01-03-2007 - Traces, n. 3
Fr. Giussani, the Bishops, the Popes

A Story of Faithfulness

The audience with Benedict XVI on March 24th in Saint Peter’s Square for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the pontifical recognition of the CL Fraternity offers an occasion to renew our faithfulness to Peter, the guide established for our life of faith, and to his Church. This faithfulness marking our history characterized the entirety of Fr. Giussani’s life. For him, as we read in School of Community, “The apostles and their successors (the Pope and the bishops) constitute, in history, the living continuation of the authority who is Christ... like an absolute and reliable rock, infallible: “You are Peter and on this rock I shall build my Church” (The Journey to Truth Is an Experience)

by Massimo Camisasca

Did Fr. Giussani obey? He who educated thousands of people to obedience, understood as adherence to life, to Being, to what makes us grow and hence also to the authorities that life sets along our journey–did he obey the Church, the bishops, the Pope?
In September of 1964, ten years after the birth of the Movement, he published, for the Beginning Day in Varigotti, “Notes on the Christian Method” (now in The Journey to Truth Is an Experience, p. 85). In these pages dedicated to the relationship with authority, he wrote the following: “Everything must be profoundly subordinated from its very origin to that point of reference and, if needs be, sacrificed” (p. 89). Six months later, Fr. Giussani had to leave the Movement and depart for the United States. Perhaps as he wrote those lines, he already had a presentiment of what was to happen. He stayed far from Italy and his own people for only a few months, but what remained of the Movement was entrusted to others. The sacrifice was great; he never mentioned it in the next forty years, a sign that the wound had never healed. Giovanni Colombo, the Archbishop of Milan, had asked of him this enormous separation.

Montini: “Go ahead in this way”

Elected before Colombo to the seat of Ambrose and Charles was Giovanni Battista Montini. The relations between Fr. Giussani and Cardinal Montini were intense. They both came to Milan the same year but did not know each other; someone spoke to the Archbishop of Fr. Giussani, and so he entrusted the evangelization of students to him in the context of the great “Mission for Milan” that had inaugurated his ministry in the Lombard capital. Though Giussani and Montini had had profoundly different formation and sensibility, the future founder of CL captured the Archbishop’s attention, curiosity, and respect, documented in a score of letters. Montini did not hide the criticisms against Fr. Giussani from some sectors of the diocese; he referred them to him with a delicate and paternal tone, always confirming his esteem for the work of the priest from Brianza. When the criticisms even began arriving from Rome, from the central headquarters of Catholic Action, he told Fr. Giussani something the priest would never forget: “I do not understand your ideas and your methods, but I see the fruit, and I tell you: Go ahead in this way.” This opening fostered in Fr. Giussani the birth and maturation of a filial devotion, a desire for obedience. In a 1962 letter, he wrote to his Bishop, “There is certainly no greater version in us of our love for Christ than the active desire to serve the Holy Church of God in our Bishop. We would never want to cause you displeasure; certainly we give you all our energies of life.”

Colombo: obey “standing”
In 1963, Montini, elected Pope with the name of Paul VI, was succeeded by Msgr. Giovanni Colombo, who had been the Venegono Seminary Rector when Fr. Giussani was there, and one of his most important teachers. Therefore, the two knew each other very well. The relations between Fr. Giussani and the new Archbishop were troubled and often full of misunderstandings. Colombo greatly esteemed Fr. Giussani, whom he considered one of his best students. He wished to see Fr. Giussani’s gifts at the service of the diocese teaching theology, and was loathe to accept his involvement with the Movement, which grew in numbers and created discontent among parish priests and the traditional associations. For his part, Fr. Giussani said he was only living and proposing to young people the teachings that Colombo himself had imparted to him during the seminary years. So, Fr. Giussani was sent away. When he returned from America, he began teaching at the Catholic University of Milan. At the heart of this teaching, which would later become the PerCorso, the foundational text of School of Community, the ordinary catechism of CL, he enunciated these affirmations: “The normal source for an ultimately sure knowledge is not the study of theology or biblical exegesis, but the articulation of the common life of the Church, bound to the ordinary Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.” Many years later, he would say, “Authority is the contingent form that the presence of the Risen Christ utilizes as the operating expression of His friendship with man–with me, with you, with each of us all.” Therefore, precisely through analysis of the relationship between Fr. Giussani and Cardinal Colombo, one can say that Fr. Giussani usually obeyed “standing”: he continually and insistently made present to the authorities his own reasons, and didn’t leave them tranquil. At the same time, his relations with his bishops were laced with a profound tenderness. In a 1973 letter to Cardinal Colombo on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of his election as Archbishop of Milan, Fr. Giussani wrote him, “For ten years, you have been the sign and instrument of the Lord for the vocation of my life. …When will my face and my history be able to make my Father happy? This is the imploration I raise to Our Lady on this day dominated by the emotion of ten years ago when I saw you enter the Cathedral.” In another testament to this virile obedience, Fr. Giussani wrote to his Archbishop in 1975: “If my person with its history represents an impediment, I beg you to have no compunction about setting me aside.”

