think you should be a professor, but see what you think. At the time I had no great desire to continue studying, but I trusted Don Massimo’s words and sought to build some relationships in the world of education. Decisive at that time was my meeting with David Schindler. His lectures, besides rekindling in me the desire to study, put me in touch with various authors, in particular von Balthasar, who conveyed to me a striking intuition.”
What is the intuition that you are speaking of?
That the truth can never be exhausted, comprehended, grasped entirely. This struck me very deeply. This, moreover, is an intuition that is very common among scientists, although not in popular science, nella divulgazione. An example would be the force of gravity. It is said: objects fall because there is gravity. This is not true! The theory is not the reason why things fall. The reason why things fall is a mystery. We don’t know why they fall. The cause of motion is, in its deepest sense, unknown. Gravity is a great mystery: we know that it exists, but we don’t know why it exists. Another example would be entropy. Thermodynamics shows us that nature tends to disorder, not towards order. That it has a destructive capability, and never constructive. And so, where does the order come from? How does one explain this opposition?
So, in teaching science, the most important thing to bear in mind is that every theory describes, but does not explain. Every science, therefore, has an aspect that is mysterious.
Isn’t this just a question of semantics?
Every scientist must be very precise in the choice of the words which he uses. Using incorrect words, one risks impoverishing reality. A reduction is necessary in order to formulate a theory; but it must always be accompanied by the awareness that reality itself is greater. When a Newton depicts a world without air, it is useful, because it helps to understand; but it can give the illusion that we understand everything, and this is not the case. There is, however, a person through whom we can understand all this better.
Who is this person?
Albert Einstein. His greatness was that of questioning what had been considered unquestionable, such as time and space. He broke the schema according to which time and space are absolute. He, too, then ran the risk of becoming a slave to his reduction: to explain the expansion of the universe, which could not be deduced from his theory, he introduced a constant which made his numbers work. But at the end of his life he realized that he was mistaken. Einstein is the greatest example of openness in a scientist to the mystery. He is the most religious scientist who ever existed.
What do yo umean by openness of science to the mystery?
Science today is reduced to technology, and thus to power. To ways of creating things, or for using them better. But the original position of the scientist is not this: it is that of a person moved by reality. It is a position of contemplation, a virginal attitude. No one more than Einstein expressed this being moved, this love for reality just as it is. It is a matter of knowing reality ever more deeply, without the pretense of possessing it. The problems arise when science (but also philosophy, theology…) is treated as power, and not as being moved by the real.
Since science is this movement, then faith and reason, theology and science are not opposed to one another. The big bang and creation speak to us of the same thing, though in different language. The very dogmas are an understanding of what is man before the mystery. The problem is that science understood as power does not accept the accompaniment of theology. It could in fact accept theology as a friend with who seeks to understand together the reality with which both are faced. In their genuine essence, they are in dialogue: they each seek greater understanding and should help one another, not wanting to be more powerful than each other or proving the errors of the other. Faith and science walk together in a progressive understanding of the knowledge of things.
A beautiful image…
It is a beautiful challenge. But in it science must recognize its inability to explain the why, the ultimate reason for things. It is like an ultimate limit, which some scientists reject. And in doing so they reduce reality to their explanations.
Please sum up three basic principles to remember.
One: the way words are used is fundamental. One must learn to use words correctly.
Two: study is contemplation before the mystery of reality.
photo: The material around SN 1987A
Is the world the result of chance? As a scientist, I can easily view it as the extraordinary development of a blind principle, a winner-take-all contest among the various beings for light and resources. This is a reading of things which, on the basis of purely immanent and material principles, I cannot deny.
Not satisfied with this “explanation,” some speak of an anthropic principle, which focuses on the earth’s unity and the extraordinary coincidence of factors which make possible human life. Among these factors are the material constants, which, had they differed by even the slightest degree, would not have been able to generate the stability of temperature and the abundance of atomic connections which produce carbon, necessary for all forms of life that we know. Certainly one can pile up evidence that the earth is a special place. But here too, this evidence does not require the conclusion that the earth is the work of a good creator.
