Fr. Julián Carrón

Education: the revolution is a life that is different and new

Thousands of people connected to the online meeting with Julián Carrón, promoted by CL. The dramas and challenges of young people, teachers and parents during the pandemic. "The meaning of life is not transmitted by DNA..."
Alessandro Banfi

An event is an event is an event. It seems appropriate to paraphrase Gertrude Stein who wrote: "A rose is a rose is a rose". Here too we are dealing with something that bloomed: the public online event organized by CL on its YouTube channel on Saturday night, "Education: Communicating one’s self. Growing and helping others grow in a pandemic". The meeting can be re-watched online, as many people have already done, and was characterised by a plurality of voices. It dealt with the pressing, at times distressing, topical issue: education. Thousands of people watched live from their phones, computers and televisions. The present writer was lucky enough to be invited to some friends’ home (abiding by the Covid regulations), to try to live that gesture together, at a distance, but in a small community.

The first message of the evening, before any words were even exchanged amongst ourselves, amongst Fr. Julián Carrón and those who spoke, was this: we are not alone. There is a community, inside a world that is beautiful and sometimes tragic, like the world today, that takes steps along a path. It is a path that was opened up by the letter in Corriere della Sera written by a group of teachers and educators. So many insights and so many questions. We are in the midst of a terrible crisis, something which was immediately spelled out by Elisabetta, a pediatrician in a large hospital in Milan. "How is it possible that nine or ten year olds have met their death because of a game, a "challenge" on social media?", she asked, opening the dialogue towards consideration of the great discomfort of adolescents. What is happening to our kids? Numbers and facts reveal great suffering. Fr. Julián responded, beginning to center the dialogue on education. He quoted Susanna Tamaro, saying that the virus has "revealed, not created" problems that already existed. The pandemic has highlighted the destructive power of contemporary nihilism, exploding anxieties, solitude, inequality... Over the years, awareness of this growing critical situation has passed many judgements that remain significant: in the 1970s, Pier Paolo Pasolini already spoke of the "anthropological mutation" of the Italian people, increasingly homologated; in the 1980s, Fr. Luigi Giussani coined the term "Chernobyl effect" to describe the weakening of personality; John Paul II spoke of the "abolition of the human", Benedict XVI of an "educational emergency", and Pope Francis is now calling for a "global educational pact" for today's youth.

This is not just a problem of cultural analysis; the practical nihilism of our time is evident in the new generations. Domenico, from Cesena, explained this well by talking about a letter written by an 18-year-old who wrote: I have no one to write to. The challenge is addressed to adults, to their way of presenting themselves. "The meaning of life," Carrón explained, "is not transmitted by DNA." The challenge is the personal relationship, what Affinati called the "deep relationship." Teaching cannot just be a transfer of notions, the stakes are much higher.

It was a 5-year-old boy that then helped everyone take another step forward. Luca, from Lugano, recounted the beautiful story. A familiar situation during dinner: the parents were praying for a cure for Covid and the five-year-old boy suddenly became upset. His teacher had explained to him in class that only adults could talk about the virus. Instead, when in a dialogue with another teacher "he realized that he could pray for the pandemic, he changed." This teacher attracted him so much that he wanted to change schools. Carrón commented: you cannot, even with the best intentions, save a child, even a five-year-old, from reality. A child already knows how to judge and will judge you. But to be able to open yourself to reality you need an adult who is a presence. Through this example, we can understand better why "education is the introduction to total reality," as Fr. Giussani used to say. Another important point came up thanks to Pina from Macerata, who talked about her students, her GS students, and her children: if we do not believe in our own heart, we cannot challenge the heart of the other.

It is the matter of the self. "May the self be reborn in an encounter," Carrón explained, "in order to be able to turn towards the other ... to reawaken them in turn." It is not easy to find adults like that, and young people perceive it immediately. There is no room for deceit. Later on, replying to Fortunato from Florence, Fr. Carrón quoted the psychoanalyst Massimo Recalcati: it is not a matter of communicating information, educators must first work upon themselves. Fr. Julián himself recounted his experience as a teacher in a school in Madrid: "How many mornings would I have given anything not to have to teach a lesson, but then I would enter the classroom and be amazed at what was happening. I would go back to my office excited... Even our limitations are an opportunity, to be able to question ourselves and work with our kids." Only adults who are truly a presence can generate, be fruitful.

An old slogan of Giuseppe Garibaldi's them came to mind: "There is glory for all". Yes, because these days, even more so this time of pandemic, there is also the objection of not feeling sufficiently up to the challenge, or of not having adequate strategies or projects. Carrón once again quoted Fr. Giussani when he insisted that in these times, "in a society like ours, something new cannot be created except with life; there is no structure, no organization, no initiative that is worthwhile. Only a life that is different and new can revolutionize structures, initiatives, relationships - ultimately, everything. Therefore, there is room for everyone,” said Carrón. This applied, first of all, to parents and educators, in all circumstances.

School and family can thus respond to the challenges that the virus has dramatically highlighted. For schools, in particular, the crisis of distance learning, bureaucratic procedures, those mechanisms that Affinati rightly defines "theatrical", have brought to light a question that is a real challenge. Students and teachers are looking for a place of freedom, a place of education for all, a place of discovery of the human. Those who have been lucky enough to glimpse "a life that is different and new " have a great desire to propose it to everyone.