A Presence in the Environment

Notes from a talk by Luigi Giussani on Gioventù Studentesca [Student Youth], Reggio Emilia, 1964.
Luigi Giussani

I’d like to tell you, from memory, something of what we are trying to do in Milan. So what I have to say is more a witness than an exposition of principles, or a lesson. When I happen to talk with priests of other circles or of other areas, I never feel so much the value of the observation that has just been made: that our Christian announcement must be the answer to a situation, and that, when the situations are as varied as they are, things have to be applied in different ways. This does not mean, however, that there are no concerns and directives that can be common to all.
I’d like to begin with a premise, before dealing directly with the question at hand. We have heard talk of “planning.” For Catholics, “planning” arises automatically from the fact of the Church, which is community, community around the Bishop. So, what a priest does in a hospital with the sick of a particular parish, and of a particular pastor, belongs to one and the same action; it belongs to the same action with which that pastor baptized those people and prepared them for their first Holy Communion. So there is nothing that we must try to eliminate from the start. As I see it, there is no greater crime against our being Christians than certain “divisions of competence,” like saying, “That’s up to you, this is up to me,” or, “Since they have to come here, they are not to go there.” The problem cannot be resolved with criteria or concerns of this kind (“They should come here or they should go there”). We have to go where they are!
The second aspect of the premise is this: Christian life is a community, a concrete community around the Bishop. So, for example, the parish is a community, it is a part of this community, and itself a community. So if an individual is sick and cannot go to Church for his Easter Communion, the pastor will go to his home, or send his curate to take him Communion at home. But it is the same life, the life of the one community, and those two actions–giving someone Communion in Church or taking it to him at home–are one and the same action.
Analogously, children go to school and are introduced to the world of knowledge, they are led to become aware of the context of their life in a far superior way than they can currently do at home or at the parish youth club, or even in Catholic associations. Fine, so the Church, the Bishop, maybe sends a priest, not to take Communion to a sick person at home, but to bring religion into the school. It’s one and the same action. It’s in your interest as a pastor that the student be involved in the most adequately Christian way in the environment that has most influence on him and is helped to meet it there. It is the same action! The same applies to the case of a student who comes to me in school and doesn’t listen to me, because he doesn’t like me, and closes his ears during religious lessons or studies Latin instead (and there’s nothing I can do about it, because I would end up putting him off for good, and so I try discretely to take no notice), but he likes the curate in his parish, goes to Communion in his parish, frequents the associations in his parish and does not get involved in the Christian movement I am trying to promote in my school. I say, “Just as well he goes there!” It’s the same thing! The greatest humiliation for someone who tries to work for the Kingdom of God, which is one, for someone who is trying to work for his Bishop (because the Church is in the Bishop, period), the greatest humiliation is to be considered a deserter by his confreres, “a subversive,” or an individual who is only trying to build his own world. His action is the same action as that of the others!
So, with what criterion do we distinguish our field of activity? What criterion do we use in order to decide what to do, whether to go here or go there, if we should call them here or call them there? The criterion is the basic Christian principle of Incarnation. For Christianity, a certain method is essential, and that method is Incarnation. As truth, He could have remained the Word of God and He would have been the truth all the same; what is crucial about Christianity is that particular way of communicating itself, and the first characteristic of this method was precisely the kenosis, God’s condescendentia, St. Jerome called it; in other words, adhering to man.

To grasp hold of the person where he is
Here is the criterion. The Christian method, Christian life, the Christian community must grasp hold of the person where he is! But this “where he is” evidently does not derive its importance from the physical location, though it implies a physical location, since man is not living up among the clouds, he is not an angel; reaching man where he is means reaching him in that context, in that ambit that influences, that most determines the development of his personality.
Now, with no offence meant to anyone, just a little observation is needed–there is no need to make distinctions between big towns and small towns as I used to do some years ago–to realize that for a young person going to school and who will attend school up to a certain age (this now is of extreme importance, because a fourteen-fifteen-sixteen-year-old decides about his openness, his likings, his symbiosis, his launching into life), the environment that most determines by far the directions his personality will assume in life is precisely that of the high school; we could even, at this stage, lower the age by some years.
