Culture: a test of experience, political action, ecumenism

The life of GS first and then of CL has always been marked by fervent cultural activity. CL's cultural liveliness arises from the passion to verify the capacity of the Christian faith to offer a more fertile and all-encompassing criterion for interpreting reality and events. St. Paul's advice: "Test everything; retain what is good," remains for CL the best definition of cultural work: everything can be encountered and compared using the criterion of the clarity about man brought by the Christian revelation, and on the basis of this criterion, we can retain and give value to what is true and good in everything.

From the earliest days of GS Fr Giussani's young people, subjected to a cultural and scholastic environment that, then as today, tends to marginalize the Christian event as a hypothesis for reading reality, engaged themselves, through symposia, newsletters and the so-called "revision cards," in an effort to have their say on questions raised by their school lessons or current social and cultural events. Alongside these, authors, texts, and problems were rediscovered and proposed that had been censured or neglected by the prevailing cultural tendencies.

In this "school" individuals and groups grew up, who then started or contributed to cultural initiatives, on their own responsibility, at a national and international level, along with a myriad of undertakings, great and small, embracing both the joy of sharing experiences and the passion to communicate the proprium of the Christian event.

Thus there grew up, in and outside of Italy, hundreds of cultural centers and dozens of private schools, often promoted by parents' cooperatives; publishing houses were started, journalistic and publishing activities realized, academic institutes and foundations promoted, and international meetings established (like the annual "Meeting for Friendship between Peoples" in Rimini), involving the most illustrious names in international culture and debating the most burning and authentic questions of the present moment.

All this has attracted both benevolent and ill-intentioned feelings to the movement, to the extent that, above and beyond the inevitable errors that this work brings with it, observers feel a difficulty, if not a preclusion, in considering the Christian identity to be the bearer of an original judgment on culture and society. Those who, even within the so-called Catholic world, see faith as something regarding questions "up above the clouds" and not as a factor that intervenes in history and culture would prefer the Christian community to stay out of questions that extend beyond the sacristy door.

In a committed Christian experience the political dimension naturally descends from the cultural dimension. Political action, in the conception of CL, is one of the fields in which a Christian is called with greater responsibility and ideal generosity to verify the unifying criterion that guides his existence in the face of the problems posed by the life of society and institutions. God gave men power so that they could work in His creation thrugh the commitment of their own talents, family, and society, to the point of that "demanding form of charity" - as Pope Paul VI called it - which is politics. It should thus not be surprising that out of CL have come people engaged on various levels, directly and on their own responsibility, in political action.

In particular, following the line marked out by the Church's social doctrine, what gives life to Christian commitment in politics is the defense of that highest good which is freedom, a necessary condition so that man can seek adequate answers to what his heart desires and his needs demand. The political action typical of the person educated in the Movement must tend, thus, to create the conditions so that the individual and society, in the whole of its activities of production, culture, and association, are not diminished or penalized by a statist view or by a position of privilege granted only to some for reasons of power. A synthesis of the CL conception of politics is well expressed in Assago 1987. Senso religioso, opera politica [Assago 1987. Religious sense, political works], which contains Fr Giussani's talk to the assembly of Christian Democrats of Lombardy held in Assago on February 6, 1987. The text has now been published in L. Giussani, L'io, il potere, le opere (Marietti, 2000).

The battles which have involved not only single persons but the entire Movement, like that for freedom of education and for parity between state-run and private schools, or the more general one for respect of the principle of subsiduarity, tend to make concrete the unity between cultural work and political action.

Finally, CL's concept of culture coincides with the most authentic sense of the term ecumenism. Ecumenism is not the search for a lowest common denominator between diverse experiences with the aim of justifying a tolerance that resembles, in actuality, a lack of mutual love. Ecumenism as the true meaning of culture, on the contrary, indicates the capacity to embrace even the most distant and different experience from one's own (for example, the experience of Buddhist monks on Mount Koya, or Russian Orthodox culture, or the Hebrew tradition), by virtue of the fact that having encountered the truth by grace and not by one's own merit makes one able to recognize every glimmer of truth and to enhance it.

free giving as a law, the working of charity
One of the actions promoted by GS as early as 1958 was charity in the area of the "Bassa milanese". Every week, several hundred students went from Milan to its outskirts, called the "Bassa," where the living conditions of many families were close to the poverty line and social life was practically non-existent. One afternoon a week, the students stayed there playing with the children and organizing, in accord with the local parish priests, periods of reading instruction and catechism. They also tried to help the families meet their needs.
"Life must be total sharing," explains Fr Giussani, "but disattention, fear, love of comfort, obstacles in the environment, malice, all empty life of the value of charity. To create a mentality of charity, the most humble and effective way is to begin to live some remnant of free time expressly, purposely as a sharing in the life of others. Commitment involving physical sacrifice, moreover, is essential for it to influence our mentality."
The charitable proposal thus was and is the educative tool for bringing about this "conversion."
Today, charity work in CL takes the most diverse forms: going into an oratory or neighborhood to play with children, or to a nursing home to keep elderly persons company; helping younger children with their studies, sharing difficult situations like poverty, mental illness, or the last stages of terminal illness, helping people find work, etc. Here too, as with the cultural dimension, operational developments, from the simplest to the most complex, are tied to the free initiative and choice of commitment of individuals or groups who adhere to CL and do not involve the Movement as a whole.

a Catholic witness
From the beginning, GS youth were educated to a sense of mission also through attention to figures of missionaries working in distant and difficult places. Throughout its entire history, CL has contributed to the missionary work of leading personalities (from Marcello Candia to Msgr. Pirovano, from Father Lardo to Mother Theresa) or religious organizations or orders (the PIME [Milan] Fathers, the Comboni Missionaries). But what counted most was the proposal made to these high school students to support entirely and responsibly (perhaps for the first time in Church history) a missionary action in Brazil, at Belo Horizonte, in 1962. The mission in Brazil has a significance that goes well beyond the fact that with the departures of those twenty-year-olds the first seeds were sown of the Movement's presence in Latin America: for the whole history of the Movement that gesture has meant that there is no distinction between an invitation to a "ray" or School of Community meeting or an offer of companionship to a colleague and the action of Christian proclamation carried out by the many missionaries, today also including representatives of CL, in difficult areas of Africa, Asia, or the Americas. It is the same universal mission of the Church, the same announcement.
A sense of mission in one's own sphere and the testimony to which the Movement calls its members are understood above all as the offer of one's time and talents to Christ, more than as the capacity for initiative or strategies for communication. Just as it spread from Milan into Romagna through Fr Giussani's encounters or the vacations spent by the early GS youth on the Adriatic coast, also in these years the Movement arose in countries near and far (for example, in Mexico, Taiwan, or Siberia) for reasons that were sometimes fortuitous (a trip taken for work, unexpected friendships or collaborations). Along with these phenomena, with the passing years the invitation has become more pressing on the part of Bishops and priests from all over the world to CL to send priests or lay persons educated in the Movement.
Under this profile, more than being concerned with its own dissemination, CL has always understood mission as service to the mission of the Church and as the possibility of a call to the Christian experience in every sphere of study or work in which its members are found, anywhere in the world.