(L-R) Sareen, Mooney, Aldrette, and Savorana. Photo by Giulietta Riboldi.

The Life of Luigi Giussani: A Presence, Not a Theory

Alberto Savorana kicked off the Life of Luigi Giussani book tour on March 9 in New York City alongside Margarita Mooney, Anujeet Sareen, and Jackie Aldrette. Read the full story.
Sebastian Oglethorpe

A bouquet of white hydrangeas sits center-table on the stage facing a lighted auditorium. Behind it, a battered red brick backdrop rests bathing in the soft purple glow of the stage lights. New faces bleed through the auditorium entrance filling the seats with conversation. The lights dim, an announcement is made. Folks find their seats and sit silently, eyes fixed on the freshly lit stage. Two men enter left—musicians. Jonathan Fields begins first, cutting the eager silence with his guitar. Soon after, Ken Genuard delivers a soulful rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic "A Change is Gonna Come."

The tone is set: Seeking A Path Forward.

Alberto Savorana is invited on stage accompanied by moderator Jackie Aldrette and panelists Margarita Mooney and Anujeet Sareen.

The evening at the Sheen Center in New York City marks the first of a ten-part marathon book tour showcasing the work of Savorana, The Life of Luigi Giussani. Savorana, a journalist and personal friend of Msgr. Luigi Giussani, is now responsible for the editorial activities of the Movement as the Director of Communion and Liberations Public Relations and Press Office. He devoted five years to translating Giussani’s life into text--an enormous task accomplished by retracing and capturing the humanity Giussani dedicated his life to. The result was nearly 1500 pages recounting the impact of the life of Luigi Giussani.

Aldrette begins the conversation by introducing the panelists. To her immediate left, Professor Mooney, an associate professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and founder of the Scala Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to reigniting interest in classical liberal arts. To Aldrette’s far-left, Sareen, a portfolio manager for Brandywine Global’s Fixed Income and related strategies division. Both interlocutors structure their respective contributions on the impact the charism of Giussani had in their vocations.

Professor Mooney is the first to comment. As an educator, she speaks of her experience in the classroom exposing her students to Giussani’s The Risk of Education. One of Giussani’s gifts, she explains, is that “he uses common words in uncommon ways,” and draws attention to two words used in such a way which she’s found important to her experience in education—authority and tradition. The former, she continues, is understood as a hypothesis—Giussani suggests it as the foundation for discovery. Likewise, authority ought not demand discovery to be controlled or mechanical. Instead, it should be the embodiment of tradition that is in contact with the person. Mooney goes on to point out that American culture values individual achievement and personal feeling rather than the search for truth in community. This cultural value is particularly apparent in education. “Community is not a political project with religious undertones,” she says. “Community has to point to the freedom of the individual.”

Giussani was not interested in a political or religious revolution but in the inner dynamism that rests within each person and pulls us toward the Creator. His charism was embodied in his own person—his charism was his humanity—an authentic coherence between talking and acting, explains Mooney. “Giussani’s method of education really is about the awakening of the human person which to me is so important in today’s culture,” she states, closing by saying that, equally, teachers have an obligation to love the freedom of their students.

Sareen is next to speak. “I’ve never met Fr. Giussani. What I know of Fr. Giussani comes from the people that he touched. I see who he is in those people and that has changed my life dramatically.” Sareen was born in India and grew up as a subscriber to Sikhism. When he met Communion and Liberation, he wasn’t Catholic, but he was captured by Giussani’s claim that our desire needs to be educated. “It wasn’t like Giussani was saying we had to desire something. It was more about, do I desire enough?” he explains. “Look at your heart. Your heart wants something infinite.” Sareen began to find wonder and joy unrestricted by what was comfortable or by what defended against disappointment. He saw in Giussani a certainty which allowed Giussani to live fearlessly. “Fr. Giussani didn’t need a [safety] box because he had met the presence of God.” After this encounter, Sareen’s life changed. He shifted his gaze toward discovery, which extended beyond him to his children. “I looked at them with an interest in that same discovery,” he states. “Their heart now had to live that experience of encountering the mystery, and that was a gift for me.” The role of community in this discovery became important for Sareen because, he mentions, there is a time when one’s children look to others in their personal search. “We could live our lives in a way that seeks to protect them, but how different it is to live with them fearlessly,” he concludes, reaffirming the original fearlessness which had attracted him to the Church in the first place.

Savorana also begins echoing Mooney and Sareen’s emphasis on Giussani’s humanity. Stressing that Giussani’s lifelong aim was to be a witness to his fellow men, Savorana recounts how Giussani’s “most beautiful day” was “when he realized Christ wasn’t a personality of the past … but someone present.” This realization strongly awakened in him the awareness that, even in crisis, “the core of the human being is the same,” a conviction which carried Giussani through the revolutionary Italian crisis of 1968, when a vast majority of students adhering to Gioventú Studentesca left Giussani to join leftist political movements. “He saw [amidst] a very strong Catholic tradition that faith didn’t matter in life,” says Savorana. “Giussani devoted his entire life to the person; the single individual person, not the mass[es]. … He desired to give his life to show people that Christ is not an idea, not a theory, but a presence.” Prompted to speak to the current modern crisis drawing inspiration from Giussani’s attitude in 1968, Savorana explains that Giussani did realize that “in young people there was a desire of authenticity,” but he most of all stressed that the only true revolution is the one “that Christ brought in our personal lives.” “In 1968, students went against their own tradition, so what kind of proposal was possible?” asks Savorana at the end of his remarks. “Something present. Presence is a person, but not any person; the person that changed my life: Christ.

This presence which made itself known so clearly in the lives of the panelists, so different yet bound together almost mysteriously, is made evident as they speak of it freely, and in observing the event unfold one cannot but linger on the words of Savorana: “If we belong to Christ, we are together. It is something completely different from a project.