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To Be Provokers of the Common Life

Traces brought together a group of journalists. The starting point was a judgment from Fr Giussani on their responsibility for education, on the same level as that of teachers. Here is what came out of it
Alberto Savorana

The origin of this conversation is a remark Fr Giussani made to me this summer before the Meeting: “I see in Italy and the world a terrible falling apart of education. This is why we must pay attention to those persons among us who are placed in positions on which the education of others depends: teachers and journalists.”

So, we tried, in the September issue, to approach the question with a group of teachers. Now we are attempting to do the same with another group of interlocutors: journalists. Our dialogue took as its starting point Fr Giussani’s closing remarks in the interview with Farina: “What I ask of you journalists is the awareness of being at the root of the conversion of the world. Try to be the miraculous provokers of the life common to all men.” This is what came out of a conversation with Renato Farina, co-editor of Libero; Giancarlo Giojelli, editor-in-chief of “Excalibur;” Giuseppe Frangi, editor of the weekly magazine Vita; Antonio Socci, vice-director of “RAI2” and host of “Excalibur;” Roberto Fontolan, editor of “24ore TV,” and Luigi Amicone, editor of the weekly Tempi.

Renato Farina: That statement frightened me, but also made me proud. Being told that we have in our hands the chance to change the world, that we have a task, is something one never thinks about. The word “provokers,” too, is an interesting one, because it means that you have to know also how to judge and narrate in a way that you will leave a trace. It means that you must know how to grasp, in everything you write, the point where you can touch the other person. But you can do this only if you yourself have been touched. Then you can attempt to be a miraculous provoker, knowing very well that the only answer is that Christ is the road, the only road.

Giancarlo Giojelli: Being at the root of the conversion of the world is not the fruit of an effort on my part, but it is simply a problem of being aware of it. When he says to try to be miraculous provokers of the life common to all men, this is something in which I am personally involved with my freedom. I was struck by his saying, “the life common to all men,” because in our profession, we always tend to accentuate the exceptional. Giussani, on the other hand, associates the life common to all men with the word “miracle,” because the exceptional occurs in the life common to all. This is a problem of one’s gaze, the attitude of the heart in the face of reality, which surprises and arouses wonder. People are not like the masters of communication think: they are capable of being amazed at the truth, and it falls to us to have a gaze on things and a capacity to tell about them that arouses this wonder. Testori wrote in Corriere della Sera in 1978, “The revolution will not come from the anomalies that become the norm (we tell about numerous anomalies, life pathologies, as though they were the norm), but from that norm which people would like to reduce to an anomaly.” When Fr Giussani says, “Within the Mystery, even the anchovy eaten by a tuna finds his redemption,” he says the exact opposite of Montale’s words, “The malaise of living has encountered the shriveling of the leaf.” Talking about normality, Giussani captures the Mystery, and this gives value even to an anchovy eaten by a tuna. It seems like the most useless pain in life…

Roberto Fontolan: You cannot provoke the life common to all men if your life has not been provoked by something, and if you are not willing to have it be provoked every day by something else. The two comments Renato mentioned give me a sense of redemption, and new sense to a profession that has within it the seeds of the worst kind of corruption–parasitism, voyeurism, servility, intellectual presumptuousness, cynicism... This sense of a redeemed profession gets rid of the problem of “how,” which is something that has imprisoned and still imprisons many. To say “life common to all” is to ask that the gigantic tempest of the media have as its horizon the questions everybody asks. With Testori, we discussed the “commonplace” as the place of the truth of the question, whereas any journalist looks down on the commonplace.

Giuseppe Frangi: I am struck by the content of tenderness that Giussani has toward people. In a certain sense, I do pose myself the problem of “how;” I don’t really agree that it is secondary. When I spoke with my uncle, Testori, he too asked himself the question of “how,” because he was concerned that the word be true, just as the thing he had in front of him was true, that it be suited to the pain or the happiness that he had in front of him. Giussani spoke one day about the need to “find a hope to sustain the unending toil of living.” But who today documents the unending toil of living? Because the life common to all is today infused with a negativity; we are all immersed in a great negativity. The common life enters the media exploited, strangled, and killed. Thus, the call to be miraculous provokers of the life common to all makes a breach into my heart above all as tenderness toward this life, like having it always present and feeling myself to be a part of it, feeling that we are companions on the journey of this life in common, of this difficulty men have in living–not to deny it, and to know how to tell about it. This is why our profession must knock at the door of the heart of a life common to all and know how, as much as possible, to introduce hope onto this horizon of negativity. Pasolini, in his Scritti corsari [Writings of a Corsair] in 1975, had already located this horizon where we find ourselves living; he had prophetically located it. We read in Orgia: “Look, what befell the theater concerns your life.”

Luigi Amicone: This is an absolutely new point for me, in the sense that I have never thought of journalism as education. At the most, one thinks of it as a sort of trench, where one tries to defend what he believes in. I have thought that if in past centuries art was summoned to represent reality, in some way “the art of modernity” is journalism: to testify to the truth of what is seen as active participation in human life. Giussani’s suggestion recalls me to the seriousness understood as Shakespeare understood it: “It is not enough to speak, one must speak seriously.”

Antonio Socci: I had the sensation that Fr Giussani cited journalists not because they are in a particular situation, but because they are more opportunistic, so that maybe we too have a chance to redeem ourselves… At any rate, I think that in the condition we are in, there is nothing more wonderful, more enjoyable, or grander than to talk to people about Jesus. This is the point that makes all the rest true.

