The Exercises of CL University Students. Rimini, 8-10 December 2023

Rimini: the courage to live like this

The CLU Spiritual Exercises as experienced by a graduate student. The songs, the prayer, the lessons... Gestures already seen many times, yet a provocation to abandon one's "silent bourgeois attitude," to reawaken the wonder of the beginning.
Guglielmo Mina

"When I saw you enter, all the expectation that I had accumulated in recent weeks exploded within me; and it is the expectation of rediscovering everything, of rediscovering the meaning of everything, the hope of everything." These words, which Fr. Francesco Ferrari began with, entered me with that density of things that, on encountering them, you realise you have been waiting for a long time. I realized how thirsty I was. I am at a particular moment of my life: in a few days I will have finished my thesis and will have to start looking for a job. So these Exercises came for me on the threshold of a new beginning with undefined contours, in which worry for what awaits me is mixed with the sometimes anxious effort to imagine what form life will take.

Yet, it is precisely the fragility that this moment reveals that made me feel included in the expectation of “finding the meaning of everything, the hope of everything.” What sustains hope in a world wounded by contradiction? This was the question that marked the Friday evening introduction, the first day of the Exercises. All around us is a “piecemeal Third World War” and a society shaken by increasingly frequent acts of heinous violence. On my way to Rimini, scrolling quickly and almost mechanically through the new headlines, I read: “In Gaza, the population is starving.” When Fr. Francesco brought us face to face with these tragedies, I realised that earlier I had hurriedly closed my phone, trying to dwell as little as possible on what I had just read for fear of feeling useless and confused in the face of all this. There is a war outside us,” he said, “but also a war within us: a resistance to love and truth.” In me, the war raging “within” assumes almost opposite traits to the din of weapons: it takes on the form of a silent bourgeois attitude, which makes me feel even more urgently the problem of finding a balance of small successes, rather than leaving room for that thirst that the first moments of our gathering had already so clearly awakened. In an instant I thought back to the hours spent in this distance from myself, as the author of one of the songs we began with sang: “I discover that I am the king of all these empty rooms, that I am ruled by my own plans.” That is why I was shaken by the provocation already heard so many times in the movement: “We want to live the real intensely without forgetting anything or censoring anything. First and foremost, the desire for happiness within us.” This proposal won me over at first and filled me with astonishment again. Who has the courage to live like this?

The Saturday was marked by an invitation to identify with the figure of Saint Peter, generating a wave of amazement within me. The meditation, divided into morning and afternoon lessons, drew all its persuasive force from the fact that I could see before my eyes everything that the Gospel commentary recalled. "Christianity is not a religious doctrine, a following of moral laws, a set of rituals. Christianity is a fact, an event: everything else is a consequence," wrote Fr. Giussani. That event took the form of an exceptional encounter for Peter. In fact, it was a man that came to him while he was tidying up his nets, and yet he understood his humanity like no one else, as when he was able to say his truest name: 'Peter'. No one else knew how to love with that gratuitousness that always led him to forgive, or that challenged their intelligence with proposals that made every human imagination falter: "I will give you my body to eat." Fr. Francesco, commenting on these passages, said: “That exceptionality had a precise origin, a secret. In him there was 'something inexplicable, an indefinable edge.'" I had that same experience that morning: I knew all the gestures by heart, and yet seeing two thousand seven hundred young people saying morning prayer together, singing songs so carefully chosen and performed, hearing words such as "no one is replaceable" pronounced by a man – Fr. Francesco – who seemed moved by the desire to want to tell each person personally, did not seem any less exceptional to me.

The free time, from bus journeys to meals in the hotel, increased that experience of amazement in me. The sharing, the silence, documented a passion for one's own existence that was so intense that it became a passion for others around, so that what struck one person became an opportunity for others as well, and what was not yet understood revived the momentum of a search lived together. A friend told me at lunch: “This morning I was watching us praying and singing together. All my friends from my town came to mind. I thought that this unity is what does not pass, this unity is what answers their questions.” Here and there, flashes of an impossible joy: one girl, in a letter, recounted the joy with which she accompanied her aunt to her death, in the midst of people who took her for a fool because of her inexhaustible positivity. A charity, then, that marks a new way of conceiving everything: one of us, who could not come because of health problems, decided not to ask for his money back, so that it could be used for those who could not afford the Exercises.

Read also - "Look! What do I remind you of?"

Just as those who were with Christ would have known his trade and where he came from, I already knew all about the gesture that awaited me, from having experienced it so many times. And yet, like Peter, I too felt the full extent of that inexplicability, which one feels when faced with such a moving human phenomenon. Who are you – some friends, many others strangers – who can bring me that life that I am waiting for and that I cannot even imagine? After two thousand years, the question that already belonged to Peter and those who met Him on the streets of Palestine resounded in me: "Who is this man?” This question begins in the history of the world, until the end of the world. The problem of Christ. It was people who knew him very well, but that man’s way of acting was so disproportionate, so inconceivable, so sovereign, that his friends spontaneously asked: 'Who is this man? For this is He, God. This is the sign and the link with the Mystery.”