Father Romano Scalfi (Photo: Fraternità CL)

Russia Cristiana: rediscovering a home

On the centenary of Fr. Romano Scalfi's birth, at the Milan Cultural Centre and Villa Ambiveri, a two-day dialogue and meeting that have filled usual words with meaning.
Giovanna Parravicini

"First of all, to say Christ, the only word that saves: not to enunciate a doctrine, to formulate an analysis of reality... but to propose a fact, the fact of the presence of a Person who, as such, necessarily changes our existence and involves our destiny... It may seem strange to propose the rebirth of faith as a remedy for a world that, no longer believing anything, has begun to believe everything; and likewise it may seem out of place to propose the absoluteness of Christ when the pressing choices before us are as concrete and relative as everything human. But these objections would only make sense if the faith and the Christ of whom we speak were a doctrine or an abstract truth; they would only make sense if the choices to be made were not human choices, that is, choices in which our humanity taken in its entirety is first and foremost at stake. Against these objections, we must then remind ourselves that Christianity is not a banal doctrine, nor even a religion, but first and foremost the recognition of Christ...Returning to the faith of Christ, therefore, means recognising a fact that broadens the dimensions of human reasoning, insofar as it opens it up to an infinite reality that, precisely because of its infiniteness, is the negation of every prejudice and every predefined scheme. Thus faith, far from denying culture, is the generator of that authentic culture that affirms the wholeness and inexhaustibility of man.” Thus wrote Fr. Romano Scalfi, one of the few who, ever since the years when the Iron Curtain marked a profound rupture between two worlds – the West on the one hand, and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union on the other – were able to discern a hope and outline a path, a common 'home'.

Today, on the centenary of Fr. Romano's birth and in the tragic international context in which we find ourselves, we can see the relevance of his message. Faced with the exasperation of violence, the growing impossibility of dialogue, acceptance ¬– and even more so of forgiving and allowing oneself to be forgiven –, the Russia Cristiana Foundation wished to re-propose his message in recent days, on 21 and 22 September, during a conference held across two days at the Milan Cultural Centre and at Villa Ambiveri in Seriate: ‘Inside the drama. Starting again from the person. The legacy of Father Romano Scalfi.’

They have been days of dialogue and sharing, not to formulate analyses or draw possible geopolitical scenarios, but to help each other see what sustains the hope of men and, without censuring defeats and bitterness, to ask how it is possible today to continue to live humanly, looking to so many friends scattered by the winds of war around the world (from Canada to Israel, to Asian countries and Europe), and to others who have so far chosen to remain in Russia to support civil society. Moreover, it was precisely what Fr. Scalfi had treasured above all in his long friendship with Fr. Giussani: his invitation not to be content with forming a circle of experts but to share the experience of faith with Russia.

The meeting was attended by very different people: some paint icons, some write poetry, some work in film, journalism, theological studies; there were those who, in the new geographical context, are setting up a school, a cultural centre and even a university faculty for the Russian-speaking minority, some work in the parish as priests... But all of them, at home and abroad, were marked by the collapse of the world in which they had lived until February 2022, by the loss of security, friendships, job prospects, by the tragic contradictions experienced by the Russian Orthodox Church.

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These were days of wide-ranging dialogue, in which certain words gradually took on new nuances, identifying along a sometimes tortuous, dramatic path, new perspectives, new goals. "Loneliness", for example, the curse of those who find themselves thrown into a new world without any foothold, but also the rediscovery of the existential condition of the self that introduces you to "sharing", to the "communion" made possible – even within an institution marked by compromise – by the words of Christ "when two or three come together in my name, I will be in their midst." And then "human dignity", linked with the concept of "service", which unites together the divine plan for the person and the realisation of their humanity and happiness. And "freedom", not in an individualistic sense but understood together with the word "home". Said by someone who has had to leave their home, and who has a key in their pocket that they not know if they will ever be able to turn in the lock, this last word formed a lump in the throat as it was said during the last dialogue by almost all those present: we can say that we have found a home, not only in the physical place that has brought us together here, but in this friendship that becomes the land of belonging, of a common task, of a path that reveals step by step, despite everything, the possibility of a tomorrow, the certainty of hope. As Roman, who has been living in Tbilisi for a year with his wife Marfa but who continues to collaborate with Russia in the editorial sphere, said: “The person does not discover themselves through self-definition, but through the gaze of the other. I realised this during these three days, seeing myself looked at in this way with amazement, made the object of friendship, of esteem. This is what helps one rediscover the resources and the courage, the responsibility to say 'I', which I did not believe was possible until recently. There are no words to say thank you for something like this. Just as Rilke says: 'Everything is transient, like the leaf that falls far away. But there are those who hold everything in their hands, with boundless tenderness'.”