(Photo: Meeting di Rimini)

Towards the Meeting: Without second thoughts or cracks, a friendship for destiny

Fr. Giussani's letters to Angelo Majo, Bergoglio and Scalfari, and Augustine awaiting Baptism. A relationship that has the taste of Manzoni's "providence". A contribution on the title of the 2023 edition of the Rimini Meeting.
Giuseppe Frangi

How suggestive is the title of this year's Meeting, "Human existence is an inexhaustible friendship", a phrase taken from Fr. Giussani's book The Journey to Truth is an Experience. It is a notion that touches the deepest fibres of existence, restoring them to the clarity of a destiny; it is a notion that dissolves all haziness around the great mystery of life. Friendship is like a declaration of the creator, 'making himself clear' in his relationship with his creatures.

Let us try to reflect freely. We might ask ourselves, for example, if it is not more pertinent to speak of 'love' rather than 'friendship'. Rather, it is precisely the category of friendship (which is a declination of a loving sentiment, the etymological root of the two words being the same) that is revealing. It is a small variation resulting from Fr. Giussani’s theological and pastoral genius: friendship in fact inevitably implies the need for a relationship and presupposes a correspondence. It is impressive to think that at the heart of creation there is not an arcane darkness, but an explicit relationship: nothing is hidden, from the very beginning. An open relationship between the creator and his creatures. A thought of Pope Francis makes this very clear. "You ask me whether the thought according to which there is no absolute, and therefore not even an absolute truth, but only a series of relative and subjective truths, is an error or a sin," Bergoglio had written in a letter replying to Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the Italian newspaper Repubblica. "To begin with, I would not speak, not even for those who believe, of 'absolute' truth, in the sense that something absolute is unbound, devoid of any relation. Now, truth, according to the Christian faith, is God's love for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is a relationship!".

In the text from which it is taken, the title of the Meeting is completed by another adjective: in addition to being "irreducible" this original friendship is in fact also "omnipotent". We have always associated the idea of omnipotence with a God who can do everything, transforming him into a resolving God, a superman-like God; instead, here we are given a more real idea of omnipotence, verifiable every instant, that is, every time we come across one of the links in the immense chain that that initial gratuitous friendship has set in motion, becoming history and stories. It is an omnipotence in action that, in order to assert itself, resorts to the simplest and most human method: that of the encounter between the creator and his creatures. Fr. Giussani writes in that same page: “Man’s strength is an Other, man’s certainty is an Other: existence is a profound dialogue, loneliness is abolished at the very roots of every moment of life.”

Advancing our reflection, we are faced with the reasonable need to come to terms with a different concept of ‘friend'. We have fallen back on the idea that a friend is someone with whom we have an affinity or with whom we feel comfortable: social networks are just the extreme outcome of this fall back. A friend is a bit of a photocopy of ourselves, who shares the same enclosure we find ourselves in and makes us feel good within that protected space. Fr. Giussani's experience has an opposite dynamic, as documented in his marvellous correspondence with his ‘friend’ Fr. Angelo Majo: "A few evenings ago, thinking, I discovered that you are my only friend. Not because of preferential treatment. I cannot capture that ineffable and total vibration in my being in front of ‘things’ or ‘people’ except in your way of reacting." Then Giussani specifies that Fr. Angelo's vibration has a “harmonious” characteristic, while his is “violent”. "But that has nothing to do with it," he emphasises. A friend is not someone with whom we have or seek an affinity of character or visions with, but someone who brings me back to that creaturely friendship that lies at the root of existence. In another letter of August 1945 he wrote: “What is desire between two profound friends? The aspiration of friendship is union, it is to identify with each other, to knead together, to become the same person, the same physiognomy of the Friend... to become kneaded together with Him.” The pages of the Confessions come to mind in which Augustine recalls the path of his conversion, in Verecondo's house in Cassiciaco, in the heart of Brianza, where he had "secluded himself" with his friends while awaiting Baptism. But theirs was seclusion to open themselves, with "the expectation of the heart that looked into the eyes", to that original relationship of friendship. Augustine writes: “Happy the man who loves you and loves his friend in you and loves his enemy because of you. For no one ever loses a loved one forever who cherishes them in and through that one who is never lost, that one who is our God. And who is this, if not our God, the God who created heaven and earth and filled them, for by filling them he made them?"

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This image of God as a friend who continually fills heaven and earth leads us to that adjective that closes the title of the Meeting: "inexhaustible". That is to say, it is a friendship that is always in action, that does not contemplate second thoughts or cracks. With its good nature, it marks the destiny of history in every moment, like Manzoni’s ‘providence’, acting even when times seen adverse. For this reason it is reliable hope, the foundation on which we in turn can build a 'good life' for the whole community of men. Fr. Giussani used to write to his friend Angelo: "The important thing is that for us it is inconceivable and unjust that there should be beauty as you have seen it, and I imagine it, without us having to sacrifice ourselves to the full for 'others'". That relationship of friendship at the origin of existence acts in a truly inexhaustible way.