What Never Ends?

This question pervades the lives of Cecilia, Giada, and Kevin, members of GS, filling their school days, time at home, and friendships. They talk about their encounter with the Movement and a life that challenges wounds, time, and departures.
Anna Leonardi

This will be Cecilia’s last summer in Rome. In September she will move with her family to Mons, Belgium. She has been filling their townhouse in Acilia, just outside the highway that circles Rome, with boxes of things she can carry away from her 16 years. This period has not been easy, with the highs and lows associated with changing her home, school, and friends. Things in GS have not been going well either. There are only two GS members in her school, and it is difficult to get together with other GS students in Rome because of the distances. At the Easter Triduum of GS, the theme, “What Withstands the Test of Time?” challenged the attitude with which she was facing this big change. “It was really my question,” she recounts. “It reached me in a period when I was thinking, ‘Well, if the experience I have with GS friends here won’t be a possibility once I get to Belgium, I might as well cut it short now.’”

She felt the same temptation about her classmates, figuring that it would not be as painful to pull the plug. “We never really got along; I always considered them superficial, and they always thought of me as ‘the nun.’” But as the end of the school year approached, she felt increasingly melancholic. “I reflected on our frayed relationships, how we never really encountered each other, and it made me sad. For the first time, I realized I loved them, and all of a sudden, this knocked down a wall in me.”

Cecilia got up her courage and decided to tell everyone about her move to Belgium. The first classmate she sought out was Riccardo. She had not expected much of a reaction, and his response surprised her. “No, how can you abandon everything? I don’t know if I would be able to do it.” She told him, “This is the point: finding something that remains when I have to abandon everything, even when I’m in Belgium.” They spoke a great deal, also from home, via WhatsApp. Quoting lyrics by De Andrè and lines from Dante, he came to the point of saying, “I also want something that will not end. Have you ever seen a friendship like this?”

A month later, Cecilia, Riccardo, and two others were on the GS bus heading for Rimini to join 5,000 high school students from all over Italy to live the Easter Triduum together. “My Italian teacher invited them. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw them arrive.” On the trip, Cecilia had her antenna up. “I heard them talking about the best clubs of the Romagna Riviera, and wondered if they even knew what a Way of the Cross was.” But something else worried her, too. She had written Fr. Pigi about her upcoming move to Belgium, the issue that was increasingly insistent in her, and about how it made her want to spend time with her classmates. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, what if Pigi reads my letter? What will they think?’” And read the letter he did. Afterwards, as they were leaving the hall, Riccardo came up to her and asked, “Cecilia, was I the person in that letter? I hadn’t understood that it was so important for you.” Cecilia was embarrassed, but told him, “Speaking with you, I understood that I should never stop desiring. Look what has happened at school among us. Now I can go to Belgium more at peace.” When they returned from the Triduum weekend, their teacher invited them to lunch at McDonald’s. “So, what did you think of Rimini?” Riccardo answered first. Sitting next to him was his best friend, who usually followed him like a shadow but who did not go to the Triduum. “Since returning, I’ve felt strange. Even my Mom noticed and told me so.” His friend said, laughing, “Riccardo, come on! What happened to you?” He was serious and said, “You can’t understand. Next year you come, too, and you’ll see!”

Cecilia has not stopped looking attentively at what is happening. “This overcomes the melancholy. In Mons, I want to keep alive the question that allowed me to discover all these things. Today, as I say goodbye to my friends, I repeat to myself, ‘Why are you afraid of losing what has found you?’”

Giada is also 16 years old, and, like Cecilia, has experienced a year in which a lot of things have come together. After a period of being far from Christian friends, she had the opportunity to join up with them again, and felt immediately at ease with them. She lives on the outskirts of Milan, and attends a high school that focuses on human sciences. Her parents separated when she was very young, and after living many years with her mother, she has been living with her father for a few years. Her life has had very sharp ups and downs. In her first year of middle school, a friend invited her to participate in the Scouts. “It was a fantastic experience. I discovered a different way of being friends and following some adults. There with them, I met Jesus for the first time. In fact, in the third year of middle school I asked to receive the sacraments.”

However, when she began high school, everything began to fade. “I started sinking. The answers I’d received were no longer enough. I became impertinent even with God. I wanted to understand who He really was and complained to Him, “Don’t you see how much evil there is? Why don’t you do something? I began feeling fascinated by dark things, rancid things. I was convinced that in order to feel good I had to feel bad.”

Then, one morning last October, she arrived at school without the money or the permission form to go on a class outing for the day. The vice principal gave her a long scolding and sent her to the law teacher. The two of them went to the library, and the teacher pulled out tests to grade while Giada got out her history book, but neither began work. “There was something in the gaze of that teacher that told me I could trust her. I told her about myself, my questions, my problems, and even told her about my happy years in the Scouts. She asked me, “and now?” I said, “Every now and then I meet some of them. They tell me about this GS group and invite me to a meeting called a raggio where their questions are taken seriously. It must be something of CL.” I was a bit uncertain. The teacher smiled and said to me, “Why don’t you go?” I said, “It seems to be something related to their school and their families. Maybe I wouldn’t fit in,” but she pressed me, saying, “If you desire it, we can begin, you and I. I’m in CL, and I want to take my questions seriously, too. Here at our school there’s another teacher who is a member, and also another student who has been waiting a long time for someone to begin with.”

