Enzo Piccinini with Fr. Giussani (Photo: © Fraternità di CL)

"I took you as Mine"

On the 25th anniversary of Enzo Piccinini's death, one of the editors of a new book on his life introduces us to the heart of Enzo's life: friendship with Christ as the path towards the pinnacle of humanity. From May Tracce.
Pier Paolo Bellini

There are certain moments of transition that mark a point of no return, an entry into dimensions that are just as new as they are irreversible. For example, we all remember our first day of school: it is there that the intuition that the world does not end within the four walls of your home, and that you are obliged to answer to someone other than your mother and father, become a palpable reality. To some extent, disturbing; but in any case, irreversible. A similar thing happens when one starts university: one has the perception that the last stretch towards that 'without a net', the leap into the world, is beginning. I encountered Enzo at that juncture, on my freshman day. How can you start something that you do not know and face the risks that each unknown entails (university, then vocation, work, fatherhood...) without being consumed by anxiety?

It is a question that I still have; an answer that has stuck with me: “When I was in America, I went to Disney World. Something that I remember vividly was called Space Mountain. It is a big dome with a long corridor. There are little missile-like booths and they make you do mind-blowing things. Lasers suddenly form figures in front of you, meteorites jump at you. I do not think I was an impressionable child, but I swear I had never seen anything like that. Anyway, before you entered, there was a long corridor, it must have been a kilometre long, where there were several notices. They said: "Those who have a heart condition, anyone who is ill, anyone who is easily shocked and vomits” – a whole series of warnings – "is requested not to enter, because all these things will occur." Someone like me, seeing something like that, becomes even more enticed (I am vagotonic). When you were about to enter, suddenly, they projected the dazzled faces of those on the ride on the walls. Then, another warning came up: “Now that you have seen these faces... think hard.” Then you went inside and mounted up and started the hellish ride. What allowed me to go there? What allowed me to face something that I did not know and was certainly very disconcerting, especially for me? Only one thing: the fact that I knew I was going to get out, that I was sure it was going to be OK. Look, even if they had told me that it was all fake, just for effect, the same would have still been true: I had to be sure that there would be a good outcome, that I would get out. It is the same for the relationship with reality.”

My friendship with Enzo, which lasted 15 years, until the day he passed away, was built on this hypothesis, on this promise. We experienced many irreversible events together, exciting or painful, with a shared certainty: the outcome was good. This is, after all, what every person seeks, what they would like to be 'certain' of.

Enzo's life was revolutionized by the occurrence of this certainty, which was becoming more and more contagious day by day among us and our friends. It was not just a strong idea or a natural existential urge. It was the fruit of an "evidence" that had happened in our lives and that had become a kind of yearning among us and towards everyone else: "We are the fruit of the tenderness of the One. How I would like to help you understand this!" What had happened to Enzo was happening to us, what had happened was the One who responded to our deepest need, making us ‘certain’ (a statement that today sounds almost disrespectful): "We need to esteem ourselves, which is possible only if we are esteemed, originally esteemed. The discovery of being created is this extreme positivity in our life, of someone who wants us just as we are. It does not matter if your personality is not as you would want it to be. Let it go, because you are unique, you are wanted and loved. What more do you want? The person who is esteemed originally, no matter what they do, no matter if they succeed or not, no matter if others respond to them, if they value them, because the esteem and value they have of themselves is original! That breaks down all the encrustations of the psychology of the baci Perugina chocolates... it breaks down everything. You discover that you are made, indeed, there is Someone who makes you at this moment, you are wanted then and now! Discover this, please! It is like falling in love forever!"

Enzo was in love. And us behind him. And with baci Perugina chocolates. Existence as total 'sentimentality' had already begun, several decades ago, to make the most decisive, emotional relationships extremely fragile (we could not have imagined that it would still have amazing developments). We were in love, we felt valued not because of a feeling (which we also lived intensely). It was something different and we were slowly beginning to realize it: “What decided my life was the gaze of mercy upon me. I was not like that. Not only before I met the Movement: even in the Movement I was not like that. Those of you who knew me before – there are two or three people who always come to see me and say: 'We still do not believe that you have changed' – know that I was so energetic, so schematic, so hard that they find it hard to believe it. And yet, a change happened to me. The source of that change was not immediately a commitment: it was a gaze of mercy upon me. This embrace, which you discover for life, is what allows the way you are in the world to become a permanent question, to be prayer. I need mercy just as I need the air I breathe."

