(Photo: Unsplash/Bastien Jaillot)

The Mystery of Giovanna

The story of the fostering of a little girl with a serious illness, and the dialogue with a friend full of questions. A testimony from the last Families for Hospitality assembly in June and the response of Giorgio Vittadini who led the meeting.

Giovanna is a 10-month-old little girl that we recently welcomed into our home. She suffers from a rare disease: "She cannot hear, she cannot see, she is fed through a tube, she has no muscle tone, and her life expectancy is just over two years.” This is how she was introduced to us in a fleeting phone call by a social services worker. The friendly assistant added, "She has been in hospital for a few months, waiting for someone to take her in to be discharged, as her young parents are unable to support her condition. The pain is too great. Up until she was seven months old, Giovanna was a seemingly healthy child, but they have collapsed in the face of such a harsh diagnosis. Can you help us?” I spoke to my husband Paolo, who was in Milan that morning with our eldest son for a delicate and vital medical consultation. Circumstances do not determine the answers, only the certainty of a love received makes the path clear. Paolo and I are certain that we were born to be loved, so our yes is full. At the dinner table, in the evening, we shared the proposal with our children. There was some perplexity, many yeses, and one objection: "I am afraid of precariousness, I am afraid of sinking into pain." We embraced this observation and made it something for everyone to work on. Finally the response was, "I trust you, I follow you."
Within a few days, Giovanna entered our home as she was, giving us everything. Our eyes and hearts were led by that superabundance, a sign that we are made for a good destiny. Shortly after, we were visited by a friend who was shocked by Giovanna’s presence; he chatted to us for a while, and then went home. The next day he came back angry, full of questions that had haunted him all night: "What plan does God have for you?" he said to us. "What can I do for so that He listens to me and does something for her?" Faced with his questions, between one dig and the next (I was in the garden welcoming his anger), I found myself before the grotto in Nazareth. Before that Child, I once again experienced the event that has marked our destiny: "God became man not for a plan for himself, but for a plan for salvation for each of us," I told him. "I do not ask myself what plan God has for Giovanna, but for me in having allowed me to meet her. The presence of each of us in the life of this little girl is our yes to Christ. You are already responding to Christ's call; you left your house and came here." The discussion continued for a while longer, then we went into the house with the others. As always Pietro (not his real name) gave himself to everyone, and with a constant gaze, turned to little Giovanna; suddenly I suggested that he take her in his arms. I could not explain the intensity of that moment; they were in each other's arms, one for the other, in a totality that gave respite and response, "You would give your life for just one of them!"
Without a doubt, we are made to welcome and be welcomed. I am certain that such a gaze towards life is the gift of Another who continually makes Himself present within a companionship and faces that speak to our hearts, making ourselves witnesses of a strong presence that accompanies us throughout and in life. Thank you for the opportunity you have given me, a hug to all.

Giorgio Vittadini
It is human to welcome, to adopt, to foster, but one would usually want a healthy baby. In the School of Community we read that the foundation of our faith is experience, as a correspondence between one's heart, one's elementary needs and what happens in reality, because Jesus is in reality. The crucial question is how a sign, something that strikes, is not just something human, but has something divine in it. Do you remember the example of the flowers? When you find a bouquet of roses on the table, the first thing to do is to figure out who put the flowers there. Instead we usually stop at the flowers; we are impressed but we do not get to the origin of who sent the flowers. It is human to welcome a healthy person, but in such cases something divine is needed because we have to accept that the plan is a mystery; we have to stop measuring how useful a life is according to our usual parameters. What good is it to take in a sick child, perhaps destined for a short life? What good is it to accept pain, to keep a person alive when he or she does not speak? We must think that life is a mystery that we do not measure. We need to accept that we do not measure what is useful and what is not. That is why the divine is needed; reality is inhabited by something we do not know. It is the same experience as when I visit the parents of Agostino, a very healthy five-year-old boy who died suddenly. Since we are used to measuring, it occurred to me there that in order to measure, we also measure heaven: you live for a long time, live well, and you are rewarded. Then a child dies at the age of five. So? This means that we cannot even measure what heaven is, what the consciousness of a child who dies at the age of five is.
It is a mystery. The point is that life is mystery, and I embrace that mystery. I accept that the usefulness of life is not decided by me. And this is a work to do in every moment, asking, "What is the use?" Then I understand that everything is a mystery, even the healthy adopted child is a mystery, even the child born naturally is a mystery. The usefulness of life is not in our hands. Here lies the relationship between sign and mystery. Here I understand that this gesture has within it Another and therefore needs this Other to be carried out, otherwise I will end up measuring it. Faith is what allows us to welcome life as it is, to accept that I do not measure with my hands, that I do not measure life. This is the profound meaning of all hospitality, but also of motherhood and fatherhood. Here we are at the threshold of the presence of the divine. Hospitality in the history of the world has always been among the greatest signs of the presence of the Other. Everything else, sooner or later, measures, even the gesture of generosity measures. In order for there to be no measure or plan, to welcome something that is not in my hands, I have to trust in a God who is above all a presence; and if God is not present, the perception of there being an absence prevails in life.