I am going to share with you a story now, a wonderful story that began with young people years ago, one I personally witnessed and which has continued with the collaboration of young people today. It’s a story known to many of you, but not to all. The protagonists of the story are not the people who, together with me, became involved in an extraordinary adventure, an adventure whose vastness and complexity seems at times to be overwhelming. Rather, the protagonist is one alone – God – who follows our small personal and collective story just as he knows the whole course of human history.
The Second World War was raging in Trent, in the northern part of Italy. Bombs were falling night and day, destroying everything. My companions and I had our dreams, our ideals. One of us wanted to start a family, for example; another was looking forward to furnishing her home; still another was seeking fulfilment in studies… But… that fiancé never returned from the front. That home was damaged. I had to leave my philosophical studies in the university of another city because of the barricades of the war. All the things we hoped to do were crumbling around us. All our dreams were being shattered by a crude reality. What to do?
Before this general desolation, before the evident realization that everything passes, a question came to my mind: Is there an ideal that no bomb can destroy, for which it is worthwhile spending our lives? All at once, an almost blinding light: yes, there is!
It’s God. God who is Love. God who loves each one of us, even if we don’t know it. In a flash, I, we, decided to make Him the reason, the Ideal of our lives. We felt that his love was being expressed in thousands of ways.
If he loves us – we decided – we will love him in return. Meanwhile, the ruthless war with its bombings gave us no respite. We had to run to the refuge many times a day. All we could take with us was a small book: the Gospel. In it we would learn how to love God. We read it: a light illumined those words one by one, and an inner impulse urged us to put them into practice.
We found the words: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 19:19), and we made every effort to love the sisters and brothers we met, as if they were ourselves. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me,” (Mt. 25:40) we read. “You did for me,” says Jesus. Once out of the air-raid shelter, we looked for those who were the least: they were the orphans, the mutilated, the wounded, the poor, the hungry, the homeless… and we loved Jesus in them.
The Gospel says: “Give and gifts will be given to you” (Lk. 6:38). We gave the little we had and many things came, so many that sacks and packages arrived daily to fill the hallway at home. The Gospel admonishes: “Seek first the kingdom of God… and all these things will be given you” (Mt. 6:33). We sought to make love triumph within us and whatever we needed arrived. It arrived. It always came. We seemed to be living a miracle. Two things made a deep impression on us. The first was that every promise of the Gospel was fulfilled! Therefore, the Gospel is true. Jesus keeps his word today too. The second: in the Gospel Jesus asks for love first of all, and in order to love, he asks us to give. A new culture was emerging from that book. Later on, we would call it “the culture of giving.”
In the meantime, more young women and then young men and others joined us in living the same experience. But the dangers of the war increased. Even though we were young, we could have died from one moment to the next. A desire arose in our heart: we wanted to know the words of Jesus that are dearest to him so as to live them very well, at least in those moments that could have been the final moments of our life. We discovered them.
This is what he says: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn.13:34). And he loved us to the point of giving his life for us. We gathered in a circle, we looked at one another and each one declared to the others: “I am ready to die for you,” “I for you…” All for each one. Of course, we continued to carry out all our duties (work, study, prayer, rest), but on the basis of mutual love.
However, it was not always easy to love one another, to keep this unity alive among us. There were times when, due to our shortcomings, we would feel terribly uncomfortable. How could we recompose unity once it was broken? Quite soon we found the answer in the Gospel. Also Jesus, because of us, had experienced the pain of disunity: when he cried out on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46). Yet he didn’t remain in that separation, in that crack. With the words: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk. 23:46), he went on, thus recomposing his unity with the Father. We decided to do the same with our brothers and sisters.
Living this unity, and building it always, brought about something wonderful! Jesus had said: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, (that is, in my love), there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20), and he came into our midst spiritually, but truly. When he was in our midst, we experienced a joy we had never known before, a new peace, a new ardor; and his light guided us. And because Jesus was among us, a growing number of people around us acquired or re-acquired the same faith we had.
Approximately two months later, there were already five hundred of us, people of all ages, social categories and vocations. Thus Jesus’ dream that he had implored from the Father before dying was starting to come true: “Father, may all be one.”
Certainly, there was also the incomprehension of the world, and trials were not lacking, but the tree that bears fruit must be pruned, says the Gospel. Then followed countless fruits. That first group in Trent expanded and became a Movement which – once the war ended – spread like wildfire, first in Italy, and in Europe and then in the other continents. Now it is present in 182 nations of the world, practically everywhere. Thus love, true love is ablaze in every corner of the earth: it is an authentic revolution of love.