Fr. Giussani at a Student Week in 1964

"What happened to me keeps happening again"

Her first encounter with GS happened sixty years ago in Rimini. The surprise of the beginning, her friendship with Fr. Giancarlo Ugolini and Fr. Giussani’s fiery response. Emilia tells her story.

It was October 1962, in Rimini, Villa Verde: the "Gioventù Studentesca Day." Sixty years have passed since, for the first time, a small group of young people from Rimini, together with Fr. Giancarlo Ugolini, organized an event at the beginning of the school year to which they wished to invite other students to share that strange and new friendship which they had come across over the summer. That previous July they had met high school students from Milan who were on holiday with their families. They had got together to continue living the same experience of the Christian community that had lived with Fr. Giussani during the winter, but on the beach.

That day, October 4, the feast of St. Francis, was a day-off school. I had just started my third year of the classical high school, after a horrible previous year that I have risked failing. I felt very alone, but during the first few days of school I had glimpsed students exchanging orange envelopes who were different from the others. I was attracted to them; it was obvious that they did not "depend" on the school system; they were probably friends. I tracked down those envelopes, which contained a photocopied sheet that ended by saying "Come and see." That is how I ended up at Villa Verde.

I remember absolutely nothing about what happened on that day. But I do remember three things: the games, the singing, and a person who gave the notices at the end. I had never seen anything like it. Accustomed to the melancholic boredom of the parties I went to at that time, or the hours spent alone listening to soft music, in playing those games I found myself surprised to share in that same enthusiasm as those unknown young people. I was having as much fun as they were, amazed by that joyful freedom I had never seen before. And then the songs. I remember La traccia [The Trail]. That "long trail to the land of dreams" had an omen in it. Finally, the notices, which seemed beautiful to me because they were like a guarantee that I could continue to spend time with them by going to the right places.

On my way home that evening, one thing was clear to me: these I did not want to let these people go. This memory makes me smile because it was Jesus who did not let go of me. But I did not realize then that those Villa Verde young people had encountered Christianity in the beauty of life born from Fr. Giussani. I realized this later when Giussani himself, whom I had only heard about and never seen, came to Rimini in June for a three-day end-of-year gathering. At that time I was a little discouraged. I met Fr. Giussani in the elevator, and he asked me, "How are you doing?" I replied rudely, "I did not even want to come." He did not lecture me, did not scold me, but just looked at me saying "now you are here." I stayed. Over time, I also began to realize that I was living my relationship with the Mystery within that story born of him. That is, that the Mystery had chosen to continue to encounter me within this story.

Perhaps the most unmistakable sign that what happened to me and continues to happen again has to do with the Mystery is that the zeal of my 16-year-old self has not only not faded, but is becoming deeper and more conscious every day. Like those "handfuls of glue" that, as Fr. Giussani says, glued the disciples to Jesus.

Read also - At the source of the human

Throughout these sixty years, the encounter has continued to happen: when I see a change, either mine or that of others, occur freely; when the Lord comes to take me back through the means that He chooses and puts me back on the road; when reality challenges me and calls me to respond; when I see people affected by deeds or words of mine or friends; when I see free and joyful people in hard, almost unliveable situations; when I experience a gratuitous friendship toward me. I am learning to recognize the happening of Jesus in all these facts. In front of a beautiful experience, I used to exclaim, "How beautiful!" Now I am beginning to say, "Lord, it is You who happens." And then the fact, the circumstance becomes a relationship.

Fr. Giancarlo has continued to accompany my and our story over the years. He went to heaven on October 4, 2009. Perhaps it is no coincidence that he said goodbye for the last time to the people he had raised up on the very day our common adventure began. October 4 is a day of immense gratitude. I cannot even think what my life would be without that encounter, without the friendship of Giussani, Fr. Giancarlo and Fr. Carrón. I continue to wish that my life might be able to serve so that others could encounter the meaning of life as I have encountered it.

Emilia, Rimini, Italy