I had never thought about a vocation to the priesthood before visiting the monks of the Cascinazza. I was a student studying Philosophy at the University of Turin, and for a few years I had been frequenting the company of Communion and Liberation. I wanted to become a journalist one day and have a family. I looked forward to this project with expectation, with the hope that the realization of these dreams would have brought me what I desired above all else: happiness. For this reason, even the mere thought of leaving everything – work, affection and aspirations – and giving my life for the will of Another was literally inconceivable. And, in fact, my vocation to the priesthood was not something that I chose for myself.
It was a spring morning, dull and humid. I was driving on the highway to the monastery where, together with a couple of friends, we were joining the monks to pray Lauds. And after? Maybe we would have been shown the place where they lived and worked. I did not know what was awaiting me, so much so that I didn’t even inquire into the schedule for the visit. I had never taken into serious consideration what it might have meant to live as a monk. No one had ever spoken to me about virginity or about religious consecration. Neither my teachers in public schools, from whom I had received an excellent humanistic formation, nor my parents who had helped me to know God and had taught me to pray. Thanks to them, I had faith but that faith had not been transformed into culture. I did not imagine that the faith needed to take a more concrete form or, in other words, that life needed to be informed by faith. That day, therefore, driving through the gate of the monastery, I was not certainly expecting to encounter that authentic faith that is the only true origin of culture.
I remember only a few snapshots of that first encounter with the religious vocation. The Lombard countryside and the simple houses surrounded by fields. The humble chapel of the monastery, smaller than I had imagined it would be, and the attention of those gazes fixed on the breviary. After the common prayer, we were led to a room on the opposite side of the courtyard. We waited for a minute and then one of the monks came to meet us. I do not remember all that Fabrizio had decided to share with us that morning. A graduate of architecture school, he had left his work and his girlfriend to join the community of the Cascinazza. It was an absurd, inconceivable decision from my point of view. And yet, that man insisted on saying that nothing had gone to waste, from the years of study to the love for his girlfriend. Rather, he said that God had fulfilled all of his desires. His face testified to the truth of his words. That man had given up all that the world had to offer and, despite this, he was happy. Happier than I was.
I left without going to meet him personally. His person was attractive but for some reason I stayed apart, at a distance. I was scared of the consequences that his presence had provoked in me. And yet, exactly in that instant in which I left the monastery, on the threshold of the gate, a question popped into my head. Unexpectedly and with a strength that I could not have avoided. Even years later, I remember exactly what words spontaneously arose in my mind: “But if God were to ask you to do the same, to leave everything in order to give your life to Him, would you be available enough to say ‘yes’?” With my eyes full of the beauty of a faith lived with radicality and joy, I replied immediately: “Why not…?” And faith became culture, became incarnate in that face and in that place. “But no: it’s not for me,” I added. It was too late. The calling had already entered, through the crack that my loyal response “Why not?” had left open.
Stefano Zamagni, 33 years old, from Turin, lives in the house of Washington DC. He studies at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. In the large photo, he is pictured together with Tommaso Badiani and the university students of Communion and Liberation in Washington