Friday, March 21, 2008

Favelados Movement of São Paulo & Communion and Liberation

This post originally appeared on Cahiers Péguy.

Cathedral of São Paulo, Brazil

Almost a week ago, here on Cahiers Péguy, Fred asked some questions with regard to the news that Cleusa and Marcos Zerbini (leaders of a movement to provide homes and educational assistance to favelados* in São Paulo, Movimento em Defesa do Favelado da Região Episcopal Belém, or Favelados Movement of São Paulo) had handed over their movement to Fr. Julian Carron and Communion and Liberation:
Why is this a breakthrough? How does the witness of this event change us? Is it a breakthrough for us, and why?
A movement in a distant country, made up of 120,000 people, who all decide, along with their leaders, to consign themselves to another movement, one I happen to belong to -- why is this a breakthrough? I have written a little here and here about how and why this news has changed me, personally. But these reflections don't really answer the question of how this event changes us and why it's a breakthrough for us. I always tremble when asked to speak more generally and globally -- it isn't my mother tongue -- but I am going to give it a try, because these questions represent an invitation, and I do my best always to accept invitations.

It is a breakthrough, first of all for Communion and Liberation because Brazil is the first place that received missionaries sent by Father Giussani. Here is an excerpt of a letter he sent to the first four who went there:
  1. Be deeply rooted in love for the Kingdom of God, which happens not because of what you do, but through the offering of sacrifice. It is only the Cross that saves he world.
  2. May this make you calm and joyful in whatever task you are assigned. ...So, even if your work doesn't go as you had dreamed, accept it happily; feel the kingdom of God, Brazil and the destiny of GS much more in never being discouraged, in adapting yourselves to everything, than in any other ability.
  3. Just as you have to be faithful to our community and to the values and the directives given for your spiritual life and for educating your persons, so for the activity and behaviour with others and the environment the rule is a deep adaptation: Do not have any pretensions and don't pass a negative judgement on anything.
Be in love with the Lord who has chosen you to begin something that could be very fruitful for his Kingdom: and don't worry about anything except being there, obedient and willing.
Gratiam agimus propter magnam gloriam tuam (We give you thanks for your great glory).
And you, too, are a hem of that glory, not what you manage to do, but you yourselves, your offering.
- from
Fr Giussani's letters to the first four students of Gioventù Studentesca (Young Student) who left for Brazil. It was 1962.

The year was 1962. Now it is 2008, and Father Carron, as the representative of this same movement, founded by Father Giussani, can say to the crowd assembled in the Cathedral of São Paulo and addressing Cleusa and Marcos Zerbini in particular:
E Carron, di fronte ad almeno 8.000 persone, dentro la Cattedrale di San Paolo, di fronte a questa disarmante consegna, ha a sua volta aperto il cuore. “Provo la stessa commozione e allegria di quando Giussani mi ha chiamato con se alla guida di CL.
And Carron, in front of at least 8,000 people inside the Cathedral of São Paulo, in the face of this disarming delivery, in turn, opened his heart. "I feel the same emotion and joy as when Giussani called me to guide CL."

Ma non abbiamo paura, siamo certi che chi ha iniziato in noi questa opera la porterà a compimento”.
"But I have no fear, we are sure that he who began this work in us will bring it to fruition."
(full text here)
The same emotion he had when Fr. Giussani asked him to lead CL! And he referred to the same scripture passage to express his confidence in the positive value of a great and beautiful offering of self. He did not express the triumphant opinion that here, in front of him, was the "fruit" of the seeds first planted in 1962. And why not? Is it not a triumph of Fr. Giussani's charism? Is it not a fruit that we can taste?

As Christians, we are pilgrims on a journey, always beginning again. There is only one fruit that tastes sweet to us: the fruit of the tree we will venerate tomorrow, on Good Friday. Christ, the Bread of Life. We are continually seeking him, so that we can taste and see him again. This is because we are creatures who live in time; it is the mystery of our existence in time. But also, it seems clear that this step, taken by the Favelados Movement of São Paulo, is not the final step of a journey; it is rather a next step and even a new beginning. I am reminded of something T.S. Eliot wrote, in Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot
Arrivals and departures are always occasions of insight and discovery.

