Luigi Giussani

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Luigi Giovanni Giussani (October 15, 1922 – February 22, 2005) was an Italian Catholic priest, theologian, educator, public intellectual, Servant of God and founder of the international Catholic movement Communion and Liberation (Comunione e Liberazione).

Traces Magazine, March 2005: Luigi Giussani

Biography[edit]

Luigi Giussani was born on October 15, 1922 in Desio, near Milan, Italy. His father, Beniamino Giussani, was an artist and anarchist who instilled in him a love of beauty, particularly in poetry, painting and music, and a desire for justice. From his mother, Angelina Gelosa, he received his religiosity.

On October 2, 1933 he entered the diocesan seminary of Saint Peter Martyr Seveso at a young age, where he attended the first four years of school. There he discovered a way to understand "secular" works of art (such as the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi and the music of Ludwig van Beethoven) as expressive of the religious sense and as unconscious prophecies of Christ's incarnation. With his fellow seminarians, including Enrico Manfredini (later Bishof of Piacenza) and Giacomo Biffi(who later became cardinal Archbishop of Bologna) Giussani founded a study group and newsletter under the name Studium Christi.

Giussani was ordained to the priesthood on 26 May 1945 at the young age of 23. His ordination had been accelerated by the authorities in the Milan archdiocese because they feared that the serious respiratory health problems he was experiencing at that time (and which would plague him his entire life) would lead to his death before becoming a priest. Following ordination Giussani began teaching at the Venegono Seminary. His academic interests were Eastern Christian Theology and American Protestantism.

In the early 1950s he requested of his superiors to be allowed to leave seminary teaching to work in high schools. He was driven by his desire to bring the Christian experience in the school environment in response to the questions and needs of young people living increasingly in a context that he perceived to be increasingly hostile to faith and the Catholic Church.[1] Beginning in 1954, he taught at the Berchet Lyceum (classical high school) in Milan until 1967.[2] During this time his primary intellectual interest was the problem of education; his involvement with the religious instruction of the students at Berchet was instrumental in the rapid growth of Gioventú Studentesca (GS, Student Youth), at the time a student wing of Azione Cattolica (Catholic Action). In the booklets Conquiste fondamentali per la vita e la presenza cristiana nel mondo (Fundamental Conquests for Christian Life and Presence in the World) (1954, co-authored with Fr. Costantino Oggioni) and L'esperienza (Experience) (1963), Giussani outlined the fundamental ideas behind his approach to the formation of young people. Both texts received the imprimatur of the severe ecclesial censor Msgr. Carlo Figini.

In 1964 Giussani began teaching introductory theology at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, a position he occupied until 1990. In obedience to a request of his Archbishop, Giovanni Colombo, Giussani left Gioventú Studentesca in 1965 and devoted himself to theological studies. In the late 1960s Fr. Giussani was sent by his religious superiors on several periods of study in the U.S. and wrote Grandi linee della teologia protestante americana. Profilo storico dalle origini agli anni 50 (An Outline of American Protestant Theology. An Historic Profile from the Origins to the 50s).

Pope John Paul II and Monsignor Giussani

In 1969 he returned to guide the former GS group, which had broken away from Azione Cattolica in the wake of the tumultuous student rebellions that swept Europe following the events of May 1968, in opposition to the so called "Svolta a sinistra" (Italian for "shift to left", meaning the endorsements of socialists and liberal positions) of the Italian Catholic associationism. Under the new name Communion and Liberation, the movement Giussani founded attracted university students and adults in addition to high school students. Members of the movement, which Giussani led from 1969 until his death in 2005, became influential not only in the Church but also in politics and business.

In 1983 he was given the title of Monsignor by Pope John Paul II. Giussani outlined his views on politics in a famous address[3] to an assembly of the Italian Christian Democratic party at Assago on 6 February 1987.

Giussani died on February 22, 2005. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, delivered the homily at his funeral,[4] where he said of Giussani: "[H]e understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism; Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event".[5] Traces, the magazine of Communion and Liberation, published a retrospective issue on the life and work of Giussani in March 2005. He is interred in Milan's Cimitero Monumentale. Every day a large number of visitors come to pray before his tomb, and Mass is celebrated there daily.

On 17 January 2006, the Holy See officially recognized Giussani as the co-founder, along with Fr. Étienne Pernet, A.A, of the Sisters of Charity of the Assumption, a community of women religious.

Giussani's writings have been translated into many different languages, attracting a worldwide following.

Ideas[edit]

One of Giussani's central themes is that Christian faith is in its most primary and central form the event of a relationship. Giussani stresses that Christianity began as a relationship with a particular individual, Jesus of Nazareth, and that the morals and theology of the Church are an outgrowth of this relationship. One of the central problems for faith in the modern world is that it has been subject to various reductions. Some people experience faith as merely an empty formalism. This formalism can be, for example, completely focused on following moral rules. There is no longer a living relationship with the person of God, but instead a ritualistic attempt to meet standards. Similarly, faith is sometimes reduced to intellectualism or an attempt to rationally defend certain doctrinal positions. Although, morals and doctrine are both important they are not the central event of faith. The central reality of faith is a relationship with Christ as He becomes visible within reality.

Giussani also teaches that the principle goal of a Christian life is to grow in maturity in the relationship with God. According to Giussani this becomes possible when one sees all of reality as an incarnation of one's own individual relationship with God. Where some forms of Christianity attempt to grow in faith by emphasizing emotional intensity and sentiments (sentimentalism) and others by the rigors of moral perfectionism (moralism), Giussani teaches instead that maturity comes through a growing awareness that all of life's circumstances present an opportunity to better know God.

Within the Catholic tradition, Giussani can be thought of as similar to Saint Francis, Saint Dominic, or Ignatius of Loyola. That is, he is the founder of a Catholic charism or pathway to holiness.

Works[edit]

Books translated into English[edit]

PerCorso Trilogy[edit]

  • The Religious Sense, McGill-Queen's University Press (1 October 1997). ISBN 0-7735-1626-3.
  • At the Origin of the Christian Claim, McGill-Queen's University Press (1 January 1998). ISBN 0-7735-1627-1.
  • Why the Church?, McGill-Queen's University Press (October, 2000). ISBN 0-7735-1707-3.

Other works translated into English[edit]

Selected online texts[edit]

Essays, book excerpts[edit]

Speeches and addresses[edit]

Interviews[edit]

Quotes[edit]

  • "For me, reason is openness to reality, a capacity to seize and affirm it in all its factors. For that other teacher, reason is the "measure" of all things, and a phenomenon becomes true only when it can be directly demonstrated." (The Religious Sense)
  • "The method is imposed by the object!" (The Religious Sense)
  • "Existence expresses itself, as ultimate ideal, in begging. The real protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man's heart, and man's heart that begs for Christ." (Testimony before John Paul II, 1998)
  • "I believe that unless the end of the world comes first, sixty or seventy years from now Christians and Jews can be one." (Interview, 2002)
  • "[T.S. Eliot] asked himself "Has the Church failed mankind, or has mankind failed the Church?" . . . Both, both, because first and foremost it is mankind who failed the Church, because if I need something, I chase after it, if it goes away. No one chased after it . . . The Church began to fail mankind, as I see it, as we see it, because she forgot who Christ was, she did not rely on..., she was ashamed of Christ, of saying who Christ is." (Interview, 2004)
  • "The faith is not given us in order that we preserve it, but in order that we communicate it. If we don't have the passion to communicate it, we don't preserve it." (Written contribution to the XXI plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, 2004)

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]