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Father Giussani and the Encounter with Pasolini and Testori

If faith is not experienced as an encounter, it is lost.

by Massimo Borghesi

(originally published in Il Sussidiario, November 4, 2014)

Pier Paolo Pasolini (public domain)

The Life of Luigi Giussani by Alberto Savorana (McGill-Queens University Press, 2018), among other things, has the great merit of documenting events and encounters of his life that are little-known or previously unknown. Some of the most significant of these encounters took place after 1968, after the priest from Desio realized that the great upheaval of that time was sweeping away what was left of Christianity. This fact required a new way of looking at a Christian presence. It could no longer be linked to the tradition, but priority would have to be given to the encounter, to a humanly authentic Christian witness that desires to be in touch with everybody and with everything, apart from ideological or political limitations and prejudices.

This approach was absolutely novel in the ecclesial horizon of the time and found its realization (semper reformanda, "always evolving," as is clear in Savorana’s book) in the Communion and Liberation movement. Such an approach led Giussani to a series of relevant encounters with non-believers who shared a common denominator: they were humanly and intellectually alive and they were voices outside the choir. Among these were Pier Paolo Pasolini and Giovanni Testori, both homosexuals, who represented a leftist world certainly very far from the traditional Democratic-Christian and Catholic world.

In fact, the proposed encounter with Pasolini would never happen, to the great regret of Father Giussani. Savorana recounts the story of that missed meeting:

On the morning of 3 November 1975, in his office on Via Martinengo, Giussani learned from the Corriere della Sera that Pier Paolo Pasolini had been killed. Laura Cioni was with him, and she glimpsed a letter on his desk addressed to the author, which Giussani would never finish. “It expressed [Giussani’s] total agreement with the positions [Pasolini] had voiced in many articles in the Corriere della Serra,” Cioni recalls (538).

This account is confirmed by Lucio Brunelli who, in a meeting with Giussani in 1998 in his residence of Gudo Gambaredo,

spoke with him about Pasolini, and Giussani told him, “I was writing him a letter when the unexpected news arrived of his death. In the letter I wanted to ask to meet him. What a meeting it would have been. . . “ (1279, note 12).

Giussani became familiar with Pasolini when he read the articles the poet-writer-moviemaker published in Corriere della Sera (eventually published in the collection of his works titled Scritti corsari). The June 24, 1974, editorial “The Faceless Power” thrilled him. Again, Brunelli recounts:

He saw me passing by and called me over, literally dancing around on his seat: “Lucio, come here. Read this. He’s the only Catholic intellectual, the only one. .  . ”  (538).

He was struck by Pasolini’s criticism of "homogenization," of the destruction of the people carried out by a new power, at once conservative and desecrating, for whom the only divinity was the market and the only way of life was consumerism. Echoing Pasolini, “the corsair,” Giussani spoke of this again in the speech delivered to the assembly of the Democratic-Catholic Party in Lombardy, held in Assago in 1987. Referring to the missed encounter with Pasolini, Giussani mentioned the episode with regret:

“What a pity that evening I did not approach him—I was waiting for the last plane from Milan to Rome. . . . If Pasolini had been at a couple of our gatherings, he would have [read us the riot act], but he would have become one of our leaders!” (539)

Pasolini would become for Giussani the paradigm of the drama of a man raised in the Catholic tradition that he received from his mother, a tradition which he eventually abandoned because it had not been supported by the experience of a new encounter. Giussani said,

"In a small village in Trinveneto [Italy], a very Catholic area, there was a boy who, against his mother’s orders, went to a certain tavern in a nearby village to meet a group of three or four young roughnecks he liked. . . . After a while he was dissuaded from going to church on Sunday and from obeying his mother. . . . That boy became Pasolini. He had sucked the genuine Christian tradition from his mother’s breast, he had to live it, he was forced to live it, even though he interpreted everything in a different way; that is, according to the mentality of the group. So he became Pasolini, one of the greatest Italian writers. . . . Pasolini encountered a group of persons who set themselves against the society of their day, the culture of their day, as innovators. . . . Pasolini followed the wrong road: he said that truth does not exist—or rather, that we do not know what the truth is. . . . But little by little in his life he heard the echo of what his mother had said about life, about truth, and about which road to travel. If he had met someone with our passion, if he had come to one of the gestures of our community, especially in certain moments, he would have wept" (539-540).

This was not just a figure of speech. When Giussani spoke in this way about Pasolini in the year 2000, he certainly had in mind the emotional meeting with another author, Giovanni Testori, a great protagonist of post-war culture in Italy. Testori would eventually become one of the prestigious contributors to the journal Il Sabato in the years 1980-1990. Having also discovered him through his articles in Corriere della Sera, and after Testori had been encountered by some CL university students, Giussani met him in 1978 in a restaurant in Aquileia Square, in Milan. [As Antonio Intiglietta recalls,]

“As soon as he saw him come in, he got up to go and meet him. Giovanni was completely overcome, to the point of tears. Fr. Giussani was moved, too, and reached out to hug him. Testori, crying, kept saying that he—who had rejected and cursed God—was unworthy to stand before Fr. Giussani. And then he explained how he had spent his life trying to erase from his forehead the cross that had been impressed upon it at his baptism. And the more effort he made to rub it out, the more forcefully it showed until, with the death of his mother, he had been regenerated to life once more.” Giussani, “deeply struck by Giovanni’s humanity, kept thanking him for having come to meet him. He assured him that what he called curses were really like a desperate prayer that was now being answered” (560-61). 

In a mysterious way, the image of the mother as the bridge towards God had connected Testori to Pasolini. The mother was the last shred of the Christian tradition removed from history that could be found again and renewed only if starting from a new beginning, from an encounter with free, intelligent, passionate witnesses of Christianity in the present. The two most expressive voices of Italian intellectuals who were not slaves to the power crossed each other, ideally and in reality, with the path of the priest from Desio, the Don John Bosco of our times.

Translation courtesy of Renzo Canetta and Letizia Mariani.


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