There are experiences, too, which suggest that everything is not just matter and energy: complex experiences, such as love, or conscience, or freedom. If everything were matter, where would freedom reside? In the brain or in the heart? In the liver? No one has been able to say. Even the question itself seems a contradiction, since to speak of freedom is to speak of something immaterial which nonetheless acts on matter, such as my fingers which are now typing. Some say that freedom or conscience are “emergent” phenomena: if you put together enough neurons, at a certain point they become capable of watching themselves in action. This seems a bit like sweeping the dust under the rug: you no longer see the problem, but it’s still there all the same.
Once a scientist said to me that freedom is an illusion. I responded by dousing him with my glass of water – to which he replied that this too was an action determined by my culture and my genes, and that I had not done it freely…
This example brings me to my point. In the final analysis there are only a few basic paths for interpreting reality. My act of faith is to believe in the unity of the real. One could also believe in the ultimate irrationality of everything, or that all is a projection of one’s own mind. These seem inelegant paths, however, which lack seriousness, especially when we observe the extraordinary rationality of the world. Nonetheless, all of these are acts of faith.
It is curious that reality can be interpreted in various ways and that, if one confines himself to particulars, many things can be explained in a purely materialistic manner. Indeed it is characteristic of God not to interfere with our interpretation. The creator does not force himself on our understanding, nor does he oblige us to acknowledge him – a style we also notice in the parables. Jesus offered himself to each person’s freedom, without compelling them with ironclad reasons. And even to the explicit question, “Are you the Christ?,” he responded mysteriously. He wants us to cling to him with our whole selves, neither as slaves obligated by His will, nor as intellectual slaves, constrained by a syllogism which leaves out the heart.
foto Juan Fco. Marrero
The Holy Father has named .
Below is the letter sent by Msgr. Camisasca to the members of the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo.
To all of the members of the Fraternity of St. Charles
This morning the Holy See announced that the Holy Father Benedict XVI wished to appoint me bishop of Reggio Emilia – Guastalla, thereby joining me to the College of the successors of the Apostles.
It is a decision that honors me, but especially one that honors our Fraternity.
The close bonds of affection and vocation which exist between me and all of you require that I say something more to you. I would have desired to remain with you always, occupied wholly and only with all of you. Not only have I done nothing to pursue other tasks, but I have done everything I could to avoid them – to the point of expressing to my highest Superiors my wish to continue to serve the Church by serving your lives. In the end, I have placed myself under the will of the Holy Father.
Certainly, the practical forms of our relationship will now change, but nothing can remove my fatherhood towards you. And this will remain so, while taking nothing away from the new people that is now entrusted to me. We know from our experience that love can, by the Spirit’s gift, spread itself without diminishing.
Speaking with the confidence which I can allow myself with you, I do not hide from you that, as the day of my episcopal consecration draws near, I have experienced moments of dismay. To leave those who have lived with me for many years in an intense bond of shared responsibility, to leave each of you, to leave the daily rapport with the seminarians, to live in a new city, to face new responsibilities… all of this has been a source of great pain for me. In the end I have abandoned myself to the will of God and have regained peace, placing myself in the arms of the mother of God, Mary most holy.
I thank each of you for the witness of obedience that you have given me during these twenty-seven years. Above all for the intense communion that we have lived, both in the many happy hours, and in the times of trial. I would like to mention many names, indeed the names of all of you.
Allow me here to simply mention Gianluca Attanasio and Paolo Sottopietra, who have been my two closest friends and invaluable collaborators during these last twenty years. With them I also remember Msgr. Paolo Pezzi, now archbishop of Moscow, the first bishop from the ranks of our Fraternity.
I am certain that your prayers for me will not be wanting, nor the help from heaven of our holy patrons and that of Fr. Giussani. I will have much need of them.
I hope to see you soon, both at my episcopal consecration and at my entrance into the Diocese – and then to receive you personally when, passing through what will by then be my new city, you wish to visit me.
I know already that I have your promise, indeed your desire, to love and obey my successor and his collaborators, just as you have done with me.
God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Phil 1,8).
One by one, I embrace you in the Lord, who is our peace.
don Massimo Camisasca
Rome, 29 September 2012
Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels
Nature, if I look at it with an open mind, a patient heart and a passionate spirit, kindles a question inside of me. The contemplation of this great and terrible force puts us on the edge of a hidden mystery and fills us with a question: “Who are you?”.