In school, not only does the young person come into contact with the whole world of knowledge, but is introduced for the first time with autonomy, with personal responsibility, with awareness and personal responsibility, in all fields of knowledge. Let’s try to imagine the effects of an agglomeration of students who are together for a year, two years, or five years! The judgment on the films they go to see, the girls they go out with or don’t go out with, their free time, games, sports, even, in the larger cities, the decision to go on vacation, everything is determined by the conversations they have with their schoolmates!
These are the facts. On this point, the only objection that can be made is that it is not true that school and life at school–not only the school itself as the four walls, but as the ambit of a whole series of interests, relationships, acquaintances, stimuli and reactions–has an effect on the students. As I see it, this effect is all too evident–both from what they are taught and from what they receive from the relationships with their companions. This second factor, moreover, is extremely important, perhaps more important than what they are taught, since the teaching they get is always filtered through a mentality, by the reactions of the class environment. Many of us will have experienced it personally. How often, for example, is what we say taken in, even by the best students, filtered, as it were, by the reaction of the class as a whole? If the class is made up predominantly of students with a Christian background, fewer doubts arise; a sceptical or atheistic student will be less sure of himself. But if the whole class is neutral, sceptical or atheist, even the best student of Catholic Action will begin to have doubts.
So, it’s quite right to say, as we did, that the school is more and more the most powerful tool for the formation of the men and women of tomorrow, no longer only for the small percentage in the classical or scientific high schools, but for everyone. And it is organized more and more efficiently so as to be able to develop the individual’s social sensitivity.
When we spoke earlier of administrative decentralization, we said that we need to place authentic Christians, properly formed Christians, in posts of leadership in society. But the real question is, where are we to form these Christians? Where do we find them? Think of our young people, for example in Milan, Turin or Bologna. Are we going to send them to be trained in the zonal commissariats with the Communists and the Socialists? Clearly they have to be trained before we send them, because they will have to fight to keep their post. Our real problem–our only problem–is how to give them a Christian formation, because the rest doesn’t interest us, the rest will all be solved automatically if we solve the first problem. They are all Christians, “Christian Democrats,” but not in public life, in social life! In twenty years, with all the good will in the world, with all these Christian Democrats in power, have we managed to create a society less inadequate from the Christian point of view? So the real problem is that where I can educate; I have to educate in a Christian way. Our only problem, from the social, civil point of view, is freedom to educate, to be able to educate.
Now the school is the great tool for forming youngsters, and the school is a State school. A State school cannot, quite rightly, as it is currently organized, have the Catholic formation of students as its aim, because then a Protestant, a Jew or an atheistic Communist would have to object. The State school as such is called “neutral” (let’s use the term in its less negative sense), so it cannot have the Catholic formation of the students as its aim, as it is conceived at present. So if the children are at school from the age of six to sixteen and school is everything, and is going to become more and more everything for the life of the youngsters, then where are we going to find them?
The school is in the process of becoming all-embracing. The project launched by all the secularizing movements is too far advanced for any superficiality or naiveté on our part. They have tried, and are trying through all the student associations and school committees, to make the school more and more the center of the students’ lives. What the youth “commissariat” is for the older youngsters is what the school committee is for the younger students. So it’s all sewed up! We have to send our youngsters into these institutions, into these committees so as to promote our ideas, but when are we going to give them “our ideas”? Where are we giving our formation? We cannot give out ideas abstractly! Ideas can be communicated only through life.
Earlier on, we spoke of “leading idea”: a leading idea is an idea that accepts a living comparison with the interest things arouse in us. I didn’t make this premise just for the sake of it, but because these are the real concerns and anxieties that gave shape to our proposal.
I would like to sum up the organization of this proposal of ours in two broad methodological directives.

