La Plata, Argentina, 2006. Three of our missionaries have, for some months now, been at the parish of Los Hornos. This small church, which had once been the chapel of a family, lost among the fields in a large property, is now surrounded by a high wall that contains, in addition to the church, the house of the priests and a school that is full of kids. The neighborhood, grown up around it, is inhabited by families of modest economic conditions, mostly of Italian origins.
Right off the bat, our priests enter the schools, taking teaching positions, and after a few months, they invite their first students to go deeper into the contents of their courses. They propose a charitable work and then the meetings of School of Community. The first year passes and another begins.
One day, in one of the classes, during the period of religion inscriptions are collected for a week of vacation organized by the kids themselves. It is a school tradition, they say. In reality, it is a symptom of the fact that, for a long time, they have been missing an adequate educative proposal. This excursion has become an ambiguous moment of initiation, in which the kids let themselves loose in an atmosphere governed by instinct, without rules. Almost all of them return sadder than they were when they left. And not all of them approve of the way their older classmates set the rules for the game, but it is not easy to get out of it without coming across as a bigot or a nerd. That day, however, a girl found the courage to say that she would not be participating. In front of her classmates and the priest, who listened, shocked, she explained why she will not go: “I don’t want to throw my life away just because others do it. I’ve met a group of people who live in a different way and I’ve seen that they are happy.” She caught her breath, and then continued. “They invited me to a vacation and I want to save my money so I can go with them.”
“At that moment, I saw that GS had been born in our school,” our missionary told me as he recounted this episode. “I heard in her voice the vibration of an emotion that was deeper that her nerves, or her fear of the judgment of her peers. It was something that lit her up from within. She had found a companionship that gave life its sense, and this filled her with joy and courage.”
Arlington, Virginia, 2017. Another school and another priest who proposes to his students to go deeper into what he teaches during the hours of Religion. In order to meet with his students, he obtained the recognition as an official student club, the obligatory juridical cover in the United States. The club president is one of his younger students, with a lively manner and an Oriental heritage, who trusts her teacher and begins to collaborate with him.
Every week this group of young people would get together to judge their experience with the new priest from Italy, reading the texts of don Giussani, and asking themselves what was the meaning of what they lived, and what each part of their lives had to do with Christ. The group grew, slowly, as time went on. Four years pass, and the girl, who from the beginning had faithfully helped to lead the group, arrived at graduation as the student of the highest academic standing in the school. It is her task, therefore, to give the traditional closing speech during the graduation ceremony. In front of students and professors, dressed to the nines, in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, she begins by saying: “Normally, on such an occasion, one expects to hear it said that we can build the life that we want, as long as we decide to work with constancy and determination. Normally, it is said that we can reach all of the goals that we set for ourselves, and thereby be successful in life. I believed in this promise, which is the essence of the American dream. I too believed that satisfaction and happiness would have come solely through my ability to reach them, as I reached each and every goal I set. But I’ve understood that this is not true happiness; it is not true life. Too often we fool ourselves, thinking that finite things can fill our desire, which is, instead, infinite. On the contrary, there is nothing more beautiful that discovering the reason for life. In these years, I’ve understood that we are great not when we realize great things, but when even the smallest detail of our day is full of meaning and of purpose, so much so that the heart bursts with gratitude and joy.”
“She was super courageous,” this priest wrote to me, sending me the text of the speech of his student [read also Life Becomes a Question by fr. Michele Benetti]. She as well that day had trembled with an emotion that was much different than fear or pride. Her strength was in the awareness of what had happened to her in those four years passed at the school. “It’s that courage again,” I thought as I read what she had decided to say, remembering the Argentine girl of whom I had heard tell much time before. For both of them, Christ had become a real and beautiful Presence. And even if in circumstances and places far away from each other, both were reached by the same announcement, which reawakened their most authentic religiosity, a desire of fullness and of truth that made them free to affirm in front of everyone their belonging to Christ, He without whom life is not life.