Already when I was three or four years old, and my family lived in the city, I looked out the window at the trees in the courtyard and watched the shadows swaying, shaken by the night wind. They filled me with a sense of wonder and terror. A few months after, we moved into a small village, situated in the heart of a forest of tall trees. Once, on a cold and windy day, while my sister and I were walking in the woods, she stopped me and said: “Listen”. Then I heard the deep creaking, almost moaning, of the gigantic trunks that leaned almost imperceptibly in the wind. “They are talking to us,” she continued. I never thought that the trees were strange monsters speaking in code. I understood that they were the active signs of a mystery that was making itself known to us through them.
Certainly nature does not show us only a benevolent face. I will always remember a dialogue I had with a family that had lived on the slopes of Mount St. Helens, a volcano that became active again in 1980. They did not want to talk about that catastrophe, and they told me that they could not stand hearing platitudes about beautiful and kind nature. That destructive power inspired awe, but certainly not good feelings.
Still, that same power of creating and renewing life also speaks to us from an unstoppable positive and imaginative force. For five summers I worked as a teacher in a Catholic summer camp. How easy it was to speak of God, as we watched the clouds of stars in the sky after a long day of exploring the river, or admiring the great blue heron that glided over us, or after having had a close encounter with a bear, surprised to bump into our sleeping bags.
Once, during a walk with a girl, I was taken aback. “Why must you always bring God into it when you talk about nature? Why can’t you just see the trees as trees?” she asked harshly. I did not know what to say.
Today I would say that the mystery is the essence of the appeal of nature. It makes us want to know it and understand it, giving us a kind of nostalgia for its face, that it reveal itself and reassure us. Today like yesterday, when I close myself in my house to escape the icy wind that howls outside, there I can still hear a voice, and the question still arises: “Who are you?”.
To introduce us to the profound meaning of what happens to you today and in reflex to us, let us place ourselves on the same wavelength of the question that Andrew and John directed to Jesus: Master, where do you live? (Jn 1.38).
As well as this evening we also ask: “Where do you live?”. To be able to stay with Him, we must know where he lives. Your “yes” today is placed on the path that you are completing here in the seminary, a path in which you learn where Jesus lives and how to stay with him. To know Jesus, to know Him interiorly, profoundly, to experience him constitutes the fullness of our existence.
The question of the two future apostles responds to a question of Jesus, who asks them: what are you looking for? (Jn 1.38). We too are asked this evening by Jesus whether we really seek him. We too respond: “yes, we want to find you, we want to stay with you, to learn from your voice the wisdom which guides and governs the world, to learn from your heart the charity which heals the wounds and makes possible unity”.
“Where do you live?” is a question which makes one immediately think of a home. To stay with you, we must come to your house. The theme of the house runs the course of the Old Testament. To give a house to God was the dream of David, the realization of Salomon and the project of renewal following the exile.
The psalms remind us: The one thing I ask to the Lord, this alone I seek: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to taste the sweetness of the Lord and admire his sanctuary (Psalm 26.4); Blessed is he who lives in your house: always sings your praises (Psalm 83.5); Lord, I love the house where you dwell and the place where your glory dwells (Psalm 25.8); for what joy when I said to myself: let us go to the house of the Lord (Psalm 121.1); We will quench ourselves of the goods of your house, of the holiness of your temple (Psalm 64.5).
To you as well this evening you are being given a house. This house in which you have lived these past few years is revealed in this liturgical gesture as being the house that God has assigned you forever. On the depth with which you enter this house depends the good and happiness of your life.
To enter this house certainly means getting to know the people which make it up, recognizing the profound links that make us one body. Above all the discovery of the reasons which generated this house, the motives through which God willed and follows our story with paternal benediction.
