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The Conscience of Canada

The French edition of The Religious Conscience in Modern Man is presented. Intellectuals and theologians in a loyal confrontation with the thought of Father Giussani. A good beginning.
John Zucchi

If you walk through a beautiful square decorated with marble and beautified by fountains in the cultural center of Montreal, Place des Arts, which houses the Symphony Orchestra's hall, you come to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Here, on June 14th, just over a mile from the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit, where you could still pick up the echoes from the previous day's Grand Prix, a crowd gathered in a modern lobby delimited by four pillars, in an intimate yet open space, to attend a presentation of Mgr. Luigi Giussani's book translated into the French language, La conscience religeuse de l'homme moderne (Paris, Editions du Cerf, 1999). The encounter, organized by Communion and Liberation and co-sponsored by the Grand Séminaire de Montréal, was presided by Professor Christophe Potworowski of the Department of Theology at Concordia University, Montreal.

A greeting from Fr. Giussani at the start introduced us to the theme and atmosphere of the evening. Fr. Giussani thanked participants for having welcomed the challenge offered by the book, which is to accept that life be lived dramatically in the search for truth. From the first instant it was clear that everyone's presence was precious-from the friends whom we personally invited to those who had heard about the evening from radio or press advertisements-and precious because it had to do with reason to the point of affection, that is, it touched one's humanity.

The theme
In his introduction, Professor Potworowski reminded us that the reason for this event was the desire to discover how the religious sense can emerge in daily life, not as the fruit of an analysis but as the heart of an experience. In fact this link between reason and experience was the theme emphasized by all three of the speakers. Professor Gilles Routhier, of the Theology Faculty of Université Laval in Quebec City, noted that the historical reading proposed by Father Giussani must be "particularized," that is, continuously compared with experience and with the solicitations that emerge from our cultural context. In his answer to a question from the audience, Routhier suggested that it is precisely the most dramatically intense moments of our existence which prod us to take seriously our own need for truth. He also stressed that God's response, through Christ, to the constitutive needs of the human heart, is gratuitous and unforeseen.

The syntony between Father Giussani's method and Thérèse Nadeau-Lacour's reading was surprising. This philosophy and theology professor from the Université du Québec à Trois Rivières was struck by an expression used by Fr. Giussani in the book, "this is a dramatically beautiful moment," and she made it the focal point of her paper. Unmasking the reduction carried out by modernity on the conception of freedom, she recalled that even Jean-Paul Sartre felt that the greatest experience of freedom lived by the French was under the German occupation, when each individual had to take a position in front of such a strained situation. In fact reality itself solicits a prise de position in front of facts that are encountered in a precise place. Professor Nadeau-Lacour argued that the religious sense finds its answer within an encounter that shakes us: "We have to be disturbed in our way of controlling things" and thus "encounters are the privileged places" for an answer.

To the heart of the work
Professor Javier Prades of the Faculty of Theology of San Damaso (Madrid), picking up on Niebuhr's phrase that "men rarely learn what they think they already know," introduced us immediately to the heart of Giussani's work. The preoccupation to understand what religiosity is and thus what the true nature of the Christian fact is guides not only this text but all of Fr. Giussani's work. Prades referred to highlights of Giussani's biography; they exemplified a system of thought that begins from an experience. In his answer to a question, Prades stated that affectivity and work are the two circumstances common to everyone where it becomes more urgent and necessary to discover the presence of meaning, the relationship between what we live in our daily lives and Mystery.

At first the atmosphere in the hall was charged with an expectancy and a curiosity but in the end it became more serious and attentive. As one looked out at all the different people from many backgrounds, some of them friends and many others unknown to us-about a hundred in all-one found oneself before a microcosm of Canadian society with its different cultures, languages, and religions. It became even more evident that the only hope to sustain such a people is the unity which is born of Christ. Péguy's words that Prades had referred to reminded us that "It's the same story, exactly the same, eternally the same, which happened at that time and in that country and which happens every day in all the days of all eternity." At the end of the evening, as people had a drink at the bar, one already saw the first fruits of this promise: a desire to meet again, new contacts and relationships struck, all of which makes us hope for greater things.

The following is the message sent by Father Giussani on the occasion of the presentation of his book

I wish to express my great gratitude to those present here, because they have not felt as something extraneous to themselves the ultimate search for the meaning of things as my experience has perceived it: a life dramatically lived in the search for the truth.

I am firmly convinced that the Event of Christ can bring peace, on this troubled sea, to the heart of man. And this Event of Christ that was recognized by the past is available to experience in the present.