To make the Church present
in every environment
First of all, as we said earlier, the Kingdom of God does not go ahead thanks to our work, but through the power of God. There is no comparison possible between the communication of the Mystery and our work, with our natural work, in so far as it is human. Now, how does this power of God operate in the world? Through Jesus Christ. But not through Jesus Christ the man of two thousand years ago, but the whole Christ, the risen Christ, Christ in His mystical body, the Church. So it is through the presence of the Church as such that Christianity spreads. Through the presence of the Church as such: we have to make the Church present in every environment. But the Church is not an individual who believes certain things and on Sundays goes to his parish to perform certain functions. The Church is more than this! In order to be present in an environment, the Church must translate, incarnate her characteristics in that environment, and these characteristics boil down to two: first, unity, a tangibly expressed unity, a community, a community of the Christians in that environment; second, a community bound to the Bishop, led authoritatively.
I said I wanted to sum up the directives to be followed in these two criteria from a methodological point of view. I wish however to stress the value of the first: Christianity is a new life, it’s a new way of living, which is to say of perceiving, of judging, of feeling, of reacting and of manipulating things. It is a new way of life, a new way of living, not individually but essentially as a community. So, that the Church is present in an environment means that in that environment the Christian community is present as life, that the Christians live the life of that environment in everything, honestly, in every detail, live the interests that make up that environment, but from another point of view. It means that this other world is present in the world. Perhaps I am “integralistic,” but I would like someone to demonstrate that this is not how things are. Up to now, no one has convinced me by their objections.
A piece of the Church has to be present in the environment; we have to urge Christians to get together so as to live the interests that pack, that form the tissue of life in that environment, from a different point of view, in a different way, “together,” because this togetherness is essential in order to be Christians. Even if there is only one Christian in a school, his activity is a witness only in so far as it tends to express itself in community and lives in hope that the grace of God may give him others with whom to join together. Otherwise, we shall have positions that are socially evolved, psychologically clever and ascetically robust, but not yet typically Christian.
I have said how we started and how we keep on trying to start. We call on the students who call themselves Christians and those who want to decide whether or not to remain Christians, to make them able them to judge Christianity objectively, and tell them: “Get together, get together under the leadership the Bishop has set in place, and try to live together, under that authority, all the interests that your life as students is made of.”
This is the criterion we try to follow, trying to model ourselves on the method the Church uses and makes obligatory. Why did the Church create the parish? It wasn’t Jesus Christ or the Apostles who created the parish! Why did the Church decide on it? Because of the very same law: in order to incarnate Her mystery in the environment in which man was living. If the mobility of the social set-up changes the context that affects the individual, then the way the Church interacts in the environment has to change. For example, in Italy where the individual is still very much bound to the family environment, the parish is very solid, but abroad, where things are different, there is much more hostility to the parish. Even here in Italy, though, people defend the parish because of its usefulness, otherwise it would no longer be a matter of readiness on our part, and the law would no longer be for man, but man for the law.

To get together under an authority
So, we tell the students (I say it quite openly in school, too), in order to understand Christianity, in order to judge it, whether you are a Communist unbeliever, a Christian Democrat, or a member of Catholic Action–either in order to condemn it critically or to accept it intelligently–you have to get together and try it, see how life with all its interests (because life is made up of interests) when approached from the Christian point of view can be explained, can be “made the most of,” to use the definitive expression. I tell them, “Get together under an authority,” because “they will all be taught by God.” The criterion of Christianity is not in our brain, but always passes through authority. For the Christian attitude as such, in as much as communion with God has to develop in him, is eminently that of being educated. It therefore presupposes a master, a teacher (so no democracy, apart from the group, so as to avoid “sacrificing” to certain values that have become idols). In this type of activity, you have to be educated, so you must follow the one leading. So the priest teaching religion must be or become, as it were, automatically the one leading, the pastor of this part of the Church community–provisionally, temporarily or provisionally, but what decides how provisional it is are not schemes; the needs must be decisive. So in this sense the teaching of religion is like the homily of the pastor, or the Sunday afternoon catechism lesson; it is a moment in a life. Certainly, there can be some unexpected difficulties–for example, perhaps someone may not feel he wants to join the group immediately–but they are easily overcome, and are not so serious as to give up the idea. On the other hand, I cannot yield on this criterion, because I cannot disappoint the students. I tell them, “Look, you cannot evaluate Christianity by discussing it with me at school, or by reading Albert Schweitzer’s History of the Research on the Life of Jesus, or Loisy’s The Origin of Christianity, or Strauss’s Life of Jesus, or by discussing it with your philosophy teacher, and not even by reading other great authors like Grandmaison or Braun. You could perhaps get to know that Jesus really existed, and that it must be the case, but Christian life would not take root in you, it would never become a mentality. It would become a fixed point of erudition, not a life.” So they are no longer Christians, even if they accept that Jesus Christ is God! I say, “They are no longer Christians” in their mentality; the Christian personality is no longer born.
