I have often asked myself, “What comes first: communion or friendship? Which of the two is greater?”
When I think of communion, the image of a huge mountain range comes to mind. An image has remained stamped in my mind of the Alps, capped with snow, that I happened to fly over on clear winter days, several minutes of extraordinary beauty. The shadows, made denser by the dazzling light, sharpen the contour of every single protrusion. Thousands of peaks and ridges alternate, creating folds and cliffs. But as soon as you raise your gaze, you see the entire range one more, sturdy and banded together, extending to the endless horizon – magnificent. Those peaks, although each one is different, belong to one another, and even if two points are hundreds of kilometers apart, they are part of the same unified whole that has only one name.
Friendship can be compared to the ascent of an alpinist towards the summit. His feat is a singular and fascinating experience during which he must remain focused for hours on his steps, bringing him in contact with the rocks and ice, in the closed canyons or making him expose his back towards a void. The majesty of the rocky walls that he faces, at times, overwhelm all else that can be seen, as he turns his gaze upward in search of the next foothold. At that moment, everything else loses its importance, almost ceases to exist. Once he arrives at the mountaintop, an endless panorama opens up below him: the great mountain range to which the summit belongs.
The first important friendships during my adolescent years were born from relationships with certain young people and adults of the Movement of CL, whom I met at my school in Trent. The sense of our reciprocal belonging founded on our encounter with Christ and with the charism that struck us clearly led the way to the blossoming of personal affection and admiration for a number of them.
Even today, the friendship with people who are close to me is nourished by the objective and reciprocal belonging that comes before any other reason that might have put us together. Common interests and similar personalities are not the basis of the friendship. These things are true and important parts of what makes life beautiful, yet they are not the founding elements of friendship. The essential experience at the backdrop of every friendship of this period of my life is the realization that we have been called together by grace to participate in the same mission for the world. In short, the authentic and elementary reality of these friendships is the sharing of the most important things of life. In fact, the more we share the greatest things, the more the friendship is fulfilled, even if some might be called to live far away from the others, just like the peaks that soar at the extreme ends of a single mountain range.
The Solemnity of All Saints, which begins the month of November, speaks precisely of this reality.
In the summer of 1978, when I was 11 years old, my uncle Silvano took me to the summit of Mt. Vioz which is situated on the border between Trentino and Lombardy. Altitude: 3645 meters. We spent the night in the mountain hut. To tell the truth, I did not get much sleep. At 4:30 in the morning, we were already outside in the cold, ready to cross the Cevedale. At that moment, for the first time in my life, I saw an unforgettable sight: the first lights of the day illuminating a sea of fog out of which emerged only the highest masiffs. Valleys, paths, woods, scree and everything that tied those rocky islands together had vanished under the layer of clouds.
On this earth, we live in a similar situation. We are not yet able to see clearly those things that connect our lives, the point where our paths intertwine. And yet, as if we were the mountains of the same range,we are truly united at the root of our being. Thus, our every movement touches the existence of the others. We cannot know today the effect of a small sign of comprehension offered to another person, our participation in his suffering or joy, a moment of hospitality or a small act of patience in listening to him. We do not know the precise weight that our prayers for him or our unseen sacrifices will have. But when we get to Heaven, the fog will scatter and we will see the majestic mountain range to which we belong, immersed in the light of the presence of God.
The Solemnity of All Saints is like a crack through which our eyes are able to see true reality, the definitive reality: the communion which gathers all of humanity into one body.
In order to live conscious of this mystery every day, perhaps it is worth memorizing a short prayer by Egied van Broeckhoven, a young Jesuit priest who died in 1967 in a steelworks of Bruxelles where he had decided to work side by side with the laborers in order to announce to them the presence of Christ: «O God, grant that our friendship may perpetuate an everlasting meaning in your love; help us to be for one another, the benevolent dawn of your eternal love».