Pope John Paul II. Wikimedia Commons

In Love with Christ and Man

The friendship and esteem with Fr. Giussani, the audiences with the university students, and "that same way of seeing things" that, nonetheless, irritated some people. Here is the story of how the bond between the Pope and the Movement was born and grew.
Massima Camisasca

The election of Karol Wojtyla to Pope was a fact that profoundly affected the life of Communion and Liberation. Up until the mid-1970s, the Movement was observed with attention and respect by some great personalities of the Church. The great majority of Italian bishops, however, knew nothing about it or were hostile to it. During the final years of his pontificate, Paul VI, because of the action of Cardinal Benelli, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, began to look at the Movement, inviting it to the Palm Sunday celebration of 1975 in Saint Peter's Square. With the election of John Paul II, CL found itself suddenly at the center of the Pope's attention, and thus at the center of the Church.

Meetings with the Pope
A few months passed from that October 1978: in January of the next year, Giussani was received in audience. There followed a series of meetings between the Pope and the CL members of Rome and of other cities, that culminated in the great audiences for CLU in March 1979 and for the whole Movement in September 1984. In the meantime, in 1982, the Pope had visited the Meeting of Rimini–a closeness that impressed and almost frightened many men and some prelates. Some worked to eliminate this "embrace," creating a bit of distance between the Pope and the Movement.

How is all this to be explained? Why did this Pope, come from so far away, immediately show such interest in the Movement, to the point of saying in public, "Your way of facing man's problems is similar to mine: May I say that it is the same?" He said this during a meeting with some university students in early 1980, in recognition of a profound syntony, of a connaturality between Fr. Giussani and the Polish Pope, who was rooted in the conviction that faith in Jesus Christ is the center of existence, that following Him is a grace, a joy, a victory, and the road toward the fullness of the human. Giussani and Wojtyla recognized in each other men of a Church that wasn't closed in the sacristy, not envious of the world, but happy at the gift received and aware that it is what people search for and await.The two great priests had met in Poland shortly before the election of the Bishop of Krakow as the successor of Peter. The Pope thus already had a general idea about the Movement. But through those first encounters he was undoubtedly struck by some aspects that characterized the life of CL. It was a movement composed above all of young people, and that therefore knew how to talk to the new generations, attract them, and convince them, precisely while the Church lost rivers of their peers to the sea of Marxism or indifference. Wojtyla was struck by the person of Fr. Giussani, by his radicality, by the universality of his charism, by his capacity to speak about man to men, reaching the innermost depths of human expectation, without canceling anything of the vital manifestations of people. The first encyclical of Karol Wojtyla was Redemptor Hominis. As was true for Giussani, so also for this pope: the fires of the universe are Christ and man. If man takes himself seriously, he finds signs for the journey toward Christ. At the same time, only Christ reveals man to man, as the Vatican II Council said.

Luigi Giussani

Wojtyla and Giussani looked at the Church and humanity from this angle. Both were animated by a very strong missionary passion, aware of having been called by God for a reform of the life of the Church. They were convinced that this reform would not happen through a return to the past, or in thoughtless trust in progress, but in a rediscovery of the Christian experience, in attention to existence, to the profound dynamics of the life of man, in whom can be read the traces of what God has sown in the heart of people, in a trust in Christianity as event, that happens here and now, as the Pope said in the audience for the thirty-year anniversary of CL.
This pope brought forth a positive rediscovery of Christianity as a luminous and fascinating event, capable of embracing all the aspects of life, without any fundamentalism or nostalgia for the past, without being blocked by the problem of modernity, but looking ahead toward the new that they saw growing in front of their eyes.

Man at the Center Wojtyla and Giussani set man at the center of their attention, no longer the world, as was the theological and ecclesial concern during the 1960s. They spoke to every man, in the awareness that the Incarnation is the central event of the history of the entire universe. Obviously, not everything was equal in the two men. Their two personal stories were profoundly different. Even certain accentuations are present in one or in the other in different ways. For example, Wojtyla spoke a great deal of the love between man and woman, of family, of the body. These themes were not formally at the center of Giussani's concerns. He addressed them when he spoke of the education of affection. However, both were animated by the desire that the Church not take refuge in sterile clericalism–they wanted to open the spaces of the Church to the whole universe. They were interested in the themes of man: work, love, and vocation. They were profoundly convinced that they had a message, that they bore a true experience for every man in the world: the highest, the most human, the one truly capable of bringing man to his complete stature. Both spoke of the rationality of faith.

In the final ten years of their lives, called mysteriously to end almost in synchrony, there appeared between Giussani and Wojtyla a profound syntony of experiences, marked also by interesting exchanges of letters. Both lived their illnesses–the same illness struck them–without complaining, without balking. A paradoxical conclusion to two lives entirely dedicated to the world, to journeys, encounters, to an activity that seemed never to rest. Identity lived in humanity and faith: this perfect definition of Giussani's charism is also the first impression I had of John Paul II when he emerged as Pope. Giussani clambered past all schemes and appeared new and different in the various eras of life, just as did Wojtyla, who was profoundly interested in all aspects of the human, above all conversation and encounter with people.

What the two created can be defined, for both of them, as movement. That born of Giussani is much more visible and compact, with its own name, its own center, its own statute, but nonetheless destined to acknowledge in the charism of that man the source of its relevance for current life. Wojtyla's was worldwide, born above all from his journeys, and in particular of the World Youth Days; more difficult to identify, run through with a thousand different currents, yet still so alive that today, six years after his death, a river of people come to Rome to pray, even if for a moment, at his tomb.