In following what the Church does, evidently, once I have given these directives, I am very careful not to ask of them more than they are able. What does the Church require of someone in order to become a Christian? What are the obligations? The sacraments, to respect the dogmas; to believe the dogmas and to receive the sacraments. So the minimum, the minimal expression of this community–as provisional or temporary as you will, but real and decisive for the formation of a Christian mentality–that arises, that springs up in the school, the minimum to insist on is participation in Mass and the sacraments. But another point of view appears for the students: participation in Mass and in the sacraments appears like a commitment that makes those things an experience, a commitment in an experience, and living this attentively enables them to clarify certain ideas that were abstract before.
I even tell Protestants to come to Mass. “Do you want to know what Christianity is? Come to Mass with us.” I say this in all the groups we have. In 62 schools in Milan, we have groups systematically active. Some of the groups are large (200-300), while others are smaller. In some schools, there are only three people, or four, five or six for years, because we have to be faithful to the principles and to what is right, whatever the outcome. The outcome–the Kingdom of God–has to arise from fidelity to what is authentic; from fidelity, with all the cunning of our intelligence and with all the sensitivity of our age, but to what is authentic. An outcome that does not arise from this is ambiguous, and dies at once. How many youth groups or student groups have thrived enormously, thanks to a grand personality, for a year or two, then when he was transferred to another parish everything collapsed?
I say, even to a Protestant, “If you want to judge what Christianity is, what Catholic prayer is, then you have to come to Mass with us.” For example, in my school we have Mass on Fridays. Since there are only two or three of us going around for the “ray”[GS meeting] for all the groups, for the morning Mass, we have fixed one Mass every week, we insist on one Mass to which all those who consider themselves Christians or are interested in Christianity come. I say, “not on Sunday, because you are already obliged by Church law to come to Mass on Sunday. This is a free action, and perhaps someone will object–your mother, your father, your aunt, your grandmother. “Why do you get up half an hour earlier (in winter, for example) to go to Mass? Are you mad?” This action has to be as free as possible. I cannot stress all the aspects but freedom is important. The more a commitment implicates freedom, the more it educates. Then the outcome of the action becomes personal.
In my school, often Jews and Protestants came to our weekly Mass. I would say, “You have to try to get involved in our songs” (naturally it was a Mass celebrated as far as possible together, an action as far as possible a shared action). “You, too, must try to enter into the words, and say ‘Amen.’” […] I say this all the time; of course the students need to be reminded a thousand times, because we were the same at their age. If my father had not shaken my hand a thousand times to make me say, “Good morning,” I would never have learned to say it to people. So we have to go on repeating, without getting tired, that they have to answer while trying to identify with the words they say, trying to be part of it. “Why do your companions say this? Why are you made to say these words? It is a reminder to be as aware as possible. So to a Protestant I might say, “In this way, you are in the best position to judge. Enter into this fact so that you will be able to pass a more critical judgment.” To the Catholics I say, naturally with some insistence, “It is not a true participation at Mass if it is not adhering to a unity; Communion is the sign that you participate at Mass. If you don’t receive Communion, your participation in Mass is not complete; you have not completely immersed yourself, and you cannot yet fully understand the value it has.” In this way, we have discovered that it’s relatively easy to get a good number of students to frequent these Masses, as well as many faithful. Maybe some miss once, or even more often. Okay, let him come now and again! In any case, it is the Church opening its doors so that someone who wants can enter when he wants. The only condition that makes it moral or not to enter a Church is not the presence or the lacking of a certain level of faith, but the sincerity with which one tries to identify himself, trying to understand what goes on inside.