A few days later, Giada was at her first raggio, which took place at another school where there was a bigger community. Giada was afraid she would feel uncomfortable, but two things happened that made her feel at home right away. “There were some Scouts I knew there. Also, all those people were really trying to understand what happens to us in life, and I’d never seen such seriousness anywhere else. I felt I had drawn a lucky card from the deck.” As she returned home on the bus, she kept asking, “Lord, how long have you waited for me? Why do You love me so much?”

Monday she went to school with her face shining. She sought out her friends from the collective she had begun to attend at the beginning of the year. “You guys, I can’t come to the Friday meetings any more. I’ve found a place; it’s called the raggio, and there are people who know all the questions we have inside.” That same week, two of them decided to go with her. “It was a disaster,” Giada said. “My friends started talking right away, asking about the usual things we discussed, like homophobia, racism, and the environment. When someone tried to interact with them, they kicked the ball even harder.” Giada began to panic because she was mortified by their provocations and by the awkwardness felt by the GS kids. It seemed impossible to find a common language. In the end, a girl blurted out, “Say what you want, but I can only start out from a desire to be true in life.” In the general silence that followed, one of the kids of the collective asked, “And what is the truth for you?” The raggio ended on that question. “That was the question I brought to the Triduum,” Giada explained. “Deep down, it seemed like the flip side of what Pigi had asked us to reflect on. The truth is this relationship with One who remains forever, even when we stray. God did not pull back in my case; instead, He loved me even more.” This is what enables her to get out of bed in the morning, even when apathy assails her and she thinks, “I don’t know what I’m here for,” or when she doesn’t want to go to school. “At times I can’t go to class, so I just go to the park.” But nothing, not even a wasted day, extinguishes her desire for a return of what she encountered. On the park bench, she devoured The Religious Sense by Fr. Giussani page after page because “it gets me back in gear, and pulls me out of my confusion.” In the evening, before going to sleep, she puts on her earphones and listens to “Favola” [Fairy tale] by Chieffo. “It has become my prayer. I put myself in the hands of a father who I’m learning to know.”

Kevin is 17 years old and comes from Cameroon. He came to Italy two years ago to be reunited with his father, who lives in Forli. Kevin, too, has a Chieffo song in his heart. “‘La notte che ho visto le stelle’ [The night I saw the stars] recounts what happened to me when, a month after my arrival, I met GS,” he says. “I couldn’t speak a word of Italian; I only knew that I would begin attending a vocational school, and I stayed at home all day long.” Then the first star arrived–“Grandma Teresa.” “She’s our next-door neighbor, in her 70s. One day she came to our place and told me, ‘If you want, I’ll bring you tomorrow to meet some young people your age.’ We had to convince my dad, but the next morning I was with her on the train heading for the Meeting of Rimini.” For Kevin, a thousand stars lit up. “I remember every minute of that day. Grandma Teresa delivered me to the GS kids of Forli, and they brought me to see the exhibits, one on Italy and one on migrants. They competed with each other to explain them to me in English. Then, we had lunch and sang songs around the reflecting pools. When I returned home that evening, as the song says, I, too, ‘no longer wanted to sleep; I wanted to rise up high to see and understand.’” For a whole year, Kevin kept his eyes open. “My dad didn’t understand what this group was, and told me to focus on school. He didn’t let me meet any of them. But I couldn’t forget.” In those months, Kevin worked hard, studying to become a plumber and learning Italian. “I wanted to return to those friends and understand them more. I hoped that Grandma Teresa would succeed in bringing me to the Meeting again.” In fact she did, and in August Kevin was once again on the train heading for Rimini, together with the GS students of Forli. From then on, he never left them.

When school resumed, unbeknownst to his parents, he went to the parish to study with his friends. “Grandma Teresa took it upon herself to talk to my parents. So I managed to go to the winter vacation, too, and then the Triduum.” Those days in Rimini made him desire that his parents could also “see all those stars” that he had seen. On the bus on the way home, he came up with the idea of an African party to which he could invite his family.

So on a Sunday afternoon in May, about a hundred GS kids gathered in the parish hall. Kevin’s mother was in the kitchen, and sent out big trays with traditional dishes from Cameroon. They convinced her to sit down and enjoy the show the kids had prepared, with skits, games, and a video talking about their friendship. “I’ve never seen my mother so happy. She was laughing and crying at the same time. Now my dad is no longer worried.”

In June, Kevin finished school and is now looking for work as a plumber. “I don’t know how I’ll manage with my GS friends, and sometimes I’m afraid it’s all over. They tell me we’ll continue seeing each other. I only know that ever since I saw the stars, I can never turn back.”