Atibaia, Brazil. Wikimedia Commons

We Are Children, Not Orphans

The invitation to freedom… the value of works… the Aparecida document… Sixteen years after the last meeting with Fr. Giussani, the CL office-holders of the communities of Latin America met to face the question: “What are you seeking?”
Roberto Fontolan

Twelve flags, three hundred voices, the poster of Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew, the banner with the title, “Amigos, ou seja testemunhas,” expressing the basic theme: the resumption of the International Assembly of La Thuile. In Atibaia, an hour’s drive from Sao Paulo in Brazil, the meeting of the CL office-holders for Latin America began on February 22nd in memory of Fr. Giussani, with the song Povera voce and the memory of the aims that he himself assigned to this continent-wide event: personal growth, an experience of unity, a missionary presence. The year 1992 was the last time Fr. Giussani visited Latin America for an assembly of this kind. Sixteen years later, the state of the Movement would surprise him: communities large and small spread everywhere, bishops and priests, the houses of the Memores Domini and the priests of St. Charles, for-profit and non-profit works, the spread of “his” Food Bank, the sponsorship of AVSI by World Bank, and the myriad social and educational works. Nothing gigantic or disproportionate, of course, in this humble, realistic, affectionate CL presence, witnessing fidelity to a charism that had a special affection for Latin America. It was in the prehistory of the sixties that the young members of GS set out for Brazil. In 1989, when he was taking Fr. Aldo Trento, bound for Paraguay, to the airport, Fr. Giussani told him, “Do what the Jesuits did with the Reductions” (and so he did). Fr. Carrón, opening the assembly in February, seemed to bear in mind all this history, all this faithfulness.

The successor to Fr. Giussani repeats Jesus’ question, “What do you seek?” What are we seeking today, at this instant, in this room? Retracing a passage in Spe Salvi, Fr. Carrón recalls Ratzinger’s vision: when it comes to moral progress, man cannot take advantage of any sum already obtained; he cannot simply move ahead on the basis of what was done yesterday, because man’s freedom is always new and in this field we always have to make a new beginning. The whole moral treasure of humanity is always a fascinating invitation to freedom. With all that has been said and written and discovered and philosophized and deduced and judged and explored, in the end I always have to make the choice; no mechanism can do it for me. This is why every heart has to answer the question: “What are you seeking?” It is the great exaltation of the “I,” personal, unique, and unrepeatable. No one, neither parent, teacher, society, the Church, nor the Movement can take your place and reply for you. “The ‘I’ is, in fact, a direct and immediate relationship with the Mystery.”

In the long, intense hours of the assembly unfold dramas and discoveries, certainties and vicissitudes. The pleased teacher, the father in difficulty, the adventurous academic, the doubtful psychiatrist, the successful lawyer, the popular leader, the businessman concerned about the fate of his country…. Venezuela, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile… There is a human heart in Latin America, where it is easy to yield to your feelings but harder to examine your own conscience; a harsh, extreme setting, always present, always pressing. There was a sense of urgency, of crisis, which drove, almost unceasingly, the reflection both about the “I” and about works and the social presence, with the participation of both Carrón and Giorgio Vittadini. “The work is fundamental in showing the novelty Christianity brings into the world. It is the fruit of faith, a decisive fruit of the presence of Christ. If there is no change, in the end faith will fail to interest people.”

As in a great Giussanian ray of light, the experience is stripped to its essence, and we descend ever deeper. Didn’t the encounter with Christ move the deepest and innermost part of each of us? (“Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us?”) “Overcoming the distance between man and God, making us both priest and victim, He invested us with His initiative of love. We are children, not the result of circumstances.” This is the theme that traversed the days and is found in so many words in the final document from Aparecida (where the Latin American Episcopal Conference, opened by the Pope, was held a few months ago). It was illustrated to the assembly by “Dom” Filippo Santoro, Bishop of Petropolis.

We are children, insists Carrón repeatedly, not orphans: this is the starting point, the fact that impels us. Are we aware of it? “We have to start from pity, because this alone drags us out of our indolence and insensitivity. You are looked at like this and this is why you look at the other in this way.” And when the other is a problem? When he fails to answer, when he fails to correspond? What if he does not respond as we would like him to? If he causes trouble? If he disappoints you? “The other is a mystery, not a mechanism. The only mode of a relationship is witness.” Then he offers a wonderful image: “How often will a mother smile at her son to win a single smile in response? Do you think she calculates? That she finds it hard?” This is a disarming–and disarmed–revelation, which goes to the heart of the matter, to Jesus’ smile when He asked: “What are you seeking?” In our minds, the muddy shores of Lake Tiberias fade into the grayish skyscrapers of Sao Paulo of Brazil. “Now… it is happening now. Recognizing His presence is always new and dramatic.”