A man captured by Christ: The legacy of Father Giussani 10 years on

1960. Varigotti (SV). Father Luigi Giussani with students during the Tower Ray. Credit: Communion and Liberation Official Site.
1960. Varigotti (SV). Father Luigi Giussani with students during the Tower Ray. Credit: Communion and Liberation Official Site.

.- Ten years after the death of Father Luigi Giussani, founder of the global fraternity Communion and Liberation, the priest's life continues to shed light on man's deepest questions, his biographer says.

What still strikes the world about Fr. Giussani is “his humanity, definitely,” Alberto Savorana told CNA Feb. 27.

“A humanity that since he was a little boy had been seized by a very important encounter on a day that he had later described as 'the beautiful day.'”

This encounter, he said, “was the encounter with Christ, who for him was not merely a name, not just an object of devotion as for a devout man of the past, but was a presence he recognized as the most adequate for his young life.”

Savorana explained that it was in Christ that Fr. Giussani found the answer to the questions he had been pondering on truth, beauty and happiness since he was 13 years old and an avid reader of the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi.

For Giussani, Christ was not only the answer to these questions, but a faithful companion throughout life’s journey, and was someone who was able “to unveil the secret of hearts.”

Savorana is the official biographer of Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation (CL). He published the biography, entitled “The Life of Fr. Giussani,” in 2013.  

Fr. Giussani was born Oct. 15, 1922, in the Italian city of Desio, located just north of Milan, which is the second most populous city Italy.

The movement traces its roots back to his close ties with the Catholic “Gioventù Studentesca,” meaning “Student Youth,” group that was born in 1954 at Berchet High School in Milan, where Giussani was a teacher.

Composed of mainly lay persons, Communion and Liberation also has members who are priests, religious, and consecrated lay men and women, who are called “Memores Domini.”

When Fr. Giussani died in 2005, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was a close friend and confidant of Giussani, delivered the homily at his funeral.

In honor of the anniversary of Fr. Giusanni’s death, thousands of members from across the world are flocking to the Vatican for a March 6 audience with Pope Francis, to be held in St. Peter’s Square. Roughly 70-80,000 people are expected to attend.

In CNA's interview with Savorana, the biographer touches on the most striking aspects of Fr. Giussani and his legacy, the essence of Communion and Liberation, as well as the priest's friendship with Cardinal Ratzinger, now retired pontiff Benedict XVI.

Savorana is currently in charge of Public Relations for Communion and Liberation, and he knows the movement from the inside.

Please read below the full interview with Alberto Savorana, conducted by CNA’s Angela Ambrogetti:

Q: Alberto Savorana, what is striking about Fr. Giussani’s personality nowadays?

His humanity, definitely. A humanity that since he was a little boy had been seized by a very important encounter on a day that he had later described as “the beautiful day.” It was the encounter with Christ, who for him was not merely a name, not just an object of devotion as for a devout man of the past, but was a presence he recognized as the most adequate for his young life during 1930s and 1940s, because in Christ he had found the answer to the questions that he was impressed by when he was 13 and used to read the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. Questions on truth, on beauty, on happiness. What is striking about Fr. Giussani was this: he was a man for whom Christ was a trustworthy companion on the path of life, able to unveil the secret of hearts. For this reason, Fr. Giussani’s gaze was a gaze that valued everyone he met, because he was introduced to the possibility of a more human, more beautiful, more appealing human life…a human life that better fit the needs of human existence.

Q: Not a doctrine, but the encounter with a real person. Ten years after Fr. Giussani’s death, what still remains of him in Communion and Liberation, and how has the movement developed?

His legacy is the path that he indicated to us: the possibility of making a human journey, as he did. Because Fr. Giussani did not explain Christianity -- he incarnated Christianity, he lived it and continually reflected in his experience and he then communicated it as if it was a possibility for everyone. What remains today is the guidance of Fr. Carron – the priest that Fr. Giussani had called from Spain to be his successor in leading the movement. Fr. Giussani’s legacy is also that of communicating the possibility to re-live the same Christian experience which fascinated him, and the Christian experience carried on by Fr. Giussani is one that came to him from tradition: that Christ responds to the needs of men. Because of this, Fr. Giussani’s relevance lies in the fact that he stressed that if man does not cultivate his humanity, if he does not take seriously the inner questions of his heart, he will find it difficult to find an answer in Christ and in Christians. If instead man renounces himself, he can find someone whose changed life appears desirable. At the 1987 Synod, Fr. Giussani said that contemporary man - as it is said in Benedict XVI’s encyclical ‘Deus Caritas Est’ - does not need the constant repetition of the announcement (of the Gospel), but to meet people who are so changed by the announcement of Christ that he desires to live as they do.

Q: From “Gioventù Studentesca” (the first seed of Communion and Liberation) to the Compagnia delle Opere (CL economic branch) through the Fraternità San Carlo (the CL seminary)… the story of Communion of Liberation is a longstanding one, which deals with both spiritual and temporal issues…what is, in the end, Communion and Liberation?

To say it with one only word, CL is a life. It is a phenomenon of life that tends to invest in all areas of human existence, because it is a Christian proposal which embraces the whole life of the human being – from the most simple and elementary level of life to the life of society and of the world. This is the challenge Fr. Giussani pursued his whole life: that of nurturing adults who are so certain that Jesus is the response to the problems of many that they live every aspect of their life based on this certainty – from culture, to education, to politics…sure, these people assume a responsibility and run the risk in every human effort of making mistakes. Fr. Giussani used to say that our efforts are “ironic efforts” since we don’t claim to have the automatic answer to every problem, but try with whoever is willing to find a way to make life more human and more adequate.

Q: The last question is a must: the relationship between Fr. Giussani and Joseph Ratzinger. The then-Cardinal Ratzinger celebrated Fr. Giussani’s funeral, and in his first encyclical as Pope Benedict XVI, we can feel the effect of the many meetings between Fr. Giussani and Ratzinger. Does that relationship still tell you something particular today?

Definitely. And I believe it is also meaningful for many Christians today and for Pope Francis himself, who doesn’t keep secret the bond and affection he has for his predecessor. Fr. Giussani for decades was close to then-Cardinal Ratzinger. This relationship was never flaunted, and was never used for purposes other than those of the mutual deepening of their experience of faith. Cardinal Ratzinger was a person which Fr. Giussani turned to each time he had doubts about what he said to the movement, about what he had communicated as the Christian message. Fr. Giussani would come to Rome, meet with Cardinal Ratzinger and ask him – whom he felt was a safe reference point for his life – for an opinion, a piece of advice, a correction. And this makes affection to the Pope-emeritus even greater, who, with his gesture of renunciation, made clear to everyone his attachment only to the figure of Christ.

Tags: Communion and Liberation, Fr. Giussani

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