Archbishop Filippo Santoro

Santoro: "The Church and the charism of CL? A path of full harmony"

The Archbishop of Taranto speaks about his mandate as special delegate for the Association of "Memores Domini", appointed by Pope Francis (published in "Avvenire," August 23, 2022).
Paolo Viana

Translated from the original Italian published in Avvenire.

Two dates have changed the life of Communion and Liberation (and beyond). On June 11, 2021, the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life approved a general decree regulating the duration and number of governing mandates (with a maximum of 10 consecutive years) in international associations of the faithful, private and public, and the necessary representativeness of members in the process electing the international governing body. That decree resulted in, among other things, the resignation of Julián Carrón as the head of the Fraternity and the appointment of Davide Prosperi as president.

But even before these events, on September 8, 2021, Pope Francis met with Archbishop Filippo Santoro and entrusted to him the mandate of special delegate of the Holy Father for the Memores Domini Association, which brings together lay CL members who dedicate their lives to Christ in the experience of Christian virginity. A regular guest at the Rimini Meeting, and former bishop in Brazil, the Archbishop of Taranto explains what is happening.

Did Pope Francis choose you because you are part of CL?
We must thank the Pope for choosing someone who has lived and tries to live the charism that the Holy Spirit has given to the Church and the world through Fr. Giussani. When he called me, we started talking about the Aparecida conference, where Bergoglio was the president of the Commission for the drafting of the final document of the Assembly and I was coordinating a chapter of it; after this reminiscence he simply said, "Thank you for accepting."

And had you accepted?
Actually I had not accepted, but how can you say no to the Pope? I took the liberty of objecting, explaining that I was already archbishop and that I had to take care of the Social Week of Italian Catholics in Taranto (Santoro was president of the scientific and organizational committee of that event) and he replied "along with that, you can also take care of this other job." In any case, I accepted with conviction, also because the Holy Father added that he has great affection for the charism lived by the Memores, and that in this circumstance someone who was not familiar with it and did not share it could not intervene. What was needed was someone who, living it from within, fostered the development of the charism in the authenticity lived by Fr. Giussani.

What else did the Pope say to you?
That I had a mandate to foster unity among the members of the association, to provide for the reform of the Statutes and the Directorate, and finally to provide for the election of a new board of directors and a new president.

Where did you start from?
This lay association is formed by almost 2,000 people. I began by meeting with the novices seeking admission to the final profession in October. On that occasion I was struck by the richness of the charism of these young people: I met 57 of them, mostly Italians, and 52 asked for admission to profession. I realized that the charism given to Fr. Giussani is alive: young people working as doctors, managers, nurses, teachers. They were bold young men and beautiful young women who, one after another, told me that they were asking for profession because they had encountered a certain path to the fullness of life in their relationship with Christ.

What struck you the most?
The Memores Domini dedicate their lives to the Lord by living the same conditions as everyone else, in their work... A highly specialized nurse in a child leukemia clinic told me that he was caring for two sick little girls; one died and her little friend came to him and told him that she was very sad and angry with God. He stayed by her side and asked her to keep a little door open in her relationship with God because that was the door to Heaven. To be a "memor" means to point out this door to Heaven within one’s work. Another novice told me that during a hair appointment, her hairdresser had said to her, "I am happy when you come here because I feel that you are at peace, you are in your place. I would like to be like you." She confessed that she wants to be just as happy. A third novice, for Portugal, was sad because her final profession had been postponed and had prayed to Our Lady of Fatima, writing a note, "I would like to make my profession." The next day she received the call. I listened to the stories of lives where the charism has literally broken through, and that helped me a lot because I had before me the wonder of a life of faith already in place that was only asking for the definitive "form" to surrender itself to the Lord and the Church.

Is it difficult to reconcile the charism and fidelity to the Church?
The journey undertaken during these months has also indicated the full harmony between adherence to the charism and fidelity to the Church, overcoming understandable difficulties in the change of leadership and renewing full obedience to the Holy Father.

How did you approach the revision of the statutes?
All the houses were invited to reflect on the Statutes and the Directorate, not just from a legal point of view but especially as a personal and communal deepening of the charism. This resulted in 240 amendments or insights that will now come together in a new draft of the Statutes and the Directorate that will be approved by the Memores and handed over to the Dicastery for approval. Then all the Memores will take part in the election of the bodies that are requested by the new Statutes.

Can the charism be transmitted through an election?
This path responds to the request of the Dicastery, since it highlights the personal responsibility of each member of the association, through a moment of participation. The charism is not the property of a person but is manifested in the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the founder, and is then given to the whole community that follows him and that can also revive it through the elective process.

Did Giussani see it that way?
According to Fr. Giussani, the experience of the movement of CL, the Fraternity and the Memores Domini, is a companionship guided toward destiny. In the semantics of Fr. Giussani, this indicates the presence of the meaning of the world, of the Word who became flesh in the womb of Mary and who lives in the Church. Thus, the election emphasizes our personal responsibility in following an authoritative point of reference for the journey of faith and ecclesial experience. This was confirmed to us by the Memores' summer spiritual exercises, in which a text – l’Alleanza [the Covenant] - by Fr. Giussani was taken up, according to which the fundamental law of life, consists in "following the events in which He (Christ) has taken the initiative toward us." In this text, written at the dawn of the history of the Memores, Giussani re-proposes the heart of Christian revelation as a model: the journey of the Jewish people, culminating in the incarnation of the Word, in his Passover of passion and resurrection, which continues in the experience of the Church. In it, the charism and institution are gifts of the one and the same spirit of the risen Jesus.