A recent translation of the Bible translates the question of the apostles: where do you dwell? This expression brings us to a more profound consideration of the story told in the Gospel. Through the question of the dwelling, the apostles want to discover what is the secret and profound place in which Jesus lives, the place in which his heart reposes and is nourished, where he remains. At the same time this point inaugurates his public life, the long and frenetic itinerary of the journey which will bring him to the village of Judah, to Galilee and to Samaria, Jesus constantly remains near the Father. One cannot go if there is not, at the same time, a place where one remains. He came from very far away, he is the eternal Word of God that has become man, but always remaining near the Father. It is here where he would like to bring his own, it is here where he would like to bring us.
To go to the Father we must become one with him. Indeed he said: Who sees me, sees the Father (cfr. Jn 12.45). To know the Father, we must know him. To remain in the Father we must remain in Him. For this reason the Gospel of John, which opens with this revelation that Jesus makes to us of the place in which he remains, will close, in the fifteenth chapter, with an insistent reminder to remain. In seven verses the verb is repeated nine times.
We discover in this way the more profound and true meaning of our house: it does not exist to close ourselves in it, but instead to open us to always new dimensions of the life of the Father. Whoever is faithful in little will receive much. Whoever embraces the humble dimensions, which are sometimes scandalous for their weakness and poverty, of our human companionship, will be guided to experience God, to know God, He who we cannot contain and which our mind cannot measure.
This, in the end, is the truest secret of the celebration this evening: through daily and apparently banal things, we are guided towards profound and abundant joy.
I wish to each one of you to live and to renew each day this experience: within the house of men, lives the house of the Father, in which you will live forever. Amen.
This is the fifth time I have come to Siberia to visit our house. The first time was in 2007, shortly after Paolo Pezzi’s ordination in the Episcopal Cathedral in Moscow. Since then I have returned each year in October. Alfredo Fecondo, a philosopher from Abruzzo and Francesco Bertolina, a mountain spirit transplanted to these high Valtellina plains.
I never take this leap into a different world that requires me to visit a distant home for granted. Siberia is always a special challenge, and knows how to catch me off guard. Here, time flows at a different speed. When you arrive, you must be ready to slow down, like when you are suddenly in front of a wall of cars lined up on the highway. Accepting that you must put the brakes on, and quickly, is the only way to understand and to be immersed in this reality.
A far away home
Novosibirsk is a barrier of cold that imprisons people in their homes for many months a year, which reduces the willingness of initiative to the bare minimum. It is a city of one million and half people. The members of our group who live here know maybe a hundred people and can count their friends on the fingers of one hand or a little more. It takes a long time to feel at home here.
We are in the former Soviet Union. The barrier to overcome is not only that of the temperature but also the invisible barrier of a bureaucracy that reminds one of the exact measure of one’s insignificance. “One could say, with Milosz, that if we are here it is thanks to the powerful” says our philosopher, smiling from behind a plate of spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and a lot of red pepper. “We are all in debt, and by definition out of place. If we make good, however, we can stay.”
The distance between Novosibirsk and Italy, even more than geographical, is psychological. It is the distance of exile, of the deportation experienced by millions of unhappy people under the Tsars and under Stalin.
For all these reasons, “Novo”, as the Italians familiarly call the Siberian city, is a place where one goes only if on is sent. “We feel that we are sent. We need to hear it every day,” Alfredo explains. This is the reason that I travel to visit the houses. I want to strengthen our missionaries’ link with the roots, that is, with the communion that sends them to the ends of the earth. I am going there to stay with them, and I am going there to repeat the words that root us all together in the certainty of the most crucial links that we have, those that arise from faith and vocation. One cannot, in fact, give hope to anyone, without living in hope and certainty.
When I arrive here, I always have to force myself not to count, not to measure. I have to accept that things are the way they were. Only then do I again find the path to understanding that the logic by which I judge things is different, it is always another thing, one of the pure gratuity of a presence.
Perhaps this is why God has called Francesco Bertonlina here. “He can drive two hundred kilometers to go to a place where only two old ladies live,” Bishop Joseph Werth said to me, “And he does so as if it were easy. He’s a good priest.” What seems like a waste, an unreasonable investment of time and energy actually pushes my eyes to see the true utility of it. So, slowly, things are revealed that at first glance one does not see.
