Andrea Mandelli

WYD: An unexpected protagonist

Andrea Mandelli died at the age of 19 in 1990. He will be among the protagonists of the upcoming World Youth Day. Here is how the exhibition about him in Lisbon came about.
Ricardo Formigo

In 2018 I spent a few months in Rome, where I had the opportunity to study two things that are very dear to me: literature and art history. As in any academic or professional experience abroad, I got to know much more than just the content of the lectures. In fact, I would say that was the "smallest" part of what I learned – and they were a good excuse to spend a few months away from home, in a city as beautiful and important to Christianity as the Eternal City.

As a friend told me on my last day before returning to Portugal, "What you take away from here are not the stones you have seen, but the people you have met." In my life I have had the opportunity to meet many people, most of them alive, some of them already beyond this world. No, I am not talking about the medieval saints we find on the altars of many churches across the world. In Rome I came across the story of three young saints of today: Carlo Acutis, Chiara Corbella and Andrea Mandelli. The latter is perhaps the least known, but I confess that it is the story that interests me most (there is a book written by Giovanna Falcon, Ti regalo la mia molla [I give you my impetus], that recounts his story much better than I do and that I recommend you read).

My encounter with Andrea came through another friend, also named Andrea, who showed me the life of a young man, who died at the age of 19. He, like me, had encountered the movement of Communion and Liberation during high school. And his life, like mine, was never the same again. Everything seemed to suggest that I learn more about this young man's story. His life has offered me a great lesson. I am not talking about moral lessons, but something fundamental: through a fellowship, a friendship, we come to know Someone who gives meaning to our whole life. Just like in climbing mountains, so beloved by Andrea, who used to hike with family and friends. It is completely different to climb to the top alone or with company.

To what did Andrea dedicate his 19 years of life? To communicating to everyone the beauty of life that faith allowed him to see and experience, inviting everyone into the place of communion with Beauty made flesh. Not by proselytizing, but by sincerely befriending everyone, because he who is truly a friend can only want to see his friends happy.

Meeting him led me to get to know his family, the place where he was raised in life and faith. First, through the book, I read about his friends, his father Antonio, his mother Sofia and his six siblings, of whom Andrea was the fourth. Then I met them in the flesh. In May 2021 I met Andrea's parents and some of his siblings, where I could see the intensity of life that I had perceived in the book. I also met Giovanna Falcon, a long-time friend of the family, who had never met Andrea and whom his father Antonio had asked to write a book about his life.

Then, when the book was published in Portugal, even though the family circumstances were difficult – Andrea's mother had ALS and died the following March; Giovanna's husband, Luciano, was recovering from delicate surgery – both Antonio and Giovanna packed their bags and came to Lisbon, to present the book about Andrea's life, with intense personal testimonies. In a letter I wrote to thank them for their visit, I mentioned the insight I had had: that Andrea would be one of the protagonists of World Youth Day Lisbon 2023, even though he had never participated in a WYD in his life. How was that possible?

In February 2022, the very week of Andrea's birthday, I had an audience with the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, to whom I gifted the book and spoke briefly about how I had come across Andrea's story. I told him about the book as a contribution to the WYD that was coming up. The Patriarch said it would be good to do something about Andrea for the thousands of young people who would be coming to Portugal.

Read also - With the Pope in Lisbon, not to ‘balconear’

So talks began with the Mandelli family, with the leaders of the movement, with the bishops connected to Andrea's story, and with the Organizing Committee of the WYD, so that he could have a place in the "Youth Festival”, to join forces and to propose and build an exhibition that would tell young people around the world about who he was. I myself had learned about Andrea's story in 2018 through an exhibition, and his testimony deeply marked me. Who knows what Andrea will "do" with those who visit this exhibition?

The exhibition “Vi offro la mia molla - Vivere intensamente il reale” [I Offer You My Spring - Living Intensely the Real] will be view from August 1 to 4 at the Champalimaud Foundation; the presentation of the exhibition will take place on August 3 at 2 p.m.