We went to university breathing this air, which did not lead us to a quiet life. On the contrary, it was just the opposite: “Think about when an affection happens: one gets up in the morning and no longer even notices their tiredness, one feels involved in oneself with everything around them, the whole world.”

A 'fever of life', Fr. Giussani called it. It was Giussani who confirmed it, who sustained it 'almost by osmosis' in Enzo. It was he, above all, who had transmitted its meaning and purpose, and clarified its method: "He got there and the first few times he went to class he came out and found that there was always a group of boys gathering in the corridor during the break, and they were arguing animatedly among themselves. Impressed, he said, "Who are they?" – "It is the communists," they answered. Then he understood what had happened in the Church. It was not that there were not those who were striving to be Christian, but the characteristic of visibility was missing, hence the first fundamental characteristic of what the Church experience was and always has been and always will be was missing: a being together of people. They were all Christians, but the constitutive factor of visibility was missing. Therefore, it was as if the reality of the Church was not there: without this, it is as if the Church were not there." "In order for the Church to be there, there is a need for this 'togetherness' that is first of all striking. Christ knew this when he sent them out two by two. And Christ said 'Our Father' when he prayed.”

"There was one young man who was very good at sailing. He went to the Amerigo Vespucci, the school for army officers. A terrifying environment. One day while he was cleaning the deck, he heard someone else singing: 'Ho un amico grande grande’ [I have a great big friend]. So he went to see who it was and they became friends. That was enough, and a great big shambles began at the Amerigo Vespucci, because the two of them were already something else. But until that moment there, what had happened? He sang and that was it. At that moment the problem began. The problem inside that ship was those two young men. It was a different, new reality... Start getting together! This is the newness, which structurally testifies to the presence of Christ. For there to be a Church, it takes at least two people. Two! You and him.”

Start getting together. What the world had unlearned the most, what people desire the most and have become tragically unable to sustain, is the bond with the other, friendship, love... precisely what was, is and will be the sign of the unique and incomparable power of Christianity. "You, or about friendship," Fr. Giussani used to tell us. Each day we have discovered a detail of that "You" in the friendship that we have been given the grace to experience, that has grown through us and often in spite of us.

This is the root of that strange condition that Fr. Giussani called ‘naïve boldness’. This makes us, in the eyes of many, a little bold; and in the eyes of others, free and therefore attractive. Our humanity (such as it is) has become ‘a good’: "The first invitation is this: let us invade the Movement with humanity! Mine and yours. Let us begin to risk what we are right here. This is the way to experience, removing your doubts, my doubts, my perplexity, my nervousness. Our communities must be flooded with humanity, mine and yours. All that they are. Religious practices are already there and there are so many of them. There is a gaze of mercy, my friend, on you, so you are here lately. Just wait for the game of your life, and this is the only way to understand it. What doubts do you have? What do you want to cut out of your life? Get in it, my friend! Play it all the way to the end. This allows you to understand everything.”

Read also - Argentina: "My encounter with Enzo Piccinini"

That 'everything' has gradually become the only suitable measure for what has happened to us: touched, chosen for totality. "Holiness stands to highlight a first characteristic of the tradition that Christians inherit and fulfil: it evidently does not stand to highlight moral conduct, because they have betrayed a hundred thousand times. Holiness stands to highlight the initiative that God takes with regard to some people, preferring them to others and placing them in the world as his instrument, as his service, so that the whole world can recognize him. This community, therefore, inherits the knowledge that it is holy not because of a capacity of its own, but because of a choice made about it, about the people who make it. Sanctus means 'set apart', 'sanctioned', 'detached from'. Holy means this, first of all. "I have taken you as Mine and set you in the midst of all peoples, that others may see my glory’.

I have taken you as 'Mine': that was Enzo's existence. It is through this "taking", of which we are made, and at the same time unworthy objects and imperfect instruments, that we have been made certain that "the Mystery as mercy remains the last word even on all the awful possibilities of history" (Luigi Giussani).