In Saint Peter’s Square with Paul VI

In the meantime, Archbishop Montini had become Pope with the name Paul VI. At the end of his pontificate, in the general confusion that dominated the life of the Church at the time, he began to see CL as an event animated by faithfulness to the Great Tradition and thus to the Pope. He invited CL members to gather in Saint Peter’s Square for Palm Sunday. Eighteen thousand flocked there. There had been concern that the Square would be empty; it was the Holy Year, but even that celebration was being contested. Moved by that generous act of faithfulness, Paul VI, meeting Fr. Giussani at the door of the Basilica while the celebrants were re-entering, repeated (probably without even realizing it) exactly the same words that the founder of CL had already heard from him before: “This is the road; go ahead in this way! Courage, courage, you and your young people, because this is the good road.” Only this time, he didn’t say, “I don’t understand.”

John Paul II: complete resonance
The Pope with whom relations were most intense was without a doubt John Paul II. His life and that of Fr. Giussani were profoundly intertwined, even in illness and death.
Unknown to most until the day of his election to the papal throne, Karol Wojtyla was already known to Fr. Giussani and some CL members, having met them on a vacation in the Tatra Mountains a few years before. The resonance between the experience of the Polish pope and that of the CL founder was profound, and emerged with clarity in the earliest days of his pontificate. After the first audience in January of 1979, Fr. Giussani wrote to the entire Movement, “We serve Christ in this great man with all our existence” and he delineated the two principal points of convergence with the Holy Father: Jesus Christ, truth of all of man; and the faith as the form of all of life, that is expressed as culture and communicated through education.
A few months later, when John Paul II’s first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, was published, it became the text for School of Community. Two years later, the Movement mobilized with large conferences and local-level forums to draw attention to the Holy Father’s words at UNESCO, in which he systematically addressed the themes of culture and education.
From the earliest days of his pontificate, John Paul II asked himself, “Who do I have around me? Who can help me?” and he saw in the lay movements the answer to this need of his. Thus, he sought to know them better, to promote them, and, finally, to recognize them, canonically as well. He was the voice of the Church that said “yes” to what was born with Fr. Giussani, the “yes” that the priest from Desio had been awaiting for decades and that had seemed impossible only a few months before February 11, 1982, when the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation was recognized by the Holy See. (John Paul II later recognized the Memores Domini, the Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of Saint Charles Borromeo, and the Sisters of Charity of the Assumption as well.)

Meetings with Cardinal Ratzinger
During the 1980s, Fr. Giussani, through the initiative of Fr. Angelo Scola and in my presence, came two or three times a year to Rome to have dinner with Cardinal Ratzinger. The meetings, which happened in the Cappellette, always evolved in the same way. Fr. Giussani would ask Ratzinger to confirm the orthodoxy of his own positions and always received from him new reasons that supported their truth and fecundity. The closeness between Fr. Giussani and John Paul II throughout the 1980s gave rise to an inexhaustible flowering of initiatives. This alliance frightened some. There were those who sought to distance the two men, to cause a breach between them, but the reality of this resonance of theirs proved much stronger than any other logic. The last years of the life of John Paul II and Fr. Giussani, marked by a profound communion in illness and in offering themselves to Christ, was also distinguished by a very intense and meaningful correspondence. Almost emblematic of this relationship was the meeting in May 1998, in Saint Peter’s Square, when the Pope and four founders of movements, among them Fr. Giussani, spoke before hundreds of thousands of people. When he finished speaking, he approached the Pope, went up the stairs to him, and then kneeled, as if to offer to the entire Church what had been born through him. This was their last meeting.