by Dino Boffo
You look into his eyes and wonder: what is the mystery of a life?
Whether simple or important? Important, why? On what basis? Public
renown? Number of followers? Works created? The priest we meet here is
certainly famous. Without doubt, he is destined to enter the religious
history of the twentieth century. The thought that thousands of people
would like to stand in front of him and ask him a question, even just
one, makes you feel uncomfortable. You look beyond him and see a
multitude of young people (and not so young by now), who have been
awakened and are enthusiastic beyond measure. And you perceive
immediately what in not only technical terms is called charisma. This
man has loads of it, as even those who are skeptical about his message
acknowledge. Even more today when he is old and wracked by illness, he
is one with his charism, imbued with it and absorbed in it. One
spontaneously thinks of the current of communication connecting him
and his God. It has to be a strong and continuous relationship. This
is, in fact, the secret sign of every “founder,” especially in the
times when structures no longer hold; they draw from the Source what
is fascinating and strengthening for the soul. Most of the recent
movements have sprouted forth from the centuries-old but young and
fertile trunk of Italian Catholicity. If it did not sound out of place,
you might be tempted to say to him: Fr Giussani, doesn’t it seem to
you, too, that you are more than your Movement, that your gaze goes
beyond it, and your dream overflows it still? That you are, to be sure,
a teacher, a distillation of the teachers you have had, but even more
than this, you are a witness, in the literal sense of the world: you
are one who has seen, and this is why you speak and can speak to all?
In the meantime, Fr Luigi—in turn—is looking at you, waiting for the
first question. It is inevitably different from these.
Eighty years old. Fr Gius, what is life like at that height?
Life at this height is made and communicated for recognizing the name
of God in all things, and for recognizing the Creator Spirit at work
in it. So that the words of Ada Negri’s poem, Mia giovinezza [My Youth]
may come true: “I have not lost you. You are still there, at the
bottom/ of my being. Yourself you are, and yet another/… more
beautiful./ You love, and don’t think you are loved; for every/ flower
that blooms or fruit that reddens/ or baby that is born, to the God of
fields/ and families you give heartfelt thanks.”
How much has the sense
of time rushing past had an impact on the work you have brought into
being? In other words: has your life unfolded under the banner of
I hope that my life has unfolded in accordance with what God expected
from it. One can say that it unfolded under the banner of urgency
because every circumstance, indeed every instant for my Christian
conscience has been to seek the glory of Christ. My bishop, Cardinal
Tettamanzi, at his entrance in Milan, said: “The men and women of our
time, even if unawares, ask us to ‘speak’ to them about Christ, or
rather to make them ‘see’ Him.” Precisely Jesus Christ, His human
glory in history, is the only positive sign in the world of an
otherwise absurd movement of time and space. Because without meaning,
Eliot would say, there is no time. Life is full of nothingness, of
negativity, and Jesus of Nazareth is the vindication. In me, this is
clear. Thus hope is the certainty by which we can breathe in the
present, we can enjoy in the present.
Was there a moment in
the early decades of your life when you felt a foreshadowing of what
would spring forth from your priestly initiative? Even if it is
delicate and personal, can you tell us about it?
I cannot pinpoint one particular “instigating” moment. For me,
everything took place in the most total normality, and only the things
that happened, while they were happening, aroused wonder, so clear it
was that it was God who was doing them by making them the fabric of a
history that was happening to me—and is happening to me—in front of my
eyes. I saw a people happen, in the name of Christ, the protagonist of
You are greatly loved
by your kids. When you talk to them, even in enormous assemblies, in
person or by video, not a fly stirs. One senses that for many of them
you are a father, you represent the ideal. Does this make you
It doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all, but it makes me pray to God
to be able always to give reasons and strength to the freedom of young
Fr Giussani is one of
the public icons of recent decades, and yet he has never appeared very
much in public, one could say only the bare minimum. Is this shyness
or coyness, a calculated or a spontaneous choice?
The spontaneous choice of a heart stretching toward the truth, even
though well aware of my limitations.
