Culture, charity and mission are the three characteristic dimensions of the life of a Christian, because the Christian experience reveals and communicates a particular conception of life; it recognizes and brings to fulfillment the supreme law of life, which is love; and it opens up a relationship with all people. It’s an experience that is concrete, lived through certain gestures, and total – it has to do with every aspect of life, including politics and social engagement. And experience is precisely the place where the promises of the faith – a life that’s more open, more fulfilling and more certain – can be verified. In fact, “Is it Possible to Live This Way?” is the question and challenge that serves as the title to one of Fr. Giussani’s most popular books.
A Cultural Presence
“Test everything; retain what is good.” Fr. Giussani saw these words of St. Paul as an astute synthesis of the meaning of culture, lived concretely in the continual, tireless search for what is true, beautiful and good. This is the reason so many people who are in the Movement regularly engage in cultural initiatives within their daily surroundings: in their cities or towns, schools or universities and parishes, occasionally creating events that become quite popular, for example the annual Rimini Meeting, which in recent years has been emulated in at least a dozen countries (e.g. New York Encounter, Encuentro Madrid, Rhein Meeting, Encuentro Santiago de Chile, Meeting Lisboa, and London Encounter, to name just a few). A number of cultural centers have also taken root (over 200 in Italy alone, linked together by the AIC; the Crossroads network in the United States). In addition, there’s a growing and diverse panorama of publishing companies, magazines and periodicals, art exhibits and exchanges between countries. Of particular note is the Foundation for Subsidiarity, a center for study and research on a broad range of topics stemming from the big questions about life in society.
Out of this cultural dimension naturally flows the dimension of being a presence within the “polis.” For range of occasions, the Movement responds to current issues and events – ranging from the state of Europe to terrorism to the economic crisis – with flyers and judgments, contributing an outlook that stems from the Christian experience. And those who would like to take on direct responsibility for political engagement are encouraged by the Movement, though without ever getting involved in specific decision-making or giving any kind of central endorsement.
The Law of Sharing
In The Meaning of Charitable Work, Fr. Giussani writes, “When there is something beautiful within us, we desire to communicate it to others. When we see others who are worse off than we are, we desire to help them with something of ours. This need is so original, so natural, that it is within us before we are conscious of it; we call it the law of existence. The supreme law, that is, of our being, is to share in the being of others, to live in communion. I am able to comprehend the word ‘charity’ when I remember that the Son of God, loving us, did not send us His riches (as he was able to do) and revolutionize our situation; instead He became poor like one of us: He ‘shared’ our nothingness.”
This conception of life is the foundation of the proposal of “charitable work,” one of the pillars of the education the Movement provides.
The first GS students spent time in the Bassa neighborhood on the outskirts of Milan to offer companionship to the boys and girls of families living in very poor conditions. Today, the forms of charitable work are myriad: aid to the elderly and the disabled, instruction for children and adolescents who have immigrated, help for those seeking employment, collecting and delivering food to families in need, and many others.
“Test everything; retain what is good.” (St. Paul)
A Daily Witness
From the very beginnings of GS, the students were educated to live out a missionary dimension, including through their attentiveness to the needs of those missionaries serving in difficult places far away. Over the years, CL has collaborated with well-known individuals, with organizations and with religious orders to support their missionary activities.
In 1962, a missionary initiative entirely sustained (perhaps for the first time in the history of the Church) under the responsibility of students – early members of GS – took off in Belo Horizonte in Brazil. Their experience, in addition to planting the first seeds of the presence of CL in Latin America, taught them all that there is no difference between their daily presence at school or in the workplace and the proclamation of Christianity carried out by the many missionaries in the harsher lands of Africa, Asia or the Americas: both serve the same universal mission of the Church. The Movement’s consistent reminder to be a presence in your own surroundings is primarily understood as offering whatever work you do to Christ, rather than a capacity for initiatives or communication strategies. CL’s understanding of mission is in a witness lived out every day, wherever you go.
People and Organizations
The single aim of Communion and Liberation is to give testimony to the fact that the Christian event is the truest response to our human needs and to educate people in how to verify their faith in daily life. Faith is not conceived of as something “apart from” our concrete daily responsibilities, choices and endeavors, but is inherent in and therefore pertinent to all of these. This awareness generates a constructive passion, motivating them to work for the good of every aspect of life and society. Pushed by this, many members of the Movement, by their free initiative, have dedicated themselves – whether on their own or in collaboration with others – to create initiatives, organizations and associations in a wide variety of fields, which have in some cases reached a scale to attract national or international attention. Like the Rimini Meeting, which first took place in 1980 and has grown each year to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who have attended in recent years.
Similarly well-known were the Movimento Popolare, which sought to give new life to the political culture of Italian Catholics through a reorganization and renewed motivation to get involved; and the weekly paper Il Sabato, which, fueled by intellectuals such as Giovanni Testori, played a significant role in public discourse (both initiatives came to an end in 1993). That same timeframe saw the foundation of AVSI, an NGO currently doing humanitarian, crisis response and human development work in over 30 countries, and the Banco Alimentare (Italian Food Bank, which in later years was followed by a number of similar organizations in a number of European and Latin American countries, as well as “banks” to fulfill other kinds of needs), which now organizes over 100,000 volunteers involved in the “Colletta” (Food Drive) each November. It would be impossible to list all the charitable and educational organizations, the rehabilitation communities for those who struggle with addiction and communities to help educate and reintegrate at-risk youth, cooperatives to provide work for those in prison, and schools founded by the dozens all over Italy and in many countries where there are CL communities (working together with many people who are not in CL). All of this fervent energy motivated by a desire to, as Christians, contribute to the good of society. Many of them are associated with the Company of Works (Compagnia delle Opere – CdO), a network of businesses and non-profit organizations founded in 1986 with the aim of promoting entrepreneurship and solidarity in accord with Catholic Social Doctrine.
All of this is the fruit of the free and independent initiative of members and their personal responsibility. The Movement plays no role in the leadership or management of the organizations created by members of CL, with one exception: the Fondazione Sacro Cuore (Sacred Heart Foundation) in Milan, a group of schools covering education from pre-school through high school created at Fr. Giussani’s request as a model of formation in the Christian life.