I never forgot the gaze of Don Giussani. I encountered it for the first time in an unexpected manner in 1985. I was living in Brussels but, during a business trip to Milan, I accepted the invitation of a few friends to go and meet him.
In those years I was a little unease with the world, unconsciously looking for a gaze completely determined by Christ. But the way Giussani was present struck me profoundly: it was the look in his eyes. It was impossible not to perceive a gaze that was completely meant for me. Being looked at in this way, I felt both poor and great at the same time: the object of a gratuitous esteem. In a flash he became the greatest friend in my life.
At a certain point in the discussion, he asked me without any hesitation: “Can you come to live in Milano?” An unimaginable invitation fifteen minutes earlier, suddenly became clearly reasonable. This meeting was exactly what I had been waiting for and it required a total response.
I did not go to Milano as he had asked. Eight months later, however, under his direction, I entered the seminary with the nascent Fraternity of St. Charles. And after all these years I look back to that gaze and see the meaning of mission.
(photo: Copyright Fraternità di CL)
Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Pontifical recognition of our Fraternity. On the 20th of March 1999 there was a lot of movement in this house: red carpets lining the hallways, a piano in the dining room, various buffets and refreshments prepared in different rooms according to the guests, a lot of nervous altar servers, and well prepared ushers.
Cardinal Sodano came to celebrate the mass, bringing with him the decree of recognition signed by Cardinal Martinez Somalo, at that time the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life. The decree reflected the express desire of John Paul II. In the beautiful mosaic by Rupnik that decorates the chapel of the house of formation, the image of the polish pope was willed to reflect the fundamental role that he had in our history. The foundation of the Fraternity of St. Charles has its origins during his pontificate: from the audience with the priests of Communion and Liberation in 1985 at Castle Gandolfo, to the signing of the decree on the 19th of March 1999.
It was a day of great celebration. The solemn Mass was presided by the Secretary of State. Refreshments followed in the rooms of the house of via Boccea where we had been living for barely two years. The chapel had been repainted for the occasion. Don Giussani wrote: “Dear friends, our certainty, and thus joy, is great on this day on which his Holiness recognizes once again the ecclesial authenticity of the charism of Communion and Liberation, the methodological foundation of your Priestly Fraternity”.
I would like to add a memory linked to those years.
In 1997, on a winter evening, don Massimo invited Fr. Gianluca Attanasio and myself to a supper with Msgr. Errazuriz, who was at the time the secretary of the Pontifical Congregation on which we depend. He would then be sent to Chile as bishop of Valparaiso, created a cardinal, and named archbishop of Santiago. It was he who permitted us to begin our Chilean mission in 2006.
We were at the Columbus Hotel on via della Conciliazione in Rome. The topic of the evening was the pontifical recognition of the Fraternity. Don Massimo in those years was already very grateful for the fact that we had reached diocesan recognition. He remembered well the difficulties associated with that moment and he did not think they were yet overcome. The numbers also indicated that we were a small reality, maybe too small to aspire for recognition by the Holy See.
From his standpoint, Msgr. Errazuriz came from the experience of the Pontifical recognition of the Schoenstatt movement, which had been long and complicated. His reasoning was very simple: “It is precisely because it could be difficult that you must start immediately. This is the pontificate of the movements, this is the pope with the sensibility and the capacity to risk what’s necessary. Don’t wait, this is the favorable time !”
The argument convinced don Massimo and we began the process.
Our work was to be developed on two levels. The foundational level consisted in the rewriting of the Constitutions of the Fraternity. We had approved the prior version only a few years earlier, in 1995, but the Congregation insisted on certain updates. The revision was, for all those who participated in it, a fundamental occasion to reflect on the nature of the Fraternity and to express once again the form of life which we wanted to live. I remember the long discussions, sometimes even heated, always led by don Massimo, that left us as a gift, clarity regarding the fundamental decisions which give shape to the life of the Fraternity. It was, in a certain sense, at the same time a step towards a new generation, and a school of responsibility. We were helped by the advice and guidance of Fr. Velasio De Paolis, who was later created a cardinal by Benedict XVI.
The second level of our work involved asking the greatest possible number of personalities in the Church to support our pursuit of recognition. For this reason we wrote to the bishops of many dioceses who had already welcomed one of our missions, and then to cardinals and bishops of the Roman Curia, of the Church in Italy and abroad. The fifteen years which don Massimo had dedicated to the work of public relations for the movement in the first part of his life proved to be providential. The number of responses turned out to be very surprising. The bishops and the various personalities of the Church who were contacted needed to write a letter of recommendation to the Congregation, in which they witnessed to the full ecclesial nature of our experience. Many of those who wrote sent a second copy to the Fraternity. The great esteem they had for the work and mission of don Massimo was evident.
All of these events made it much easier to carry out a process that, contrary to all expectations, was finished in the brief period of two years, and that led to our general assembly of 1999: the first assembly as a recognized Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right.
These facts were also a concrete response to the question of the relationship between the movement of Communion and Liberation and the Fraternity of St. Charles, an answer that bore fruit well beyond the relations within Communion and Liberation.