So we insist on Mass and the sacraments. In the first years, I didn’t dare tell people to come to Mass or receive Communion, because it seemed that this would be a final step. Instead–and I think Fr. Manuel, the Capuchin priest who helps us a lot and confesses our students every week, from Monday to Sunday, can confirm this–this instrument is much more powerful than discussing Kant or sociology, because this is a commitment of life as regards a problem–the problem of one’s destiny, the problem of awareness of your own being that is lacking, begging and dependent–that all men have, since it is the elementary point where the religious sense is born, and this embraces all other interests.

All life’s interests
This is the second directive: all the other interests. This group–completely free, with absolute freedom; one can come when and how he likes; it is totally free, but intransigent and precise as regards directives–this group to which the students are called, that the religion teacher or, if he is lacking, someone else is called to lead, this group must try to live and tackle all life’s interests. So a youngster is called to a commitment that can get him mobilized, that makes him decide to consider everything. I often tell them, (these words cannot be used in a classical high school) “As a working hypothesis, you have to set yourselves to judge–and not just theoretically–how you organize a trip, how you listen to music (are you interested in music?), sports (do you like sports?), your relationship with a girlfriend or boyfriend, the problems you tackle with your teachers (some are Socialists, others are Communists, or radicals or neutral), the problems you find in studying philosophy, the problems you come across studying history, or the urgent needs you see for society, the social sensitivity that comes more and more out in the open, the problems of social justice; in your group you must try to live all these interests, and together, tackle them as far as possible according to the common mentality.”
So life in the group does not call the students to lessons (some lessons are very useful), but to the whole of life, so much so that the greatest objection that comes from good parents is that the youngsters have made GS the center of their activity; they see nothing but GS as the center of their life. This is an objection for them, and I understand why. Amongst ourselves, it is the fruit of a bitterness, seeing their children leave them, and this ultimately depends on one single fact, the fact that these parents–kind, generous Christian parents–have not been educated to conceive Christianity for what it really is, a whole life lived in community, a lived communion. Those parents who do understand follow their children. I am thinking of a mother who has a child who is now in Brazil, because the youngsters have a taste for international relationships. At present, we have ten youngsters permanently settled in Brazil, a stable staff of students, a missionary activity, in the traditional sense of the word, thought up, enacted, and supported completely by youngsters. Everything, everything is relevant! If Christianity is true there can be no single interest that cannot be taken up and given value.
You are a Christian, you are convinced of Christianity, only in so far as you experience concretely that Christianity gives value to your life. “Master, if we go away from you, where shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” Conviction is never the fruit of a reasoning as such, but of an idea that has taken flesh, an idea that is a force, an idea incarnate in life. The whole life of the group is animated by this criterion: trying to make the youngster think, getting him used to thinking of everything in communitarian terms, and facing up to all his interests in these terms.
I discovered later that this is the meaning of the word metanoia, which translates the word “penitence.” Metanoia means precisely this: a new man. Not a new man just because he has a new ethic; even Socrates or Gandhi could have done that. But it is precisely a new conception of man, in the image of the mystery of God, who is one and three. It is a new conception of self and of your way of living, of your own existence. This is the true revolution, the only revolution in history, a revolution in the very concept of the “I,” of the self, a revolution of the very conception of “one,” a revolution in the very concept of “being,” of “existence.” This is the revelation of the mystery of the Trinity through Jesus Christ; this is the mystery of God sharing Himself with man.
Not that what I am telling you will be infallible; I am only saying that what drives me, what dictates to me what I tell you to do, is to “copy,” as much as possible, the fundamental method of the Church, the Church’s own physiognomy, the way with which Jesus Christ launched His criterion into the world.
