Italian version
by Lorenzo Albacete

On November 12, 2003, I stood at the pulpit
of an old Baptist Church in Liberty, MO, a
suburb of outside Kansas City, ready to
address an audience of Baptist theologians,
academicians, and students at the William
Jewell College, a prestigious Baptist College
that surrounded the old Church. I had been
invited to speak about the roles of faith and
reason in a Christian education. The text that
had provoked the discussion was Msgr. Luigi
Giussani's The Risk of Education. I was there
to present the book and answer questions
about it.

The man who had made this possible was
Major David Jones, an officer of the US Army
in charge of recruitment in that area of the
country. Major Jones' story is summarized in
the following pages. As you will see, he has
adhered to every major religion on the surface
of the planet, but had finally come home to
the Catholic Church after encountering Msgr.
Giussani's charism. My own religious history
has been less dramatic. I have always been a
Catholic. I was born in Puerto Rico and grew
up in a Latin-American Catholic environment
with a very heavy dosage of Spanish
Catholicism. (The Spanish National Anthem
was played during the Mass at the elevation of
the consecrated host and wine. I have served
Mass for the celebration of a feast of the
Blessed Virgin Mary as the highest-ranking
officer of the Spanish Armed Forces.) My first
exposure to a non-Catholic environment was
in 1959 when I went to study at The Catholic
University of America in Washington DC. Back
then, however, Catholic U. wasn't exactly a
place of encounter with the dominant culture!
On the contrary, I found strange the need to
affirm and defend the Catholic identity that
seemed to be such a great concern of the
University. The "Index" of forbidden books still
existed and permission from your professor
was needed to access the books in it.

It was not until I graduated and went to work
for a Government laboratory in the area of
"space science and applied physics" that I
found myself in a non-Catholic atmosphere. I
was, in fact, the only Catholic in our research
team. For my part, I experienced absolutely
no contradiction between my Catholic faith
and my scientific work. I did not feel alienated
from my environment. My friends, however,
seemed to be surprised that a Catholic would
feel at home in such a secular environment.
We would spend a lot of time discussing
contemporary events (the 60's had begun!),
and although some of my opinions differed
from theirs, all of us appealed to reason to
explain and defend our convictions. My
companions were interested in the Second
Vatican Council, which was taking place in
Rome at the time. One of the announced
purposes of the Council was precisely to heal
the modern split between faith and culture, so
I followed avidly the discussions hoping to find
ways to reply to my friends' questions. This
was to be my quest from that time until the
day in 1995 in which I met Msgr. Giussani.

From those days at the government
laboratories until then I had pursued this
quest as a philosophical and theological
problem. By the time I met Don Giussani I had
more or less found a philosophical and
theological position that could help me build a
bridge between my world of faith and the
secular humanism of my scientist friends.
Even though I had long left that world, it was
always the point of reference for much of my
intellectual life. I had read and liked some of
Fr. Giussani's books, and had friends in the
Communion and Liberation Movement, but I
could not see myself as a "member" of what I
thought was too tied to its historical Italian
cultural origins. I wondered what an
"American" Communion and Liberation - type
movement would be like. A friend who knew
my concerns suggested I talk with Fr.
Giussani about this directly and arranged the
meeting within us. At the end of the meeting,
after I had told my story to Fr. Giussani, he
told me that he had been praying regularly to
Our Lady to send him someone from the
United States that could help the Movement
sink its roots in the soil of the American
experience and emerge, not as a "transplant,"
but as an American reality.

It turned out that Fr. Giussani was very
familiar with the religious history and
landscape of the United States. He had lived
here and done research for a dissertation on
the great trends in the history of American
Protestantism, a history he regarded with
sympathy and admiration. This history, the
said, had created a country with a particular
openness to the Christian faith that had
slowed the process of de-Christianization and
the consequent nihilism that had practically
destroyed the Christian memory of Europe.
As a result, he said, the American people were
still a people of hope who believed in life and
reality as something ultimately positive.
Moreover, the United States was beyond
doubt the greatest power on earth, what
"Rome" was to the early Christians. He
believed that the Movement should penetrate
into the American culture just as the early
Christians had penetrated into the culture of
the Roman Empire and built a new civilization.
Hearing my concerns had convinced him that I
could be of help, and he asked me whether I
was willing to do it. What could I say, since
even the Blessed Virgin seemed to have been
involved? With great excitement I said yes,
and Don Giuss sent me home to wait. A few
weeks later, Jonathan Fields, the responsible
for the Movement in the USA and Giorgio
Vittadini, the Visitor on behalf of Fr. Giussani,
came to see me at home and the adventure
had begun.

Slowly, I began to realize that my involvement
with the Movement was not really something
that I did as an "added" responsibility to the
others in my life. It was becoming rather the
way I wanted to live my life and my work. It
was not something to do, a vision to spread,
or a program of evangelization to promote. It
was the way my Christian faith moved my life
in all its dimensions. It was not a theory, a
particular philosophical and theological
synthesis. Rather it was an experience, the
experience of an encounter that had become
the point of departure for my interests and
desires. It was the experience of what the
Catholic faith is. My belonging to the
Movement was not a narrowing of perspective
as I had feared. It was the opposite. It
allowed me to embrace infinity. Nothing
human was foreign to this experience. I had
found what I began to look for when I met my
friends at the Laboratory thirty years before.
The Christian faith is not a religion or a
theology that guides human life; it was that
life itself lived in all its possibilities. There was
no split between faith and life, faith and
experience, faith and love, faith and work.
Instead, faith was life itself.

I thought about all of this on that night last
year at the Baptist College. In a way I had
never felt before, I realized that in my
presence there, Father Giussani had arrived at
a place close to the heart of American
Protestantism, of the faith that had sustained
this country's hopes in "life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness." I felt totally inadequate
to the task of representing him at such a
dramatic moment in which a priest from the
Church of Rome was to speak to American
Baptists about reason and faith. I though
about our first meeting and all he said about
American Protestantism. I knew I could only
do it because of what I had learned from
Father Giussani. So I put aside my prepared
notes and spoke from the heart. It was not a
lecture; it was not a philosophical or
theological address. All I wanted to do is bring
to them the profound respect and warm
embrace of Luigi Giussani by sharing the
experience of reasoning in the light of the
encounter with Christ as an opening, not an
obstacle, to faith.

This book is a story made up of such
experiences. The seed is being planted up and
down the land. Under Mary's maternal care, it
will grow everywhere, and the fruits will be a

Lorenzo Albacete
Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete
Theologian, Columnist, Author