A New Book Highlights Servant of God Enzo Piccinini's American connections.
by Meghan Isaacs
There are few people in the history of Communion and Liberation who have had as far-reaching and profound an impact on the life and growth of the Movement as Servant of God Enzo Piccinini. A surgeon based in Bologna, Italy, Enzo approached everything with a magnetic personality and intensity, invigorating countless individuals who encountered him. He died tragically in a car accident in 1999, but he continues to accompany those who knew him both directly and indirectly.
The cause for Enzo’s canonization opened in 2019. A recently published biography, Ho fatto tutto per essere felice (Everything I Did, It Was to be Happy), by Marco Bardazzi (BUR Rizzoli Editions, 2021), focuses particularly on his role as a physician. But one cannot speak of Enzo the surgeon separately from Enzo the leader of CLU (Communion and Liberation university students) or Enzo the father and husband. The biography is not yet available in English, but Bardazzi spoke with the U.S. CL Newsletter for the purposes of further sharing Enzo’s experience.
Enzo Piccinini met the Movement at a critical time in his life. When he was fourteen, his brother died in a car accident while Enzo was attending school far from his home. “Enzo had to face the reality of death when he was very young. It’s not something he talked about very much, but this was something that from the beginning really marked his life,” said Bardazzi. Like many young people in his generation, by the end of high school he was struggling with the Catholic faith he had received from his family and became involved in Marxist ideology. But another encounter with his peers who followed the GS experience, the "high school" path of Communion and Liberation, changed the direction of his life. He started following CL, which ultimately fostered his path to becoming a surgeon.
Over time, he took on more and more leadership in the Movement, and Father Giussani asked him to take on responsibility for the CLU in Bologna. Between his activities for CL, his work, and his family (he and his wife had four children), he became known for the energy and intensity with which he faced it all, often driving far distances every night and sleeping very little in order to visit communities around Italy.
“You have to put your heart in everything you do.” Those that knew Enzo heard him encouraging university students with these words, but for Enzo this mantra was a lived reality. “He really wanted to have unity in his own life. He was searching for a way for life to have work, family, love, and free time stay together instead of living different experiences. He wanted to have a life that was unified by the experience he was living [in the Movement],”said Bardazzi
“The interesting aspect of this, when I started to research, is that we wanted to focus more on his job. He was spending so much time with the Movement that it almost seemed that what he was doing with his own job was a sideshow. Instead, it was amazing that he was living life with the Movement, work, and family with the same intensity,” said Bardazzi.
According to Bardazzi, the biography in many ways became a book about work. One chapter is dedicated to Enzo’s time spent in the United States, starting in 1987. Recognizing a need to further his own education and improve his skills as a physician, he traveled to Boston, Massachusetts, and started building relationships and connections between his home hospital in Bologna and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital and beyond. These relationships continue to blossom, and the ripple effect of Enzo’s life extended further.
One example is the career trajectory of Simona Ferioli, a neurologist currently working in Cincinnati, Ohio. Ferioli met the Movement in Bologna while she was in college, just before Enzo’s death, and his influence was palpable in the experiences of her friends. When she expressed a desire to study abroad during medical school, a friend directed her to Boston, connecting her through the colleagues Enzo had met.
“This experience he created in Boston started my career as a neurologist now in the States, even though there is no ‘normal’ path for that. These friendships of Enzo’s, born from an intensity that he brought to his job, led to the point that the number of lives he touched kept growing, but nobody has any idea just how many people he impacted,” said Ferioli.
Not only was Enzo somebody who wanted continually to improve (the reason why he was interested in coming to the U.S. to learn American methods of medicine), but also he was open to learning from anyone. In a culture in which most doctors tell a young trainee just to follow and repeat, Enzo was eager to see what the trainee had to offer.
“Enzo told the new guy to ‘go around, travel, learn what you can, then come back and show me and we’ll do it together,’” said Bardazzi. “From the point of view of how to handle human capital, this is really a fascinating way of dealing with your own job and dealing with young people and giving them an opportunity to shine and be bold. I am struck by the openness he had to be continuously corrected.”
This freedom extended to his relationship with his superiors. Ferioli shared a well- known story of a time in Enzo’s career when he was preparing to do a complex surgery which some of his senior colleagues had already advised against. Though they told him not to perform surgery on the patient, Enzo thought he could help her. He didn’t know what to do because there was a lot of risk for the patient and his own career, so he called Father Giussani to ask him what to do. Giussani reminded him, “You have to answer to God.”
“Our friends are not there to tell us what to do, but in those moments the key is not to be alone. He called Giussani not for surgical advice, but to accompany him, comfort him, and remind him that it’s not up to him,” said Ferioli. “He always put everything he was living within that friendship. The point was always to show the face of God.”
Enzo’s witness, like those of all the saints, continues to provide a concrete example of a faith lived fully in front of all of life’s obstacles. Though Ferioli met Enzo as a college student and was deeply influenced by his presence in the CLU, she used to see him as a “superhero.” But now as an adult she has come to a fuller understanding of what Enzo’s witness means.
“When I start thinking of myself as a physician and as a parent, I start realizing he had been in those circumstances. I know that he went through the same struggles. I know I can ask and find his comfort, presence, and friendship as a man who lived this experience. In this way, I can say he’s closer to me now as an adult, paradoxically, than when I met him physically. Not as someone who had an extra humanity, but someone who was living my experience to the fullest." said Ferioli. “He’s extraordinary because of his capacity to live the ordinary intensely, and without fear of making mistakes when looking at oneself, kids, and work.”
This fearlessness existed even in the face of death. In researching for the book, Bardazzi interviewed many physicians who worked with and learned from Enzo. Many of the interviews took place during the height of the pandemic, when these doctors were exhausted from long days fighting COVID.
“[Writing the book] was a completely different experience than I was expecting because of the events that were happening. So what I have written is a book about what it means to be a surgeon, but also what does it mean to face the reality of our own limits as people, as physicians, and what does it mean to face death,” said Bardazzi.
Though he certainly struggled facing his brother’s death as a teenager, what Enzo discovered in time was a remarkable freedom in front of the reality of death. “As a surgeon he always told people everything about their condition because he felt that a man needs to have a full experience of his own death. You cannot deprive a man of the experience of his death because that is one of the most important experiences of his life,” said Bardazzi. “I was struck by the fact that his own idea of death was completely changed by this event [of encountering the Movement], this experience, this friendship,” he said.
“I think his presence is helpful for us now because of his example of risking himself and his energies in all of what he was doing. Don’t hold anything back, because if you live with Christ, why would you be afraid to make a mistake? The free man is not afraid to make a mistake,” said Ferioli.
“If you are with Jesus, the first consequence is that you have nothing to lose. So everything is embraceable because nothing can hold you back. In this particular moment, this example can help us.