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

On North American Soil

The birthplace of Communion and Liberation was a school in Italy. Across the ocean, the GS is a vibrant community lead by many teachers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Sean McCann tells us three stories from the world of GS.
Sean McCann

The fact, the concrete existence of Communion and Liberation today, started with Monsignor Luigi Giussani. We all know that, but sometimes we forget that, along with Giussani, it started with GS, a group of teenagers in high school. Everything sprouted from the desire of these teenagers to live life more fully, ignited by their encounter with Giussani. Because they followed their desire, we have this movement, we have this life.

What is GS doing today? The experience continues, the presence is still in our high schools. The following are three stories of three teenagers in GS living the Movement in North America. These three stories, based on testimonies that each student gave at a recent vacation, show the ways in which this charism is incarnating itself here in the States and in Canada.

Moved by a Sunset
Mark Painter from Rochester, Minnesota, started going to GS in 2006. Mark had heard what people in the Movement were telling him, but he wasn’t taking it to heart. On a recent summer vacation, he was speaking to one of the adults of his community, Deacon Phil. In the middle of their conversation, Deacon Phil paused and asked Mark if he was actually making a judgment. Mark was almost angry at the question; his first reaction was to insist that he was. As Mark thought about it, however, he realized that he wasn’t judging what was going on around him at all. That same night on the summer vacation, everyone went to see the sunset at a nearby park. Mark sat there watching the sunset and, in front of its beauty, realized that this is the kind of thing that he has to make a judgment on. In that moment of seeing the sunset, he judged that he was happy, truly happy. What was in front of him wasn’t just a mere cycle of nature; it was something more. It was something personally for Mark; he could feel it pull at something inside of him, inside of his heart.

Mark left the vacation, but afterwards kept having this one experience he described as “always so exceptional that every single time it happened, I was sitting there in wonderment. It was the experience of a friend of yours knowing the truth of your humanity better than you do.”

At first, Mark thought it was impossible, this idea that someone else could know him better than he knew himself. The only plausible answer Mark could come up with to explain this was Christ, the same Presence behind the beautiful sunset that he saw. He was the One who could know Mark better than Mark knew himself. Often he heard people say things like, “You don’t know me,” but for Mark, his awareness reached the point where he realized that without other people, he wouldn’t know himself at all. It was in this friendship in GS that Mark saw that his friends knew who he was better than he did.
After this, Mark began to think that this kind of experience, this kind of humanity, only happened with certain people: Christians, Catholics. However, he became good friends with someone in his school who was an atheist. One night, the two were out skiing and had gotten to the top of a mountain when Mark saw that the sky was filled with beautiful stars. He pointed it out to his friend before the two went down the mountain. When they reached the bottom, Mark asked his friend where he wanted to go next. His friend’s reply was that he wanted to go back to where they were before, because he had to see those stars again. Mark judged that this humanity he had previously discovered is universal. It wasn’t just happening to him, it was happening to everyone. The only difference between him and his friend was that Mark could see what it was that the stars pointed to.

Since that experience, Mark started to invite everyone he knew to School of Community, but no one ever came. He kept inviting them anyway. He judged that he did all of this because of the desire he had for all of his friends to experience what he had in GS. He wanted to share this gift with his friends.

Beyond Ballet
Annie Thompson from Crosby, Minnesota, also met GS in 2006. At the time, she was a ballerina and had been dancing since she was three years old. It was also around this time that her life began to change. One of her best friends had moved to New York to dance, and Annie would soon have to face the decision of whether or not she wanted to become a professional dancer. That fall, she was chosen for a lead role in the Nutcracker. Anna had to go to class for the play five nights a week. She recalled that period as being the worst fall of her life. Annie missed GS every Monday night because of her practice; she was still filled with questions and struggling with her faith. She had been on the GS Summer Vacation in 2006 and knew what it was she was lacking. Annie was invited to go to the GS Winter Vacation in 2007 and knew immediately that she wanted to be there, because she had met something that corresponded to her on that previous vacation, and it still corresponded even though she had put it aside.

