Priests of the Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo.

Its Wonderful to be Free

25 years ago, there were only 7. Now, there are 150 all over the world, and in between is an adventure in which obedience and freedom keep intersecting. Fr. Massimo Camisasca, the founder of the Missionary Fraternity, tells the story.
Massimo Camisasca

God’s works are made up of many colored threads, and He is the weaver. We are these threads of different colors that come in to form part of a design in which He Himself is the artist.When I think of these 25 years that have passed since the St. Charles Fraternity began, on September 14, 1985, with the signing of the Act of Foundation, this image comes to my mind. To those first threads, the priests who signed the act of constitution that morning before Cardinal Ugo Poletti, many other people were to join themselves. Today, priests and seminarians together, there are 150 of us. It’s something small in the great sea of the Church, a small sign in the great sea of the Movement, but I think a significant one for many. For there are many people who have crossed our lives over these years, who have asked to be helped, or who have been our teachers and friends.

Whom has God made use of? I am thinking firstly of Fr. Giussani. Without his support, the St. Charles Fraternity would not have been born, and, above all, would not have affirmed itself. Even more important has been, and is, his charism, the gift of the experience that he lived, and still constitutes the generative point of our life, our method of education.

I think of Fr. Julián Carrón who, over the past five years, has accompanied me with his friendship and the liberality of his heart, has witnessed to me the peace with which he lives his difficult task, and has delighted me with his openness to all the Spirit arouses, enabling the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles to be born.
Then I think of the many parents of priests and seminarians, most of whom I got to know by visiting them at home. I think of the children we have baptized, of the people we have confessed and forgiven in the name of God, of the many hearts who, through us, have rediscovered peace–the poor people we have helped, the sick we have accompanied, the dying we have comforted, the young people to whom we have opened the road to a fascinating and hope-filled existence.
But I think, too, of our weaknesses, our sins (those I know and those I don’t know), our miseries, our divisions, our errors… Even these, and perhaps above all these, God has used. For when we accept His correction humbly, our weakness becomes our strength.

A promise fulfilled. I think with gratitude of Cardinal Ugo Poletti, who recognized us as a Society of Apostolic Life of Diocesan Right in 1989, despite the opposition of many. It moves me to remember John Paul II’s passion and his recognition which in 1999 made us an Institute of Pontifical Right.
The affection and esteem shown us by Benedict XVI is a source of great encouragement for me. He will receive the whole Fraternity in audience after our February assembly which, every six years, elects the new General Council and the new Superior General.

From that day of February or March in 1965, when I told Fr. Giussani for the first time that I wanted to become a priest, to the birth of the St. Charles Fraternity, 20 years passed. If I look over that period today, from an exterior point of view, it seems a zigzag. First, my idea of becoming a Dominican, then the disappointment of the encounter with the Italian Dominicans, and the decision to enter Venegono Seminary; then, when this became impossible, my entry into the seminary of Bergamo; my priestly ordination in 1975; my move to Rome three years later with the permission of the Bishop of Bergamo; and finally, in 1985, the birth of our Fraternity. The only star that led me in these 20 years was the certainty that God realizes what He puts in your heart. I remember the phrase referring to Abraham that Fr. Giussani told me when I was still very young: “He has the power to bring to fulfillment all that He promised” (Rom 4:21).

Looked into deeply, this history reveals a real unity. In 1969, I wrote in my diary, “All that remains is the fascination of a life together, a place of prayer and silence.” Already at the start, then, I found in me these two lights: the attraction of silence, born certainly of the lessons Fr. Giussani was giving to the Memores Domini, and the certainty that Christianity realizes the universal vocation to salvation, anticipated in time by the reality of communion. These two experiences constitute for me the heart of the Church, of the Movement, and of the Fraternity of St. Charles in particular.

An encounter between Freedoms. Our Community is wholly the fruit of the encounter between God’s freedom and the freedom of men He is continually questioning. It is born and dies not by decree, but in the mystery of freedom. At the same time, it has a task in human history, great or small in the eyes of men depending on their vision or mentality.

The fundamental task we carry out is to help the growth and the development of the people of God. A priest has no reason in himself, but in relation to Christ and to men. His fascination lies just there, in an attraction which has been obscured in recent decades. We want to be signs for men of the beauty of Christ, the beauty of the Church, through our poor humanity made transparent by Him who calls us.

In the world and in some sectors of the Church, people don’t know who a priest really is. He is identified with a man seeking to compensate for his lack of affection with power over people, with a fixation for Liturgy, for organization, or for other oddities. We want to make known the beauty of a vocation that, over the centuries, has given great men to the Church and has aroused in them hidden energies for the good of those living in the world. The Church is a gift coming from God through other men, which happens continually in the simplest occasions and places on the earth, just as in the most solemn and opulent. In these 25 years, we have seen ourselves as a single house, though living far apart from each other; one family, now enriched by the presence of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles; an institution that has its own government and its own autonomous life, but participates strictly, like us, in the charism of Communion and Liberation.

Gratitude. What has been the greatest discovery of these 25 years for me? That my brothers are the clearest sign of God’s will to save me. This fills my heart with gratitude and makes me set aside all temptations to tiredness and withdrawal into myself. I feel younger than I did 25 years ago, and I hope this is the experience of my friends, too. In these years, I have wanted with my whole strength to educate free people. There are educational methods that fear freedom, preferring to alienate the person, transforming him into another who takes his place. It is all too comfortable to disappear into the security given by a series of prohibitions, rules, and commands. I want only to show with my life the humanizing beauty of obedience. I know I am free because I want to adhere to Him who wanted me and loves me, to seek in things and in events the traces of Himself that He has left.