A cry in the university…
Fecondo’s work at the university of Akadem Gorodok, slowly emerges while I listen to his stories. Fec, as his friends call him, studied in the Philosophy Department to get a doctoral degree. But what will he do with it? “I won’t tell you what I’ll do with it. I’ll tell you what I see now. I see that I’m entering their atheistic world, into the way they think, into the mindset in which they are formed. Here, communism has left behind only a desperate nihilism”.
One day his thesis advisor, sitting in his office, asked him gravely: “Why are you here?”. “They know who we are,” Fec says. “So I told him the truth: ‘You know…I am a Catholic priest’. I saw him jump in his seat. It seemed like a spontaneous reaction, as though he did not expect it. From that moment, a challenging relationship began. There were still warnings in the old style, when I would say a few words too many in front of the students, but underneath it all, there was a relationship of respect. A few days ago, suddenly, he said: ‘In the future, you could work on the area of ancient Rome’. This was an opening that I had not been expecting”. Among the professors of the department, the dominant mindset is still Marxist: materialism, even its psychoanalytic version. “Deep down, they think that history, not Marx, was wrong!” Fec smiles. “I have a polite relationship with many of my colleagues, however. They ask me questions, and listen to me. They are interested in the Greeks. They hate Plato, it is true, for his openness to the transcendent, “but also because he said that atheists should be put in jail,” Fec adds, laughing. “They study Democritus.” Dp they look to his theory of atoms for the reasons for a materialistic hope they feel betrayed by? “One day a colleague of mine asked me, seriously: ‘Why do you think Epicureanism ended?’. The question had a hidden implication: that it was Christianity’s fault! So I said: ‘I think it ended by itself because it did not have sufficient internal push to last’”. Fec reflects a little, saying “But there is a cry in these people! They are searching for something”.
…and in the southern villages
Francesco also told me about this cry, the cry of the many desperate people that he meets, the suicides and homicides, the abandoned women, the brothers born each to a different father who then disappeared forever, and the men drowning in alcohol. “Husbands are often shadows. Even when they are there, you see only their shadow,” the serious mountaineer joked. The land of the southern villages of Novo is black like the coal it contains in its bowels, and like the desolation of hearts, where the ice is not only outside, but also in.
For several months, Francesco has been working with Father Viktor, a priest of the Diocese of Novosibirsk, fresh from studying in Rome, who the bishop instructed him to help. Together they try to overcome the bureaucracy of the provincial districts of the South and to register the Catholic communities in new villages. Perhaps they will even be able to build a new church in the capital of the province in which they reside. This new aid is of great comfort to Francesco. Here solitude is a faithful companion.
Sitting in front of me, he talks incessantly, like a raging torrent. “I met a twenty year old girl from the villages, who now lives here in Novo, not far from our house. She had a brother from another father. This boy had been in prison. Here, if you end up in prison one time, life gets tough, nobody will offer you a job, so he was jailed again. I knew when he would come out again and I had agreed with his sister to go and meet him. I know that I cannot solve these people’s problems, I just wanted to understand the situation and perhaps help in some way. Maybe only by comforting them. Once he was freed, however, he almost immediately went to live in another province, and so we never met. Then the phone call came a few weeks ago from his grandmother. She told me, crying, that he had hung himself”. Francesco also cries as he says this. “I cannot tell the story without reliving it,” he says. “I was so sorry! Sometimes I think about the great gift that the presence of a priest is for these people. Certainly not even I realize it often. And sometimes, before the mystery of the fact that I cannot reach them, I ask: ‘Who are you, O God? Who are you?’”. He pauses. Then he says: “It’s the same question, I think, that St. Francis asked himself.”
The name comes from an island in southern Maryland that we visited during one of our camping trips: St. Clement Island. Here we found a small museum, with some plaques recounting the experiences of the first Catholic pilgrims: having fled England, they intended to land on this shore – Maryland, the “land of Mary” – but they wanted to debark on the day of the Annunciation. They waited in their ships for a few days, so they would arrive on March 25. This impressed us so much that we baptized our little group, just beginning, the “Knights of St. Clement.”
We have our meetings on Fridays. At the beginning we met after school: we began with a snack, then we had a discussion, and we finished with some songs and games. This program has remained unchanged: what has changed is the relationship of friendship among the Knights, now established and deepening.