So the youngster is taken up from Monday to Sunday, from morning to night, and it all happens without any compulsion. We have never told them they had to do this or that, but they all say the prayers, they say the Hours (prime, terce, sext, lauds, and compline; in two years we have printed more than 500 copies of the Book of Hours). And it’s not only prayer; everything is involved, even the famous problem of boys and girls together–we did not create this on purpose (I leave this question to psychologists and moralists), but following the criterion cited above. If they are side by side in class, then it is not Christianity if it cannot demonstrate to be able to value–this is the word–what is actually there. In this sense, the relationship in this living together is to be fed and supported by a very precise atmosphere.
In the first years, I never wanted to take the youngsters for trips because, I told myself, “It’s useless; it’s a waste of time.” But now I am very much in favor of trips, because I am not aware of returning from a trip with the new youngsters not feeling themselves changed, and from that first time they came, perhaps two or three by bus. But with what criterion and at what price are these trips organized? The whole journey is organized according to those same criteria: we pray, and everything we do is done together. I say, “If you wanted to go on a trip on your own, you could have. I organize a trip only in order to show you the value that Christianity has, its capacity to value even a trip.”
This is what made us interested in films. We have a film association and GS borrows from the National Film Association. I never favored the cinema, because as regards mobilizing students for a Cineforum, so as to see who are the best actors and so on, the students have no need of me; the Communists are much better at it. Had I been in a parish, I would never have had a cinema to bring people around, because that is not what will save Christianity. I will make use of the cinema, though. I will call people to experience how to watch a film from a Christian point of view. I call the youngsters only to commit themselves to watch a film from a Christian point of view and only if I am sure they can approach it in this way; otherwise, I don’t do it, because everything I have to do with the youngsters is educative. What does “educative” mean? It means experientially demonstrative that Christianity is the only phenomenon that really values life.
For culture, for example, we not only hold conferences; we do that, of course, but 99% of our cultural activity is in the groups. The cultural activity is enormous, simply enormous. Now, thank God (I had earlier asked the FUCI [the Catholic Action University Students] for help, but there were so few of them that they couldn’t help me), we have our university students from the first years, a good group of twenty or so youngsters, who systematically go over the whole scholastic question from the Christian point of view. For example, a Catholic student of GS [...] attends a particular school in which the history teacher explains that in the second half of the nineteenth century the popes were behind the times, etc. So these students prepare a pamphlet on Pius IX and distribute it for the whole class (if it’s a question of interest to the whole school, then they distribute it to the whole school). We have about fifty of these pamphlets, in different themes. They are the fundamental points of the whole scholastic curriculum for all the different types of schools. Or take the case that a student of Catholic Action or GS has to prepare a paper on Kant for the following week; he invites his companions to study Kant together at home, and one of our university students goes there, too, to explain Kant from the Christian point of view. This activity goes on continually, because it is a revision that corresponds perfectly to the youngster’s life.
A youngster has to occupy his free time, otherwise boredom or evil take over. So, in order for him to understand what Christian charity is, it’s important that he get used to the idea that the law of life is charity–that it is not he who lives, but that what lives is a “we.” What better method can we give him than to send him, from time to time, on Sunday afternoons to spend time with the poor children in the suburbs to the south of Milan (one of Europe’s most depressed areas)? So go there and spend half a day with them. Note that the aim is not first and foremost to raise the social morale of that population, but to live your life with them, because you don’t learn charity by giving things away, but by sharing. Christ Himself, the God who came to save us, suffered and died with us. Charity is “com-passion;” it means “suffering together,” it means communion. The giving can come later; if I have a little more than they have, then automatically it can be useful for both of us, but it is only a consequence. So I left the St. Vincent de Paul Society out of it, as it is more difficult for the youngsters to understand this educative process in that ambit because, according to this concept, it requires a certain maturity to do it well. And we already have a certain maturity of spirit; every Sunday this year, 1,600 youngsters would leave Milan to go to 67 poor parishes in the suburbs. Finally, after five years, their activity is somewhat diversified. There are places where we are still starting off, with high school kids and university students going to play with the children, keeping them company and so on. After a year or two, they feel the need to do something more, to be of use to those people they have learned to love, and so they teach catechism. This year a group of them got together and prepared a catechism in written form (we shall probably publish it as a booklet): all the catechism lessons approached in a particular way. Then, some years later, when they are bigger, there are the youth, and groups of young boys and young girls are formed. So in those areas where both male and female Catholic Action had failed to create anything, youngsters not of Catholic Action re-create Catholic Action. And the same happens with the adults. There are already groups of men and women who are cared for during the week, in the evenings, in all kinds of activities.
