Luigi Giussani

The Hand that Went Up at the Back of the Class

Fr. Ambrogio Pisoni was stopped by a man who said to him, “I am Pavesi, the one who put his hand up on the first day of schoo” After that there were several more meetings, and Claudio Pavese agreed to tell us something of his relationship Giussani
Claudio Pavesi

I came to know Fr. Ambrogio during a conference he gave at Sesto San Giovanni (Milan) on Fr. Giussani. I had gone because for three years Fr. Giussani had been my religion teacher. In presenting The Risk of Education, Fr. Ambrogio opened the book and read precisely that episode in which Fr. Giussani quotes me. As soon as he came into the classroom he found himself face to face with this Pavesi who already had his hand up to ask him a question about faith and reason; it was a polemical question, prepared in a way by the philosophy teacher, Miccinesi. To be honest, apart from this first impact, he was so captivating and so sure of his faith and of what he taught that, in order to make things hard for him (relatively speaking, since it was not enough to make it hard for Fr. Giussani!), I would find out before what he was going to talk about, and (since my mother was from a Protestant family) I was able to prepare myself with documentation so as to contest him. In spite of this, I always had the sensation that before him, my weapons were all blunted, because Fr. Giussani had an energy and capacity to get one involved, and as a result I found some of my devices turned against me. Then, Fr. Giussani was captivating (quite apart from the point of view of faith) in what he taught, in what he felt inside, above all from a human point of view. In his simplicity, he was captivating. Indeed, while many of our class who were Valdese Christians took the option to skip the religion class so as to get on with homework or just to play around, there was a group who showed great interest in what he said, even looking for arguments to deepen the questions and provoke debate. He was so likeable from a human point of view that we, fifteen–or sixteen–year-olds who had no cars, since we knew where to go, would go by bicycle to Desio, where he lived with his mother.
When I finished school, I had the chance to meet him again when I decided to marry at the age of 23. My fiancée was a practicing Catholic, and I had nothing against religion, but out of respect for her and for Fr. Giussani’s teaching, I didn’t feel like getting married in the Church just out of formality. I had still not cleared up many questions in my own mind and considered myself agnostic. I decided to go and see Fr. Giussani. I went to via Statuto where GS would meet in those days. I remember I was a bit scared as I went in to meet someone who in the meantime had become quite a personality in the best sense of the word. I remember that he was in a corridor surrounded by youngsters. I went in timidly. Fr. Giussani saw me from the other end of the corridor, opened his arms, and said, “Ah, Pavesi, the rebel!” He left the group around him and came over to me and embraced me with that great humanity which is his. “How come you are here? What good wind brings you here to me?” I explained my problem to him and he gave me a further demonstration of his sensitivity and said, “Listen, why don’t you come here to see me, so we can talk together?” So I had the fortune to have four or five talks with him. Since my fiancée was a believer and I loved her, and had nothing against the Catholic faith, he assured me that this was a way of believing, through the love that I had for her who was to become my wife, in an indirect way. So I wasn’t to have any scruples over getting married in the Church; he rather hoped that it would be the first step in clarifying many of my doubts, in moving towards a faith of my own, no longer by means of another person. I remember that he heard my confession in his office, in a most affectionate talk. Then I married in the Church.

Then the roads of life… Fr. Giussani became famous. We wrote to each other for a few years. When my daughters were born, he sent me affectionate greetings. I had the fortune to sum up the remembrance of Fr. Giussani at school, the time that marks your life for ever, in this more personal episode with that attention, that affection he showed me, which is the proof that what Fr. Giussani had given us from the human point of view at school was something real that went on in time.

Existentially, my hand is still up today; the question is still alive.