'The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Tomb' by Eugene Burnand via Wikimedia Commons

An eternal friendship

Twenty-five years of shared history. Following Father Giussani and sharing all of existence. "Life's burdens were many, but he was always out front, never pushing from behind."
Giancarlo Cesana

I met him for the first time more than 25 years ago. I don't remember what he said to me. However, I do remember the tone. I was already one of the leaders on the national level of CL in the university, he was the head of the burgeoning university group in Modena. He had his own ideas, he didn't ask for advice, he suggested how things were to be done. I remember it as though it were today; he was a hardhead. Then I didn't see him again; probably he was caught up in the hundreds of initiatives of the community of Reggio Emilia (and there really were hundreds). I saw him a few years later. I had been invited to Bologna, where one of the largest university communities of Communion and Liberation was situated. The community there was somewhat blocked by cultural problems, in the sense that they had an enormous inferiority complex toward modernity, and Marxist modernity in particular. My audience was not large. For this reason, remembering that hardhead who, I had heard, had started working in Bologna, I looked him up and invited him to participate in the group of leaders. He resisted a bit. The "Cattolici Popolari," the CL members and others who were involved in university politics, had written a flyer against him for a matter concerning surgery examinations. He told me about how he had spoken against them in public and that it was very hard for him to take part in the CL university diakonia. But he came. He always sat in the back. At the end of assemblies that were rather difficult, I would ask him to contribute. I would put what he had said in the best light and bring things to a conclusion, but without success. We would leave together and at the last bar in the Strada Maggiore we would stop for a drink , then we would go our separate ways-I remember the fog-I toward Milan, he to Modena or Reggio, where the night had just begun. No one would invite us to dinner, both out of immaturity and because evidently it wasn't the right thing to do. He had a Peugeot Diesel, the model with the smallest engine, the most economical, with which he was already racking up the millions of miles that he would travel after that. Then, unexpectedly, friendship bloomed, through the intervention of Giandomenica from Ravenna and a dinner in Elena Ugolini's apartment. I proposed a change of command, that the leader of the university community in Bologna be Enzo Piccinini. Father Giussani willingly accepted the idea. This was the beginning of a wonderful period that is still ongoing. I got to know Enzo. He had fantastic gifts, which I was lacking: impetuousness, immediacy, physical strength. I became enthusiastic about him and the group in Bologna. One time he phoned me: there was an earthquake in Irpinia, and he was already en route with boxes of medicine in his car, his medical bag, and I don't know what else. He was present. He had a fixation, which was the "grass roots," the people. I remember the Meeting in Rimini when the Pope came. Participation was truly enormous, in and especially outside the main hall, with people piled up everywhere. Enzo wanted to be where the people were. I was with the leaders. I remember him in line at the cafeteria while I went to the restaurant with the VIP (in a manner of speaking!). He mouthed the words to me, "I'm with the grass roots." He was a true leader, wherever he went he "pulled after him" thousands of kids, a sign that what he told them was not only exciting but was convincing. We talked about everything. We saw each other practically every week or even more often for twenty years, in Milan or Bologna. Here, he was a fantastic guest: he liked to eat well and he never let me pay, not even once. He would phone me every other day, often after midnight: "How are things?" Right off, I didn't know what to say to him, because according to me things were going about how they had been the day before, but then we would start talking: there was, there is, always something that was or was not going well. What always impressed me about Enzo was his desire to compare things, to measure himself against others. He had magnificent personal qualities, but he wanted to be corrected. This is a sign of belonging, of service to Another. We would discuss things between us, sometimes pretty harshly, because we were certain of a paternal authority (Father Giussani), so that it was clear, very clear, that the last word was not ours. Without the personal, intense relationship with Father Giussani, Piccinini, his life, cannot be understood. In any case this is how he was understood by the university students who heard his witness at the last Exercises [reprinted in the booklet enclosed with this issue of Traces]. He "pulled" others after him-.this was one of his favorite verbs. Life's burdens were many, but he was always out front, never "pushing" from behind. He was a friend and only God knows how much. We were more or less the same age, our children were in college, we were more or less embarrassed at being leaders. For these reasons, for our age and history, no other claims, we felt like fathers of these university kids. It couldn't be a game. We talked to each other about the family, about work, about the Movement, which wasn't something external, but internal. The problem was not doing, but being. How many people who weren't "one of us" were crying at his funeral! Enzo was a meeting point for everyone: patients, professors, ordinary people, Americans, French, English and who knows who else. A total devotion, as Father Giussani said, not only and not so much as commitment, but as mental outlook and intelligence. Every once in a while we would see each other alone, for lunch or dinner, to compare notes about life, not in definitive terms (that would have been wrong; our sense of authority was clear!), but to clarify things. The last time, we met in Piacenza. We went to a restaurant where the owner was a fan of Enzo. We ate two pasta dishes typical of the area and drank some grappa, talking about "us," taking in everything. Then we left, each his own assigned way. Later we saw each other again together with the others, always discussing and understanding. Now Enzo, as usual, has gone ahead, far ahead. And I continue to run, waiting.