The Crosby CL community.

A Journey to freedom

Picking up the story of Fr. Julián Carrón’s month-long visit to the American CL communities, Traces presents some other witnesses–from Minnesota to the West Coast–of a people living the question of what makes life really life.
Chris Bacich

When we left Chicago, we were not yet even halfway through our journey. We set out for Notre Dame University, a morning’s drive from Chicago, where we encountered one of the most amazing witnesses on our journey.

He is a graduate student at Notre Dame and we met him as part of a very small contingent of students hanging around the university in the middle of July. He was born to Hindu parents in Qatar on the Persian Gulf. He traveled as a young man to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and there found a girlfriend. He described the overarching experience of his time with her as being defined by “anger and jealousy.” After some time, she broke up with him, telling him that she had found a new boyfriend. In his jealousy, he did some research, found out who the new boyfriend was and that he would spend a weekend with her on “retreat.” He decided to sign up for it, hoping to ruin the new loves’ time together. It turned out that the retreat was a Catholic retreat, put together by the small Catholic community in Dubai. He told us that he was astonished when, after the end of the retreat, he found himself telling his ex-girlfriend, “I love you and I understand that, to love you, I don’t have to hold on to you but I have to want what is good for you. So, I wish you well with your new boyfriend.” He said, “For me, meeting Christ was equivalent to being set free from anger and jealousy, so that I might love. Even my parents were astonished by my change and asked me what had happened, since my anger wasn’t a problem only with my ex but also with them.” He recounted how he entered the Church nine months later and also reunited with his ex-girlfriend, because she was so attracted to his immense change. He described his search to understand who Christ is, reading numerous books. His university studies brought him to Canada, where he read Fr. Giussani’s At the Origin of the Christian Claim. He said, “It was the only book I read that could explain what had happened to me. I had to find out more.” That search brought him to CL, where he now lives his relationship with Christ.

Later that evening, Paolo’s wife, Susan, prepared an exquisite menu for us and for more than ten professors from Notre Dame. Paolo explained that these were great friends who were sincerely interested in the added-value that the Catholic faith gives to higher education and that the only rule of their gathering was that there be “no reason” for being together. “We want our time together to be completely gratuitous,” Paolo told us. The conversation that evening centered upon the true nature of education, as well as that of the current crisis in education. Fr. Carrón offered his understanding: “The real problem is the crisis of the human. We face students who aren’t interested in anything. So, the Pope has summed up what really matters, referring to St. Augustine’s question: ‘What can really move the depths of the person?’ Are we capable in our classes of moving that depth?”

Embraced one by one. The next morning, we were off to Minneapolis, Minnesota. We traveled by car to Crosby, where friends had offered their house on Serpent Lake to make our time there as restful as possible. We took a motorboat across the lake to another house for a barbecue. As Fr. Carrón stepped ashore, spontaneous applause broke out and more than a hundred people came to embrace him, one by one.

Julián Carrón at the Grand Canyon.

After we had dined, a conversation began. One of the most beautiful moments took place when a young mother, Steph, asked Fr. Carrón a question. She writes of the experience: “On the day of Fr. Carrón’s arrival in Crosby, I was busy, along with the rest of the family, cleaning and making the final preparations for his visit. I was in the kitchen with my mother-in-law, Marcie, when a question emerged in my heart. I have been ‘watching myself in action’ and I see that, truly, my desire is infinite–that I am not satisfied, that there is something lacking in everything. This judgment is especially poignant, since I am the new mother of a beautiful baby boy. Throughout my pregnancy, I expected the birth of my son to be the event that would take away my restlessness. Instead, I am more restless than ever! I was telling this to my mother-in-law, when I had the painful realization that in front of this great lack, the name of Christ did not mean anything, that it was a mere abstraction. It was then that Marcie said I had to bring this to Fr. Carrón. I refused, thinking of how ashamed I would be to voice this in front of the entire community and, most of all, in front of Fr. Carrón. When the moment came, however, the urgency of this question was so great that I was the first one to speak. I recounted my experience and said that I was deeply saddened by it. What Fr. Carrón said to me then has been a tremendous grace: ‘Christ in your life is so concrete,’ he said, ‘that He is giving you this awareness of yourself... it is He that is making your need known to you.’ Since that day, I have lived differently–unafraid of my desire and of the sadness that is manifested in me because, as Fr. Carrón so tenderly reminded me, it is the first sign of Christ’s presence in my life.”