During that winter vacation, Annie felt as though Chris Bacich, GS responsible, was talking directly to her, and that most of her questions were answered clearly. She saw exceptionality in this place during the vacation and wanted it in her life. Afterwards, Annie became more involved with GS but she still felt guilty when she would miss ballet practice. With all of her responsibilities, she felt as if she was just running through life, doing everything that was presented to her merely to check them off and get to the next part of her “To Do” list. Annie began to think about giving up being a ballerina.

In fall 2007, Annie went to the Equipe meeting, with others in GS around the nation, and was struck by something said in an assembly regarding sacrifice. It was said that if you’re not sacrificing, if you’re not giving yourself to something greater, you won’t be happy. Despite being reserved and quiet, Annie went up to ask a question regarding sacrifice, wanting to know more about it. She wanted to know what it meant to sacrifice, and how she could do it. Father José explained, “A problem in life is a provocation for you in reality to affirm what you love. Sacrifice coincides with an expression of love because a person needs to affirm one thing over another.”
This was where Annie’s problem regarding ballet was faced head on. She loved both ballet and GS, but she came to a judgment that she loved GS more, because it was here that a deeper need was filled within her, a need for beauty and happiness. She had “gotten to the bottom of dancing,” and wanted more. It wasn’t that this forced her to quit, or that she couldn’t try to find Christ in her dancing. For Annie, she had a certainty that this decision to live differently personally corresponded to her more than being a dancer ever could have.

Everything Changed
Gabriella (Gabby) Filano from Toronto, Canada, met GS through her cousin, Maddalena Zucchi. She went to her first winter vacation in 2007 in Quebec, but it meant nothing to her. Gabby thought it was “crazy,” and she continued her life, participating in organizations that dealt with problems overseas, fundraising, trying to change the world, but never trying to deal with her own problems. She began to struggle with school; soon, Gabby didn’t even want to go back. Maddalena invited her again to the 2008 winter vacation and she went, just to see her friends. It was at this vacation that everything changed. She had been struggling through the vacation to translate what was being said, as it was totally in French and she had only spoken the language in school. Everything was transformed at a specific moment when Mark Basik said, “Even recognizing something is missing is a form of loving Christ.” For Gabby, those words made her think of the emptiness she had been feeling in a different way.

Afterwards, she and a friend went up to speak with Mark Basik. Gabby expressed all the problems she had been having along with how much this struck her at a School of Community that was organized on the vacation. One person replied to her experience with one of his own, regarding how he had gone through losing his two sisters to disease when he was younger. He spoke of how important it was for him to have this companionship to help him through his doubt and his faith. It was here in GS that Gabby found a friendship she never had seen before. The friends she made in Quebec, who went back to Montreal, were now the most important people in her life–in spite of the fact that they were six hours away from her.

Gabby was sad the first night back home from the vacation, being away from the people who were the most precious to her. She spoke with her sister, who said that she has to show the humanity Gabby saw at the vacation to her friends at home. From there, everything changed (yet again). Gabby lived her friendships differently than before; each person became much more important to her. Gabby then set off to start her own community in Toronto, because she wanted to show this beautiful experience she had to everyone she knew. She called Paolo Palamara (who was, at that time, on his honeymoon!) about starting a community, and he told her that he didn’t have to start the community, because it had already begun with her.

The Toronto community started in January with Gabby and Paolo and continues now in the new school year with at least fourteen people attending their weekly School of Community. Gabby still has her struggles, her doubts. But now, for the first time in her life, she wants to do math, to write papers, to try and find out how she can see Christ in them and how they might pertain to her life. There are still many problems, the same ones as before, but now Gabby has hope for those problems instead of despair.

The Adventure Continues
These are just three of the countless stories currently happening in GS. Each of them shows us a striking new hope, something that both radically changes how a person lives but yet doesn’t change who the person is. It makes each of us more ourselves, causing us to want to get to the bottom of what we love, whether it’s something we’ve done for all our lives, or just the simple fact of being with a friend. The same desire that was present in Giusanni’s high school students is present today in GS in North America, and is continuing to grow as they live the same life, and encounter that which we have all met.