The history of the Movement is impossible to separate from its relationship with the popes who have accompanied it and walk with it to this day; from the time of Pope Paul VI to the present. Fr. Giussani always emphasized faithfulness and obedience to the Holy Father and the authority of the Church as “the supreme directive on the human path.” Without this relationship, he said, “the building of God’s people becomes uncertain.” It is a theme that is very present in the journey of the Movement, first with Fr. Giussani and now with Fr. Carrón: their attentiveness to the pope and his requests to the Church, and to the Movement specifically, appear systematically in their lectures, books, letters and commentary.
“Take heart. This is the right road. Go forward like this!” (Alberto Savorana, The Life of Luigi Giussani): Giussani would always remember with such gratitude and emotion the words of encouragement spoken by Pope Paul VI on Palm Sunday in 1975, during a private conversation after a gathering for youth in St. Peter’s Square. This relationship had begun when Montini was the Archbishop of Milan and Giussani had started teaching. (Cfr. Marta Busani, Gioventù Studentesca, 2016)
«Take heart. This is the right road. Go forward like this»
John Paul II
Fr. Giussani was received for the first time in a private audience with Wojtyla on January 18, 1979, three months after his election. These are the words Giussani wrote in a letter to all of the groups in CL after this meeting: “My friends, let us serve this man; let us serve Christ in this great man with all of our existence.”
In 1982, John Paul II visited the Rimini Meeting, and gave the following message and very important task for all members of CL: “You must turn your gaze to ‘the architect of our salvation’ in order to build a civilization arising out of truth and love – the civilization of love! – in order not to live in agony, not to spend yourselves in unbridled selfishness, in insensitivity blind to others’ pain. Brothers and sisters, never tire of building this civilization! This is the assignment I leave you today. Work for it, pray for it, suffer for it!”
During the nearly 27 years of John Paul II’s papacy, numerous meetings, both private and with the whole Movement, took place. It is certain that, among them, the audience at the Vatican in 1984 stands out, when the Pope gave the Movement its missionary mandate: “Go into the whole world to bring the truth, the beauty, and the peace that are found in Christ the Redeemer.” These words encouraged many members of CL to seek out or to accept opportunities to study and to work beyond Italy’s borders with the very purpose fulfilling such an authoritative and benevolent invitation.
“Go into the whole world to bring the truth, the beauty, and the peace that are found in Christ the Redeemer.”
Another very inspiring moment was on May 30, 1998, when, at the Vigil with the Movements and the new communities, Fr. Giussani, along with other founders, gave his witness. The photograph of the encounter between the two men after his speech was finished – with Giussani already marked by his illness – remains one of the icons of our time.
Finally, there was the exceptional exchange of letters, between 2002 to 2004. On the 20th anniversary of the recognition of the Fraternity, the Pope wrote to Fr. Giussani: “The Movement, therefore, has chosen and chooses to indicate not a road, but the road toward a solution to this existential drama [of man].” Two years later, marking 50 years of the Movement’s existence, Fr. Giussani wrote to the Pope: “Not only did I have no intention of ‘founding’ anything, but I believe that the genius of the Movement that I saw coming to birth lies in having felt […] the passion of the Christian fact as such in its original elements, and nothing more.” Pope John Paul II replied: “The original pedagogical insight of your Movement lies precisely here: proposing in a fascinating way, and in harmony with contemporary culture, the Christian event, perceived as a source of new values, capable of directing the whole of existence […] This experience of faith generates a new outlook on reality, a responsibility and a creativity that concern every ambit of existence, from work to family relationships, from social commitment to the animation of the cultural and political environment.”
“This experience of faith generates a new outlook on reality, a responsibility and a creativity that concern every ambit of existence.”
The bond of true friendship between Giussani and Cardinal Ratzinger cultivated over two decades was the foundation for the relationship between the Movement and Benedict XVI.
At the gathering with the Movement in March 2007, Pope Benedict declared: “My first thought goes to your Founder, Monsignor Luigi Giussani, to whom many memories bind me and who became a true friend of mine.” Some months later, many members of CL would participate in the Angelus on January 20, 2008, as a sign of support to Ratzinger, who, due to bitter criticism, had decided not to participate in the inauguration of the academic year at the Sapienza University of Rome. Another special occasion occurred on May 16, 2010, when 35,000 people went to St. Peter’s Square to pray the Regina Coeli during a period of violent attacks against the Church.
Every event and every private audience with Pope Benedict XVI was accompanied by a letter by Fr. Carrón to the Fraternity.
A sign of a particular fondness for the Movement was Benedict XVI’s choice to have four members of Memores Domini in his papal household, assisting him with daily tasks, having been selected by him to belong to the “Pontifical Family.” One of them, Manuela Camagni, died in a car accident on November 24, 2010. This is an excerpt of the message of Pope Benedict XVI at the funeral: “Yes, if we [are memores Domini, if we] remember the Lord, it is because He [is Memor nostri; He] first remembers us with the love of a Parent, of a Brother, of a Friend, also at the moment of our death. Although it can at times seem that he is absent at that moment, that he has forgotten us, in reality we are ever present to him, we are in his Heart. Wherever we fall, we fall into his hands. Precisely where no one can accompany us, God, our Life, waits for us.”
“We are memores Domini, we remember the Lord, because He is Memor nostri; He first remembers us with the love of a Parent, of a Brother, of a Friend, also at the moment of our death.”
“I am grateful to Don Giussani for different reasons. The first and more personal is the good that this man did for me and for my priestly life, through the reading of his books and articles. The other reason is that his thoughts are deeply human and reach the most intimate yearning of mankind. You know how important the experience of encounter was to Don Giussani: the encounter not with an idea, but with a Person, with Jesus Christ. Thus he educated in freedom, leading to the encounter with Christ, because Christ gives us true freedom.”
This is how Pope Francis started off his powerful speech to the 80,000 people from 47 countries gathered in St. Peter’s Square on March 7, 2015. This was his first audience with the Movement, in honor of the anniversary of the Movement’s birth and the 10th anniversary of Fr. Giussani’s death.
“The Religious Sense is not a book exclusively for members of the Movement, however, nor is it only for Christians or believers. It is a book for all human beings who take their humanity seriously.”
Jorge Mario Bergoglio never met Fr. Giussani in person. Still, the Pope is very familiar with his charism and his thought, and while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he presented some of Giussani’s books, including The Religious Sense and L’attrattiva Gesù [The Attraction of Jesus].
Fr. Carrón was received in a private audience by Pope Francis on October 11, 2013, and on April 14, 2016. This is what he wrote to the Fraternity after the last meeting: “I don’t think there’s anything that can help us more than constantly striving to identify with the witness that the Pope offers us each day.”
On November 30, 2016, the Holy Father sent a letter to the head of CL, thanking the entire Movement for the donations collected during the pilgrimages in honor of the Holy Year of Mercy. "This poverty is necessary because it describes what we truly have at heart: the need for Him," writes Francis. "Therefore we go to the poor, not because we already know that the poor person is Jesus, but to return to discovering that that poor person is Jesus. [...] I never cease invoking the grace of a Church that is poor and for the poor. It is not a liberal program, but a radical program because it means a return to our roots. [...] It is the revolution of tenderness and love."
On February 2, 2018, Fr. Julián Carrón is once again received by Pope Francis in a private audience. The meeting was centered around the theme of young people. "He encouraged us to continue with our efforts, because he believes this education is especially important at this particular time when young people are living in a 'liquid society,' so that they can find some points of reference to accompany them on their path."