The easier thing. The next day found us in Minneapolis for two assemblies, one with 60 high school and college students and the other with more than 250 adults from Minnesota and surrounding states. One of the funniest–yet decisive–moments came when a rather large young man asked Fr. Carrón a question about how to live as a good Christian, “when it’s so hard!” He responded, “I don’t agree! Life can be hard but Christianity is easy. For example... do you like cake?” “Yes.” “We can tell! [A roar of laughter from everyone!] If there were a piece of cake in front of you right now, would it be easier to eat it or to resist the temptation to eat it?” “Eat it.” “Exactly! This is like Christianity. You meet something so beautiful, it would be more difficult to resist its attractiveness than to follow it.”

The next day, we stopped at the world-famous Mayo Clinic. Here, Fr. Carrón joined some 50 doctors and nurses for lunch. Many of the questions centered upon the difficulty of constantly being in front of the drama of human suffering and death. Fr. Carrón was dogged in his insistence that such a situation offered a unique possibility to answer a critical question: Was the experience of faith strong enough to set a person free in front of even death? If not, Christianity would be useless. So, the key was to make a journey, living within such a circumstance that would make one evermore certain of a Presence that gives meaning to suffering and is stronger than death. I couldn’t help but reflect upon the fact that I was in a room with some of the most intelligent, motivated, well-educated, and well-meaning people in the world and how, even with all of that, something lacks, something that became clear in their questions. Truly, Christianity offers something we need and that neither we, nor anything in the world can provide.

Julián Carrón and Michael Carvill in Denver.

From Minnesota, we traveled to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. Again, Fr. Carrón gave a presentation on education–this time, in front of an audience that included the President and Dean of Benedictine. Afterwards, we had an assembly with folks from Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Missouri. We were surprised by the fact that students from CLU in Benedictine had been graduating and going on to found communities in parts of the Midwest without any pre-existing communities, most notably in Omaha, Nebraska.

The next day, we traveled to Denver to meet Fr. Michael Carvill of the Fraternity of St. Charles Borremeo, Pastor at Nativity of the Lord parish. More than 300 people gathered for an encounter with Fr. Carrón–mostly people from the parish who were curious about Communion and Liberation. The openness of so many American Catholics came to the fore and once again we witnessed the fascination our charism engenders in so many.

After Denver, it was time to take a break. We were on to some of America’s most beautiful natural landscapes: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon. One of Fr. Carrón’s remarks during our tour touched me deeply: “All this beauty is a sign–the visible indicator of the nearness of God’s presence to us.”

After our brief interlude, we concluded our epic journey to the West Coast. First stops: San Francisco and Cupertino, California (home of the U.S.’s wealthiest company–Apple!). Here, we met all of the communities of California. One of the most memorable encounters came with a Fraternity group of young adults from northern California. At dinner, they witnessed how following the path of the charism had brought them to a sincerity with each other, particularly in correcting one another and encouraging one another to look at Christ. This simplicity makes their friendship a sign for everyone in the communities of northern California. It was also here at the assembly that a question came up which encapsulated one of our great difficulties in living Christianity. A person noted that sadness, longing, and nostalgia were difficult to accept. Fr. Carrón responded, “Why did the disciples seek out Jesus again? Because they could see that He fulfilled this desire. The problem is that we identify the answer to this desire with its elimination.”

This question came up again at our last stop in Seattle, Washington, where we met the communities of the Pacific Northwest. One person stated, “I’m sick of this longing!” And another said, “Many of us feel that this sadness is too much for us. Can you help us?” Fr. Carrón’s response cut to the quick: “Stones don’t get sad, nor are they struck by the beauty of the mountains... Our hidden desire is to be completely insensitive. Only if we become like a rock will we feel no sadness, no nostalgia. We must answer a question: When we miss a person because we are in love, is it a positive or negative thing? What are we really looking for? This sadness is good because it is the evidence of Someone’s existence: to feel this kind of thing is to feel the first sign of Someone else’s presence. It’s not that Fr. Giussani wants us to be sad; it’s that this sadness is the first sign of a Presence. Therefore, when I feel my loneliness, it’s a sign that I am alive!”

Julián Carrón visits with members of the West Coast community.

Together on the road. In the days following Fr. Carrón’s departure, I heard from numerous friends who expressed their gratitude for the grace to witness his testimony. Three elements were repeated by all, in different ways, as the most striking characteristics of his presence: his total certainty, his simple, unbounded joy, and his embrace.

For my part, our adventure gave me the opportunity to see the marvels Christ works in those who simply accept to follow Him in this charism. The certainty, intelligence, solidity, and joy of so many friends here in the U.S. testify to the fact that our journey together on the road of this charism truly has a final destination. It was that destination that I saw most clearly in Fr. Carrón’s person: freedom. Being with him was being with someone whose freedom awakened my heart to desire that same freedom for myself, the freedom that Christ’s presence alone gives.