Traces: To sustain the unending toil of living: it is as though he launched an appeal to whoever can do it to liberate us from that factor, which today seems to determine the common life so greatly, which is fear. How can we hope, through the responsibility to which you feel yourselves to have been called, at this level of struggle, to be helped not to live in fear? How can our profession help ordinary people to redeem themselves, to a vindication over an attitude of fear nursed by falsehood or general deception?

Socci: If we only participated with a thousandth part of the pity He has for us, for people, I think that we would be devoured by the fire and fury to “devastate” the world with this.

Giojelli: Fr Giussani answers, “There is a way to make these things become simple, which is saying what we see: God made man, Christ, and the Church, the development of this. There is an instinct that is not yet destroyed in men.” This is, to my mind, the basic point, that you do not hit up against the void, nihilism… This is the magnificent thing: “Watch out–when you say this you are not saying it to the walls, because this is what people are waiting for.” All this means educating, ie, drawing out of people what is in them as expectation, as need, as desire. Then this vanquishes fear, as long as there is someone who reminds you of it.

Farina: Within the feeble things we have to recount, it is like being dominated by the positivity of reality that we see. The mortal sin of the journalist, at a certain point, is believing he is a teacher and that he is capable of mechanically reproducing the effect of hope. To be miraculous provokers… one has to ask for it.

Fontolan: You fight falsehood, which then becomes fear, if there is a little piece of truth somewhere. Educating is helping to see. What better synthesis is there of our type of work? But you can do it only if you are humble and willing to let yourself be helped to see. What sense is there in this recounting what others do? Either it is voyeurism, cynicism, dark interest, or it is showing the piece of truth that is there in man’s every instant and every time.

Amicone: The question is not what we talk about, but what we talk about in terms of truth. Our writing is the bearer of something that is greater than we and is not ours. In this sense, you see a positivity triumphing concretely.

Frangi: If the profession we practice, the things we write, do not become the bearer of happiness for this life in common, something is not working. I believe that Giussani’s interview is a constant mental training gym. For example, when he emphasizes the situation of the Jewish people, he changes our way of approaching the fact we are looking at. The expectation brings us extraordinarily close to everybody, because this is everybody’s condition, precariousness; there is nothing definitive in what we have lived. We have to ask for it every day; it is a grace that comes to meet us and that we must beg and entreat. I am reminded of my great friend Marcello Frediani, who brought out in Il Sabato McIntyre’s phrase that we have always quoted: “A crucial turning point in ancient history…” I am unable to perceive my way of being a journalist except within this perspective.

Socci: It has been given to us to become aware of something that concerns us, that is being born for us, that was made for us. We have to do this, because otherwise the risk is that of becoming either recriminatory, i.e., accusers of the world, or utopians, which in the end means surrenderers to the world. What we must construct is already there; there is already an Other who makes it. We have to look at it and point it out. It is a bit like Giussani said years ago: what is lacking is not the verbal repetition of the announcement, but an event that happens. The attitude that surprises everybody is the exact description of something that happens.

Traces: Fr Giussani maintains that journalists and teachers are the most decisive factor in establishing a mentality among people-people or else in perpetuating a swindle. Feeling yourselves to be on the front line, in this front-line trench in the battle for truth or falsehood, when you think about it, what reaction does it call forth in you?

Giojelli: I pray to Our Lady, that’s all.

Frangi: I do not feel it as a burden. It makes me enthusiastic; it joins something I like with the greatest thing I have encountered. Going to the front with this happiness inside me helps me greatly because it simplifies things, it makes them become encounters for me, not problems. Our profession places us in front of everyone: you don’t speak to some, you speak to all, you meet everyone. And this is an extraordinary, stupendous challenge, because you do not take anything for granted. Every scrap of reality can be interesting, can set off the spark. What you bear, you bear for all, because if you do not bear it for all it is a falsehood. When, in Bergamo, they asked the Bishop of Tunis about equality between religions, he gave a magnificent answer: “There is a great difference between Jesus Christ and Allah, because Allah is for some, whereas Jesus Christ is for all.” This chromosome of being for all–so that, standing on the front line, you speak to all–is something very beautiful.

Farina: It is true that our words have a weight that is multiplied enormously. We talk to many and many trust us, and sometimes this is a problem. I think there is always a margin of freedom that enables us to affirm what we have encountered within the fleetingness of the paper on which we write.

Socci: I feel it to be identical with the Christian vocation. Then, let us say, the question of my profession I perceive as completely temporary, momentary. This is why I would like it very much if in what we manage to do, what we write (because already by noon they are using it to wrap up the vegetables in the market), there were a trace of this immense presence of mercy which the Church is in the world, and the Movement is inside the Church.

Fontolan: Standing on the front line gives you the opportunity to enlarge your life and to give it more substance, realizing we have a responsibility.

Amicone: One understands the historical strength of a preference, of a gaze that has been turned on him, that literally created him. The outcome of this is the abolishing of all fear. I have no inferiority complexes and I am on fire, because the only great thing to recount, and that can be glimpsed in every fact that one goes to investigate, is that a stranger strangely says, “I am with you,” like Rilke, “Strangely a stranger says, ‘I am with you.’” This is the truest definition of the situation of human life in the specificity of a report.

Allow me to conclude by reading you six lines from the conversation last summer which was our starting point for this discussion: “Journalists are the new educators of the people, like new Scribes or representatives of the new people, in the consciousness that their work can sustain the liveliness of a people. If they only knew what kind of role journalists play in the Church today, they might tremble at the dignity that has been given them. The most moving thing that can be reconstituted in the world is Christianity. How will journalists and teachers be able to identify with our reasons and see how the question can play in their favor?”