Vanchiglia is one of the most beautiful parts of Turin, a heavily inhabited neighborhood whose heart is in Piazza Santa Giulia. The old artisans shops have given way to the orderly stands that make up the fresh-air market, open on Saturday from May onwards. It is a strategic location, surrounded by the large road that runs along the river Po, the Mole Antonelliana, and the university. Not far away from this zone, the community centers mark their territory with the slogans on the occupied buildings. More than a place of the revolution, however, this is the neighborhood of night life, of chaotic mingling, of alcohol induced mirth, and also of the drug market. And, at the end of last June, when protests turned into a bona fide battle, many people were left hurt and much damage was caused. However, in May, it is a different place that welcomes us, one closer to the dream of Giulia of Barolo (1786-1864), the extremely rich and wise marquess, to whom is owed the church of Santa Giulia, the large oratory, and the rectory, which today is the house of the priests of the Fraternity of St. Charles. It is impressive, when you reread the letters of the noble woman, to discover that she, author of the first penitentiary reform of the city, had wanted for this church “a community of priests,” that would have evangelized the neighborhood. For three years now, thanks to the invitation of the archbishop, this dream is becoming a reality.
It has always been a beautiful parish Santa Giulia, even in the days of Bernardino Rainero, commonly known as Don Berna, one of the firsts priests of Turin to encounter Communion and Liberation, and in the days of Fr. Primo Soldi, who carried on the tradition. But now there are four priests: Fr. Paolo Pietroluongo, Fr. Stefano Lavelli, Fr. Cristiano Ludovico (since transferred to Portugal) and Fr. Gianluca Attanasio, the pastor. “They are always happy,” comments Enza, as she ties on her apron in order to prepare the dinner for the end of the month party: tortelli, roast pork and french fries. This happiness is the principal reason for an attraction that, despite her work and her children, led her to work with fifty other volunteers for this event with a title that is a bit ‘retro’: “May in the Oratory”. It’s an entire month of encounters, soccer tournaments, music and a Marian procession followed by 200 persons. Carla comes from another part of the city. She works here as a secretary and as a catechist. What makes her do it? “They are a reference point in this neighborhood, a house, a place where one can find friendship, support, help. Their presence is a testimony of the encounter with Christ.” They have beautiful faces, these mothers, Enza, Carla, Daniela, Adriana, Paola, Patrizia, Stefania, Ilaria, and the others. The husbands help out with the soccer tournament and with the kegs, and the young people work as waiters. The gran finale is the concert of Los cantineros, the musical group captained by Fr. Stefano, with the collaboration of real musicians and the seminarian Pietro on the sax. It is the other face of the merriment, a night that doesn’t end even with the first lights of day.
There’s no need to rattle off numbers; its enough just to go there. The house is always full of people: middle school students in the courtyard, college students in the parking lot, among the roses and the geraniums, young workers in the kitchen. And then a group of mothers with their sleeves rolled up and children everywhere. As far as what they said about these priests being happy, it’s true: Fr. Stefano Lavelli has eyes that laugh. “The fruitfulness is born from a fertile ground,” he says, “tilled by those who came before us. It doesn’t depend on us: it’s a grace.” And in any event, Fr. Stefano, a chef from Piacenza who loves music, did not lose anything and has found everything. There are reasons to be happy: “It’s as if Christ wanted to say to me: I don’t get rid of anything of what you are; however, use it well.” A different order: even Caterina, who works at the local supermarket, was on the scent, as for weeks, she would see Fr. Stefano buying bags of frozen French fries, 100 kilograms each time. “I would get there and she would scream, ‘It’s the nicest priest of the Catholic Church!’ She asked me if she could come to church. ‘I’m Buddhist’ she said, ‘because it gives me peace. But I have a great esteem for Jesus.’ Sometimes you meet people and, without you doing anything in particular and without you noticing, something passes through you to them.”
Paolo Pietroluongo is originally from Cassino, and he follows the high school students and the kids who are in catechism. All of this in his own style: songs and skits, to animate those characters from the most beautiful story in the world, so that one might relate to them. “The celebration is our brand, our way to recognize that there is a father who loves us. I’ve always had the perception that history is in God’s hands, both the history of the world and my own story.” Paolo let himself be taken by Christ after a youth spent in the discotheque and a degree in Economics. It was inevitable that, among his other work, he would be the treasurer of the house. What is mission for him? “Msgr. Camisasca always told us: follow one person, truly involve yourself with him, and you’ll see that this one will reach ten others.” And the accounting? “Christ is bigger than our budget. Don Bosco used to write the expenditure, the income, and then providence.” Fr. Cristiano is the youngest: he has discovered that if there is something true, then there is always a way to communicate it in such a way that the other might understand. “During marriage prep, we were speaking about the experience of prayer in such a concrete way that an atheist man, who was present with his catholic fiancé, said, ‘I’m missing a moment of reflection in my life.’ Prayer isn’t just this; however, it speaks to man of something so true that he is bound to have perceived it before.” And then there is Fr. Attanasio, the pastor, who explains why they chose to keep their house open to the others. “It is always possible to come and eat with us. In this way, people can see how we live. Much of the education we give to the kids comes from eating together.” Pietro, confirms, who studies Physics at the university and Composition at the conservatory. “Sharing life over dinner, or an encounter in which we pause and reflect on the choices that we make, is extremely helpful. When you enter this house, you have to say: here, there is a harmony among these people.”
Attanasio is capable of analysis that don’t cut corners: he speaks about young people agonized by the lack of rules, of a time in which there are no fathers. However, at the horizon, “a new world is beginning. And we have the grace to see it.” The future of the Church is Europe, he says, citing Ratzinger, “are the small communities where it is possible to experience friendship and fraternity concretely. A proposal of common life open to all, which begins from the charism that we have met, begins from our sensibility, which is that of the Movement. It is also the invitation of Pope Francis. It is from him that we learned this great openness. It is a wonderful teaching that gets at something very true: in an anti-ideological environment, people are not struck by speeches but by the fact that they feel loved, embraced. This idea that the Church is a field hospital, at the beginning, seemed exaggerated to me. But I see youngsters who have panic attacks, who have pasts full of destroyed families. It isn’t an exception; it’s the norm, this field hospital. Afterwards, certainly, it’s necessary that we build community…” There is something new in Turin, hometown of the great ‘social’ saints. Or maybe it’s something ancient. The devil is afraid of people who are truly happy, Don Bosco used to say and it’s still true in this oratory. Just like its true that this community is fulfilling the desire of St. Cottolengo, two centuries later, “that the month of May continue for all twelve months of the year.”