It’s an odd company, that which Fr. Pietro Rossotti, native of Varese on loan to Washington, frequented for more than a year, along with some friends and some fifty CLU students of the United States and Canada. Saints, blesseds, but above all, men: must be interesting folk, if they were the inspiration for Fr. Pietro and his friends to create the exhibit American Dream: On the Road with the American Saints, displayed this year at the Meeting of Rimini. It was visited by thousands of people, and the volume, published by Marietti, curated by Mathieu S. Caesar and Pietro Rossotti, sold out in just a few days.
In the beginning, there was a theme chosen for the annual vacation for university students: sanctity. «Here in America, there is a widespread moralism that paints the saint as the man who is perfect,» explained Fr. Pietro. «We read a text of Giussani that said the opposite: ‘the saint is the true man.’ From there a dialogue began about sanctity as the vocation to which we all are called.» The second intuition was born during a pilgrimage in Wisconsin, where in 1859 the Virgin Mary appeared to a poor Belgian immigrant. «Our Lady of Good Help is in Champion, WI, in the middle of nowhere, and not many people know about it. And yet, you’re talking about one of the fifteen Marian apparitions approved by the Catholic Church, like Lourdes! This silence struck us and made us want to know our own story better.»
And this gave way to a journey that brought them far and wide, across the continent, and through the space and time that makes up the story of the “New World”. «We began with the North American Jesuit martyrs, who are probably among the better known: John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and companions, martyred in Quebec during the beginning of the 17th century, Charles Garnier. And then we highlighted the connection between their sacrifice and the sanctity of Kateri Tekakwitha, a young Native American, the first saint canonized by Benedict XVI. Then we moved to California, where we chose the figure of the minor Franciscan brother, Junípero Serra, canonized last year by Pope Francis. He isn’t well known, but in the Capitol building in Washington, DC, where there are two statutes to represent each of the fifty states, there is St. Junípero, for California. We then moved even further west, to 19th century Hawaii: there, in Molokai, the Belgian missionary Damien de Veuster gave his life as a missionary to the lepers. When he canonized this great missionary saint, Benedict XIV asked himself: what is the leprosy of our time? Great question: we can learn from the charity of Damien and not hold back even in our own campuses, where the leprosy is relativism, individualism; the leper is the man who tries to recreate himself and make it on his own. In the end, we returned back east to Philadelphia of the last century, to the adventure of Katharine Drexel, a great saint who founded an order and gave life to schools for African and Native Americans. You see charity at work, a life that bursts at the seams, and you understand that there is no dualism between constructing great works and bringing Christ to people.»
These aren’t just edifying stories, or models of success. There are no mass conversions or clamorous miracles. Eight Jesuits martyred by the savages to whom they wanted to bring Christ, a young Indian who gave testimony to Christ living a simple life, St. Damien, who, in the letters to his parents and his brother confessed the disgust that arose in him for the sickness that would eventually take his own life: «And slowly, after years and years, I was able to say to the leper, ‘You, O Christ.’» Mahatma Ghandi would later write of this missionary, «It would be interesting to understand the source of such a heroism.» This is the same idea that struck the students who worked with Fr. Pietro, «What happened here? It wasn’t in our hands, but in the hands of God. Our criteria changed. If life truly is given by Another, then the way you look at your success will also be different. The lives of these saints changed due to the perception they had of being sent to the places where they were, of being called. Their greatness is their testimony; this is the only way to spread Christianity.» Towards the end of the exhibit, there is a giant portrait, that of Father Giussani. Not exactly a red-blooded American. «In the last room, you could see us and what we have discovered: our companionship which is the place where sanctity is learned and lived. The saint is not an isolated individual. There is no sanctity without belonging. For us, this truth has become concrete within the vast story of the Movement. The “yes” of Fr. Giussani has allowed us to say our own “yes” to Christ.» Which has become a “yes” to the saints, our companions on this adventure, that is to say, our friends.
In the picture, the exhibit American dream, presented at the Meeting of Rimini 2016. Info: www.meetingmostre.com