In front of your name,
and eschewing all personal considerations, for years it has been
practically obligatory to take a stand: either decidedly in favor, or
against. Why is this, in your opinion?
The favor, even well acknowledged, has never made me forget the price
of the sacrifice required.
The person interviewing
you comes from an ecclesial experience that is considered “opposed” to
CL. For years, the news was full of the conflict between Catholic
Action and Communion and Liberation. Do you think this was inevitable,
or do you have some rebukes to make or to make to yourself in this
It seems to me that the more a group of faithful tries to live the
faith and to educate itself to the apostolate under the influence of
sincere, impassioned analyses, the more it risks also being partial in
its references, since it is impossible for every analysis to be
omni-comprehensive. But if relations are maintained and carried out in
charity, as Christ and the Apostles urged, the distinctions and
differences succeed in being a collaboration.
ingenuousness of the question: what is CL for Fr Giussani?
It is a friendship (the former rector of the University of Munich and
founder of the University of Eichstatt, Prof Nikolaus Lobkowicz, wrote
that encountering CL, he discovered friendship as a “virtue”) that
ensures a common effort to work together in reflecting on faith and in
attempting to make the desire to testify to Christ as the inspirer of
peace and mutual help a common expression.
In the letter he sent me for the twentieth anniversary of the
Fraternity of CL, John Paul II wrote that “The Movement has chosen and
chooses to indicate not a road, but the road towards a solution to
this existential drama” of today’s man. And he added, “The road is
Christ… Communion and Liberation, more than offering new things, aims
at helping people rediscover the Tradition and history of the Church,
in order to express this in ways capable of speaking to and engaging
the men of our time.” We exist only for this.
Priest, educator, and
leader. Don’t deny it: you have been and are a multi-faceted chief.
What is the greatest joy, but also the greatest toil, in guiding a
people of the young and the formerly young?
In guiding a people, the greatest joy and at the same time the
greatest toil lie in sincerely and unceasingly asking God, and thus
the Spirit and Our Lady, for light for one’s intelligence and burning
fire for one’s charity in the face of all the problems that spring up
in every man’s heart before the events that the Mystery of God permits
to happen, and the problems that are imposed on the heart and the work
of each person in the place where they meet each other.
The seed of Communion
and Liberation has been scattered by now in every continent. What
criteria do you indicate so that this spread may take place in
faithfulness to the original design?
The spread of the theoretical and practical criteria throughout the
world is a gift that must be continually asked of Christ, and
therefore must take place as the object of prayer to the Mystery of
the Father, as Christ has taught us: in the consistent search for the
principles of faith and charity, in humble obedience to the shepherds
of the flock, i.e., the Bishops. Obedience to the authority of the
Church—above all the Pope, the established embankment for the safety
of our Catholic faith—constitutes the original and perfect criterion.
The passing years confirm us in this attitude (i.e., they give the
reasons for the confirmation of a promise that was fulfilled).
Let me be indiscreet.
How does Fr Giussani pray? And what invocation most frequently rises
from his heart in the course of the day?
My prayer is the liturgy and the continued repetition of a formula:
Veni SancteSpiritus, Veni per Mariam. Come Holy Spirit, come through
Mary, make Yourself present through the womb, the flesh of Our Lady.
This ancient ejaculatory is the synthesis of the whole Tradition and
marks God’s method for making Himself known to man: the Incarnation.
All of Christianity is there. In his hymn to the Virgin, Dante speaks
of the “warmth” of Our Lady’s womb: to think that the Mystery shouts
out from there is truly the most mysterious thing, and only in the
experience of a lived communion can one begin to understand something
of this mystery of God.
This is why prayer is the most reasonable gesture that man engaged in
the daily struggle for existence can make: it is the Alpha and Omega
of everything. I have not done anything, I am a zero. The Infinite
does everything, and by ourselves we would not do anything if He had
not given Himself.
At the age of 80, it is
perhaps inevitable to think about a successor. May I ask what you
expect from the person who will pick up your baton?
I expect from the Mercy of God and Our Lady a leader who will respond
consistently to the contents of the last questions.