Seeing that the movement did not have the right to incardinate its own priests, the problem was raised concerning the relationship between obedience towards a bishop and that towards the responsible of charismatic communities from which priests come. Each reality has found a different response.
The solution found with the recognition of our Fraternity is the only one of its kind in the Church, indeed it is a beautiful solution, convincing and very ecclesial. It is based on communion, it is the choice to bet on a free relationship of belonging. Our Constitutions express, in fact, that we want to act “in communion of spirit and intention” with the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. There does not exist a formula that will guarantee communion. At the heart of the response that we give, there is thus the freedom in which we recognize the roots of our experience.
Today I would like entrust the Fraternity again to St. Joseph, whom we have chosen as the protector of our community.
Joseph lived a beginning, in fact, he was called to be the guardian of the origin. We are living a beginning as well and this enables us to feel even closer to this great saint. I would like to ask him to implore from God for us that freshness which comes from a living sense of the greatness that is given at the beginning. It is this sensibility which permits one the capacity to take risks like don Massimo and don Giussani, which all the great saints in the Church have had. In this sensibility lays the secret which will enable us to remain young and which will permit the Fraternity to be reborn continuously.
Homily in the House of Formation - 19th of March 2014
The essence of our mission at Fuenlabrada (Spain), a suburb of Madrid could be defined as being an education of the experience of redemption. If, in general, discourses help very little, maybe, here, it is even more evident, seeing the great variety of people who come into contact with us in order to ask for help or entrust their difficulties to us. Many of the people who come to us find themselves in serious situations of difficulty at home and at work .
In these past years we have started a project called St. Anthony’s home: three apartments which welcome people who are living difficult life situations.
A few days ago we were at a supper at the mens’ apartments together with a few friends who desired to learn more about this experience. During the middle of the meal the guests living in the apartment began to recount the weekly food collection that happens every Thursday at the exit of many of the supermarkets in Fuenlabrada. The evening was very moving: we saw people of fifty years of age who have left their families, and now they find themselves as foreigners, without a job, living as guests in a welcoming house, and not despite all of this dedicate many hours of their days asking for food for the assistance of the Charitable food banks.
The conclusion, which they unanimously came to: “we have to help those who have nothing”. We were all left jaw dropped seeing their simplicity and their joy. We thought to ourselves: have these men forgotten that they are the first people who do not have anything? How is it that they, who do not have anything, live this gratuity with respect to others who are unknown to them? Their answer reminded us of the experience of the first Christians: “We have been treated in this way and now we do not know of another way to treat people”. The personal experience of being loved and saved by Jesus Christ expands in a natural manner, flowing out of the presence of the Fraternity of St. Charles in this periphery neighborhood so filled with gratuity.
“How do I educate my child?” How many times has it occurred to us, as priests, to have this question directed to us. How to respond? The simplest way to respond is not to speak of technical forms of pedagogy or to give suggestions in regards to the psychology of teachers. The most secure path is to point towards the model of the most luminous teacher that we have encountered, that of Jesus.
To educate is above all a divine faculty. God the Father is the first and greatest educator. It is He who from the very beginning of creation, took the hand of man, Adam, after he created him and led him to understand the created realities, and he invited him to give a name to everything, to the animals and to understand the relationship between the particular and the whole. God invited him to participate in his work of creation and gave him the responsibility of being a guardian of the world He created. God did not stop educating man even despite his sin and fall: He attracted man to himself again, first through Abraham and the people of Israel, and then He sent his only Son to reach him, through the Church the whole of humanity. In this way He led man to understand the truth of himself and He showed him the path to realize himself.
Every single educational work is thus the imitation of the work of God, the archetype of every father and educator. With the coming of Jesus the educational method was made clear: he called the disciples to follow him, he proposed to them a new and fascinating way of living, he explained to them the meaning of life, showing them an intelligence of reality that was incomparable and thus inviting whoever met him to enter the same reality with a unique profoundness, which is proper only to those who possess the meaning of everything. Jesus gave to the disciples high ideals to follow, he corrected them, he reprimanded them, consoled them, and forgave them.
And what was the fruit of this educational work? That a handful of fishermen forever changed the course of the history of the world. That group of men, so apparently fragile and transient, became a people. Today we ask ourselves if it is possible to change our society, to influence the history of the world. Gazing at that Teacher and his disciples the answer is: yes, it is possible, through education. This is, at the same time, the most concrete and fruitful form of love. This is, in fact, what Jesus did: he taught, communicating himself, he entrusted himself to the twelve and he entrusted them to the relationship with the heavenly Father. He gave himself over to them completely to the point of giving his life for them. In a word, he loved them.
“Father, how do I educate my child?” And what do we do with the children, the students, the people that we are entrusted with? We must imitate what Jesus did, he loved them. In this way it is ever true the similar question: “How do I truly love my child?”. Not coming up short in your responsibility to educate your child.
(photo: “Le Choristes”, Christophe Barratier 2004))