Cardinal Matteo Zuppi (© Catholic press Photo)

Zuppi: “The charism, an open window"

“The search for truth within experience, without wanting to defend anything. For him, every encounter was a discovery.” In the April Tracce, the Archbishop of Bologna recounts what impressed him the first time he saw Fr. Giussani.
Paola Bergamini

The Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi’s first encounter with the movement dates back to the late 1960s in Rome with Fr. Vittorio Flamigni and the small group of Gioventù Studentesca. Linked to the community of Sant'Egidio, of which he became ecclesiastical assistant in 2000, Fr. Matteo – as he prefers to be called – has often crossed paths with the experience of Communion and Liberation. Later he was vice-parish priest at Santa Maria in Trastevere, where the CL community celebrated a weekly Mass and, as auxiliary bishop of central Rome, he met several priests of Fraternity of Saint Charles. "Charity and prayer are two factors that link the experience of Sant'Egidio and CL. But from the beginning, I was struck by the testimony as a strong, clear proposal," he says as we begin our dialogue. And as we talk, his verb tenses change from past to present and the "you" becomes a "we".

Yours is a history of friendship with the movement. Did you ever meet Fr. Giussani?
Twice. The first time, around 1984, Cardinal Martini organized an informal meeting in Rome with some movements, including Sant'Egidio, Azione Cattolica and CL. I was impressed by the concreteness of his spirituality, the Christian Fact, according to the "semantics" of CL. That is, the rejection of an evanescent Christianity, which exchanges conscience for relativism, where belonging seems to be a loss of identity. For Giussani, it is exactly the opposite: precisely because I am myself, I belong. There is also the opposite risk, which I see in many disembodied autonomies within the Church. There is a very weak sense of belonging that leads to religious individualism. For Giussani, on the other hand, the Christian Fact takes all of you, of your day, because it is a living encounter. Looking back, that first introduction was not bad. But there was another aspect that struck me. And that I happen to see again today.

What was it?
His passion in communicating the Gospel and his great freedom. He does not hesitate in dialoguing with everyone. A cognitive curiosity, I would say. I am also thinking of the authors he presented to us: Leopardi, Pasolini, Pavese, just to give a few examples. In his encounter with these writers – this is how he would describe it – he grasped that their religious questions made his own question of meaning more urgent. And I would add, his search for truth within experience, without wanting to defend anything. He had no issue in putting himself in the trenches or in giving interpretations. For Giussani, every encounter was a discovery.

Did you ever see him again?
On May 30, 1998, at the meeting between John Paul II and the movements in St. Peter's Square. I was very moved to see this elderly priest, with some physical difficulties, get down on his knees in front of the Pope. The image of the beggar was the most true. It must be said that in the meantime I met several people, I would say friends of the movement. In Bologna, in the archbishop's palace, there is a Memores Domini house. In recent years, I have met and gotten to know Fr. Julián Carrón. The first thing that struck me about him was his awareness of not being Giussani and of wanting to accompany the path of the Fraternity and the Memores by continuing the charism not as a mechanical repetition, but with a generative creativity in the present. In him, I see a great respect for the conscience of the person and at the same time a great involvement in the adventure and history of Giussani's charism. There is a total absence of personalism in him.

After Carrón's letter of resignation, you wrote a message to the friends of the movement in which you quoted this phrase of Giussani's: "The charism is like a window through which you see space in its entirety. The proof of a true charism is that it opens you to everything, it does not close you in.”
I wrote it out of affection, to be close to those I knew. The charism is never something static. We are wrong in making it the origin from which things are derived. It is something to make use of. And we know that to conserve means to lose. Giussani's charism is not a straight line, but it has been "deviated" by many encounters. Its beauty is that it is an "open window". The passion of the beginning, the taste for dialogue, the knowledge of the other, the announcement is something that is needed today. This means to take a chance on it in daily relationships with an unreserved curiosity.

Does the value of testimony lie in this?

That more that you have encountered affects everything you do. Some realities come to mind that I have seen before my eyes. For example, Casa Mantovani, which welcomes psychiatric patients. The beauty of this place, the ability to use tools and at the same time to move beyond bureaucracy, its human genius are a clear sign. Or the Food Bank and other educational works. What stands out is not just its organizational ability, it is really something more. What stands out is Giussani's intuition: a living Christianity. Only after, and only if necessary, can we then talk about values and so on. Today's challenge is this: to live the passion of the beginning with maturity. Giussani is a man of passion, heart and intelligence. And I add that children are not made in test tubes.

What does that mean?
I can explain everything, including the Gospel, but then the rest is your own business. Individualism is always a great risk! To be individuals, we are communion. That is, we do not educate with rules. This is the pharisaism that we easily fall into, which, if we think about it, is the most comfortable thing to do. Observing the rules in a careful and scrupulous way makes me believe that I have acted correctly and appropriately. But in doing so, we fail to apply the only rule: love. This is what we see in the parable of the prodigal son, which was not so dear to both Giussani and Carrón by chance. Who has not recognized themselves in the older brother when, angry, he lists everything "just" that he has done? But the father says: he is my son.

Read also - The little "tenda"

How is it possible to keep the passion of the beginning alive today? That is, how does the charism remain alive?
First of all, the Holy Spirit takes care of it. Then there is a personal dimension, that is, accepting the risk of the encounter with the other knowing who we are. I would say that the charism is linked to the person and at the same time, as far as the movement is concerned, to the Fraternity. Each person, with their own history and intelligence, can contribute to the Fraternity's journey. Woe betide, however, to those who want to individualize or reduce the charism to personalism. The "I" and the "we" must be proportionally balanced.

Otherwise, what might happen?
If there is too much "I", the "we" becomes a container of services; on the contrary, the excess of "we" leads to the loss of one's individuality.

What allows us not to fall into this temptation?
On a personal level, there is always the possibility of change. God's Word will always ask us to do so. Even crises, which are painful, are also generative. The proclamation of the Gospel is always the proclamation of the Other, and can only be understood thanks to communion. That is what unity is. It is not a manual of behavior, rules, homologation, but a full appreciation and understanding of the person and of different realities. Concretely, it means to remain oneself in the relationship with friends of the Fraternity. The only vaccine against personalism is to have someone beside you who says: what are you doing?

That takes a lot of freedom...
Yes, the same freedom you have to have with children and young people in general. Because, let's be clear, just like the Gospel, the charism is not transmitted by inheritance either. It is an interesting challenge.

How can we face it?
First of all by living it ourselves. Then by accompanying, by trusting each of us to grow in responsibility. Giving confidence, without comparing what they are living with what we have lived, avoiding the error of running after the past. It is their journey, above all; it is their experience of wonder that we must look at. In this, the charism is both the same and is transformed. Indeed, precisely because it transforms, it is the same. It cannot be put in the freezer or reproduced like a clone.