'Christ Blessing the Children' by Nicolaes Maes via Wikimedia Commons

The True Mystery of a Fact

Monica, the 17-year-old girl killed by a classmate in Milan, Italy. A tragedy that struck the 800 students and teachers of her school. The testimony of two teachers who lead the GS student group at the school.
Giancarlo Ronchi and Vera Drufuca

When, two years ago in a gathering of teachers at the Meeting in Rimini, Cesana warned about an impending wave of violence in Italian schools, on the model of what was happening in America, we never imagined that we would be personally involved in the first bloody episode in an Italian school.

The event made front-page news in all the mass media. During a break from classes, a 17-year-old boy knifed his classmate, who had been his girlfriend and had recently broken up with him.

After the first instants of dizzying grief at the gravity of what had happened, it became immediately clear that this provocation of reality was not limited to this event, but took in all 800 students and our fellow teachers. The plea to understand forcefully emerged, the need to give a sense to what had occurred, precisely because every attempt at explanation sounded inadequate, useless. What had happened was a mystery, the mystery of a person’s heart, but that event called us all into question.

Faced with the question-laden silence of the students, both in class and in an early gathering around the site of the crime, we began to take courage and to attempt to judge what had happened and try to find some way of picking up again, to find some hope. With the help of a short conversation we had very early on with Father Giorgio, we invited everyone to be open to the question, to learn from what had happened, to realize that when you take Mystery out of life and relationships, when you no longer acknowledge that life is something given to you, the only law that remains is that of one’s own measure, one’s own possessing, and ultimately of violence.

The days of that week passed for us in a state of constant wonder at all the good things the Lord was causing to happen. In our classes, what came out was an explicit request for a judgment and an unusually docile willingness to keep the question alive and to seek a judgment: “It’s true, sometimes we too are violent in our relationships.” Instead of the usual, “In my opinion, instead…,” one girl said, “It seems to me I have to start living all over again. I have to learn everything again.” Many sought out our company. A girl, with hair dyed bright red, earrings everywhere, wearing studs and chains, followed one of us all the way into the classroom and said, “Can I stay here with you?” Another said, “In you I have seen persons, not just teachers. I was not a believer, but I understand that only with faith can I face what has happened.” Thus, the initiatives that arose (and were easy to carry out) were dictated to us by simply accepting totally the challenge that reality put to us through the questions of the kids.

Intense Dialogue
The Mass celebrated by Father Marcello in the church in Sesto San Giovanni provided a fundamental reference point for judgment. Delineating with absolute clarity and simplicity the conditions for a path of truth through life, he helped everyone to face this event with faith and hope (and indeed, even the authorities and the Mayor of Sesto were astounded at his words). So many people asked for the text of the homily that hundreds of copies of it were distributed in the classes, and we used it for a great “ray” that we held later with many students as well as a group of teachers. The dialogue was intense and full of questions: “How is it possible to love a person and then hurt them? What does it mean to love? If by doing violence to someone, one also hurts himself, why does he still do it?”

The different way of looking at things and the friendship that arose with some girls resulted in the desire–taking our cue from the statement made by the student representative to the School Council, which ended with the words, “We are only 16 or 17 years old; someone has to help us to understand, help us to understand!”–to write a letter to the President of Italy, in the name of all the students, to say to everyone that the schools must not abdicate their task of educating, and that a renewal of the school system can only start from the question of the destiny, the meaning to give to one’s life and one’s commitment in coming to school.
It also happened that a fellow teacher stopped us in the hall and asked, “How do you always manage to have words of truth to give these kids even in times like this? I reach a certain point and then I have to pick up the lesson again.”

We are well aware that after the opening of hearts taking place in these days, very soon the usual indifference or hostility will set in again. From the very beginning, also due to the inability of many adults to face this event and to risk offering reasons, the invitation to get back to a necessary normality was transformed into a total “normalization” of the exceptional question that had emerged. No one can deny the evident miracle of change that has come about in our lives and in many people’s way of looking at things, nor can we lose the renewed awareness that our human experience is truly guided by an Other and that only He can transform such a painful event into a world of good. It falls to us humbly to follow this history, made up of what happens, and to ask to be, wherever we are called, His hands, His words, His heart, imploring the Lord to accomplish fully what He has so mysteriously begun.