The discovery of song
On our last camping trip, last June after school was out, there were about 40 boys and girls from the middle school, along with 5 adults. We planned the days together, dividing up the tasks (cooking, games, activities). When we arrived at the campground, the young people began to take notes on what happened and in the evening, around the campfire, they did skits parodying the day. And not just the extroverts, but even some who found it difficult even to say their name, opened right up in such a beautiful atmosphere of friendship, to everyone’s surprise.
A boy from GS (from the high school) had brought his guitar. He organized the songs and worked with the young people from the middle school, even correcting them when necessary. When we began to sing, many wanted nothing to do with it. He burst out: “When I was your age, I hated to sing too – it seemed like something for little kids. Then, listening to others, I discovered a beauty I had never known before, and from then on I have not only begun to sing, but also to play the guitar.” He had challenged them, and they were taken aback – and attracted – by that boy. They stayed to listen to him, and their attitude changed.
Another surprise was the charity among them: whatever was helpful – going to get water or wood, starting the fire or cleaning up the campground – they were always willing. Perhaps the most interesting thing, however, even more so than this willingness, was to look at and judge the day with the criterion that what happens, does not happen by chance – as our “rule” teaches.
The Friday rule
In 2007 I happened to read the summary of a conversation of Julián Carrón with some of the leaders of CL. I was deeply touched by it, and tried to communicate it in simple terms to the Knights. So, I formulated a rule, with three points: “1) The Lord is proposing something great to you now. 2) If you see it, say it or write it down. 3) If you don’t see it, say a Memorare so that you would.”
We began to ask, among ourselves, if something had struck us during the week; in the first meetings little or nothing came forth, in fact the kids found it difficult to remember what had happened either in school or afterwards. After a few months, some Knights began to tell about something that had happened to them, trying to explain it. One of the first examples was a girl who, referring to a professor’s beautiful lecture which had enthralled many of them, said: “Look, this is Jesus who wants to say something to me.”
Since then, the rule has become the format for our Friday meeting. We begin with a prayer (a Glory Be or the Memorare) and we ask the saints – and Fr. Giussani – to help us to be together. We also pray at the end of the meeting, but for particular intentions: for someone who is sick, or looking for work, or for a friend whose family is having difficulties. At this point they are very attentive. They see the connection between what the Lord is doing and what is happening in their lives. The situations come to light, whereas before it was as though they were invisible.
In this way, the Memorare has become a looking more deeply at those around us, to perceive their needs (economic, physical, spiritual), and asking the Blessed Mother to help them and ourselves.
From the rule came also the “Promise”: to say a Memorare every day and to do an act of charity, either at home or at school. This is bearing very beautiful fruit: a “knight,” for example, for the first time asked his mother, “can I help you?” The parents themselves have been amazed: when they come to pick up their kids (we usually wait for them at the end of the day and take them to a nearby parish), they stop to speak with us, especially the moms. They tell us of the change in their children: they don’t fight any more, they help around the house, they begin to open their eyes to what is happening around them.
The newness of repetition
I repeat the rule every Friday, especially after the Promise, and I see that everyone has taken it seriously. Of course, someone might forget about it. But bringing it back to their attention every week is always a chance to begin again.
This is how I discovered the importance of repetition (at that age especially, but also later). We meet, and we know why we are meeting: it is not just to play together. And it is no longer something off the cuff: if, at the beginning, almost no one remembered what had happened during the week, now they begin to look at their week with careful attention: “Monday, this happened to me … Thursday it happened that …” Far from being irritating, repetition always results in something new. The most important thing is to keep asking “What is causing you to see Jesus, what is he teaching you through the things that happen?” (rule number 1). After a while, they see fruits that make them understand that it is the Holy Spirit at work.
To sum up: prayer opens their eyes and makes them more attentive. Young people, especially at that age, tend to a total inattention, whether at school or at home. Those who live the experience of the Knights have another way of being at school, and another way of playing. If they see a scrap of paper on the ground they pick it up, and offer the act for the Knights or for someone who needs it. Once I told them of St. Teresa’s saying: “Even if you pick up a pin with love or for love, you can help Jesus to save a soul.” When they remember this, it shows.
in the photo, a view of the St. Clement Island