We must also consider the fact that the charism of Father Giussani that animates Communion and Liberation has a strong missionary character: Go out to all the nations... Even if we remain in the same town our whole lives, we are called to live the way Enzo and Rosetta live the charism in Brazil. Addressing Fr. Carron, Marcos Zerbini thanked these two ciellini and credited his friendship with them as the source of his decision, now brought to maturity, to turn his movement over to CL. If we do not go out to another nation, let's go into the homes and living rooms of our neighbors, to offer ourselves and to invite them to meet the One who has sent us and whom we serve.

Finally, and most importantly, this event took place, "accidentally," in the Cathedral of São Paulo, in front of the bishop of that city, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, who expressed surprise at the large number of young people who participated in the meeting, and he opened his heart, the Cathedral, and the Church herself to the members of the Favelados Movement who had assembled in the rainy Plaza da Fe. That he was able to recognize that something astonishing was taking place that day, something so attractive that he wanted to usher it in, is perhaps the greatest sign and provocation for us. The two ways the Church is made present, methodologically, are, "Unity expressed visibly ... [and] the link to authority, that is, to the bishop" (The Journey to Truth is an Experience, Luigi Giussani, pp. 88 & 89). And wherever the Church is present, Christ is there. Let's always seek his face!

* A "favela" is an illegal occupation of a terrain in large cities, where dwellers often have to live without any basic infrastructure, such as water, sewage, electricity, garbage collection, mail, etc. In Rio de Janeiro, these favelas are home to about half its population and are normally located in the hills, as this land is difficult to access and tend to be neglected by contractors. The residents are known as Favelados.

A favela home in São Paulo


adriano said...

I like Cl and the new movements.I like the wonderful work they are doing.But the fact that happened in Sao Paulo can be one important step for CL,or not.The real situation:Brazilians ,and catholic brazilians dont know what CL is.They know the carismatics,the liberation theology,cursilhos,legion of mary,etc.This critical view has a reason:I dont know if they know the differences between CL and liberation theology.

Suzanne said...

From a comment on a post at Vaticanisti (

Anonymous said...

Is CL in any way connected to Liberation theology? I've only recently learned about CL. There seems to be a group forming at the Notre Dame Law School.
7:10 AM

Anonymous said...

No connection to liberation theology in any way. In fact, CL is diametrically opposed to liberation theology, which is little more than Marxist ideology couched in some Christian vocabulary.

"Liberation" as used in the name Communion & Liberation refers to the freedom that each person exercises in his decision to follow Christ in a real community (sc. the Church) and the true liberation that results therefrom. The CL website describes it this way: "It [i.e., the name Communion & Liberation] synthesizes the conviction that the Christian event, lived in communion, is the foundation of the authentic liberation of man." The Church is the communion of the faithful with their local bishop, who is, in turn, in communion with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ.

This real communion of human persons with Christ is the source of true liberation; not some political ideology, as in liberation theology. Of course, this is not to say that Christians shouldn't be involved in political debate and action (see Vatican II, Gaudium et spes and JP II, Christifideles laici on this point). However, such action must rest in the foundation of an encounter with the risen Christ, out of genuine love for Him. Christian charity will grow out of this love. Furthermore, as an exercise of this love, participation in political activities will show respect for the freedom of the other person, as well.

Liberation theology, on the other hand, resulted from theologically misguided soteriological and eschatological vision of political action in this world. The liberationists worked out a theology whereby Christ's message was reduced to nothing more than political action and social justice now. As with some of the confused people in Christ's time, they believed that the Kingdom of God would be created by them in this world.

While liberation theology, at least as presented in its more radical forms, has been rejected and corrected by the Church (in particular by the former Cardinal Ratzinger while at CDF), Communion & Liberation has been embraced by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In fact, the women who care for Pope Benedict XVI in his private residence are members of Memores Domini, the lay association referred to in the main post.

An excerpt from John Paul II's message at Fr. Giussani's funeral reads, "I thank the Lord for the gift of his life, spent unreservedly in coherent adhesion to his priestly vocation, in constant attention to the needs of contemporary man and in courageous service to the Church. His whole apostolic activity could be summarized in the frank and decisive invitation, which he was able to address to all who approached him, to a personal encounter with Christ, the complete and definitive answer to the deepest expectations of the human heart."

In the homily at Fr. Giussani's funeral, Cardinal Ratzinger said, "Fr Giussani always kept the eyes of his life and of his heart fixed on Christ. In this way, he 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."

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."