After five years, the central idea has borne fruit, that you have to start off from charity, from sharing, not by going there to carry out social reform, because this becomes ambiguous. We need to be educated in these consequences, and after five years these consequences are to be seen, thank God.
A choir, too, was founded; they sang at the Communal Competition in Bologna, with great success. It was a choir of thirty voices, and covered the whole history of music quite blithely–that, too, is an interest; that, too, needs to find an answer and a way to live.
There is a group of artists who founded an artistic studio, because they grow up, and as they do the student from the artistic school becomes an architect, or a professional painter, for example. They got together–because the communitarian idea remains, it is always valid–and set up an artistic studio that made it to the Milan Exhibition this year, and two exhibitions at the Royal Palace, with great success. The national press gave it a lot of praise. These people are creating a movement amongst artists, a community amongst Christian artists, amongst people who see things from the Christian point of view. They began last year, and this year organized two-week sessions at Subiaco (one of St. Benedict’s first hermitages) praying, painting, living a common life. This year, fifty of them took part.
And there are many other things: For the first time this year, at the end of the cycle of studies at the technical institutes, we held a general meeting for those who were interested (from the Feltrinelli and Conti Institutes, and more than 200 took part), with the aim of getting organized so as to choose one’s own future, because one can’t survive in the environment alone, but you can if there are three or four of you (we’ve already proven it), and they even spread. Over the past two years, they have created a similar movement with the same criteria in the work environment: Gioventù Lavoratrice (Young Workers of Catholic Action). The ACLI [the Italian Catholic Workers’ Association–a kind of trades union]–the figures are there–have had the capacity to create a nucleus of youngsters in two years; these youngsters, without, sad to say, any help from us, because there are no priests there, have been able to build up a movement that gathers together over 2,500 young workers every week. They managed even that.

Christian life is a “we”
So, it is the rediscovery that Christian life is not “I and God,” but is a “we”: (“For me to live is Christ”). The quotation we used above is, as it were, the gnoseological consequence of this truth: that we are one, we are all one thing because we eat the same bread; we are a world within the world, a community in the world, a society in the world. Integralism? It seems to me merely the theological definition of a Christian.
This is why Jesus Christ said, “I pray You, Father, that they be one so that the world may believe that You have sent me.” The world becomes aware of Christ, the Christian announcement is only in as much as the world sees us living a truly communitarian life; sees this absolute miracle, because a communitarian realization of this kind is inconceivable from the natural point of view (with the selfishness that is around us).
It is exactly this that I really care about. The point of the proposal, the first directive I spoke of–the hint for the “get together” proposal and the community, once it is in place, serves for reminding the others; and secondly, it is something that takes hold of the whole of life. Christianity is not a community that performs particular activities, it is no longer particular activities, but a habitual way of life. The dialogue with the world (and this is what I struggle for and will struggle for more and more), dialogue with others in a pluralistic society, does not require us to forget or break up this community of ours. If other people’s conceptions transform their lives into an “I,” our conception of life transforms our life into a “we.” The dialogue between me and others, between me, a Christian, and others, is the dialogue between “us” and “you.” I say that democracy is respect for freedom of expression; it is not democracy if it claims that I can be Christian “in community” only in church, or when I am gathered in associations, while in public life it has to be only “I”–this would deny my concept of life.