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from issue no. 04 - 2007

Saint Riccardo Pampuri and Don Luigi Giussani

The miracle of God’s familiarity

THE HEART OF JESUS «Whether our mind be oppressed by pain or disappointment, whether it overflow with holy joy, it finds in the Sacred Heart of Jesus what it needs, everything it could desire, the salve for its wounds and the comfort for its hurts, the confirmation of its hopes, the strength to persevere, the most effective urge to an ever greater perfection and the ineffable joy of the living feeling of the sonship and friendship of God and of brotherly union with Jesus Christ» Saint Riccardo Pampuri

by Lorenzo Cappelletti

The parish church of the Saint Martyrs Cornelius and Cyprian in Trivolzio, where the body of Saint Riccardo Pampuri is preserved and venerated

The parish church of the Saint Martyrs Cornelius and Cyprian in Trivolzio, where the body of Saint Riccardo Pampuri is preserved and venerated

From 1993 and then with increasing intensity in 1995 and 1996, Don Giussani made reference to Saint Riccardo Pampuri in many public and private conversations, many of which now published. We have already written about them (cf. 30Days no. 9, September 2006). Our intention here is to go over in more systematic fashion, and precisely thanks to the published texts, the evocation made by Don Giussani of the Saint of Trivolzio canonized by John Paul II on 1 November 1989.
The first chronologically published mention that we have (reporting a conversation of 6 May 1993), arose out of the irony with which the person who was given the task of transcribing conversations with Don Giussani – out of which were to come the “Quasi Tischreden” in the Rizzoli series Libri dello spirito cristiano – assured him, given his concern that the transcription be «absolutely total», that everything has been transcribed: «There’s even the final phrase: “Let’s say a Glory be to Saint Pampuri”». At which Don Giussani, obviously picking up on a reductive intention in those last words, took the ball on the bounce: «But excuse me», he says, «devotion to the saints has a special meaning because they are contemporary: they remind us that the mystery of Christ is present to us. And the life of Saint Pampuri is impressive in its absolute simplicity, like that of a farmer, of a country doctor whom nobody knew, except for the goodness with which he treated his patients. And then he went into the monastery, where he was not recognized for what he was, and died like that after three years. But this is the greatest miracle of these decades that I know of, because the miracle is the demonstrating of the power with which God “leads everybody by the nose”, doing great things without anyone’s involvement! So watch out about making fun of the names of the saints and be devoted to them instead. The first devotion must be to the saints contemporary with us. If the Church makes Riccardo Pampuri a saint now or makes Giuseppe Moscati a saint now it’s because, through them, it wants to teach what is important for the Church today» (L’attrativa Gesù [The Jesus attraction], Rizzoli, pp. 11-12).
Far be it from us to want to interpret Don Giussani, mindful of his irritation and, on the other hand, his forebearance for this widespread habit, but it does seem to us that the themes that were to return constantly in his reference to Saint Riccardo Pampuri are already present in his first mention: devotion to the saints and the trust in their intercession, humble daily work, the familiar presence of God and the power with which he works miracles.
Let us begin by saying that Saint Riccardo Pampuri is never evoked by Don Giussani as the superfluous crowning of an argument. Saint Riccardo always recurs to show, through the concrete goodness expressed in his work as doctor which continues in his miracles, the present power with which God acts, “leading everyone by the nose”, or, as Don Giussani said elsewhere, “playing wily tricks”: «Say some Glory be to Saint Pampuri – we must make the most of the saints that God has created amongst us in our time and in our locality. We must call on him: a Glory be to Saint Pampuri every day. Especially after the last miracle he performed. The relative of a friend of ours from Coazzano fell very seriously ill with bone-marrow disease: transplant or transplant from herself, one of the most serious things there is. And Laura told this friend of hers: “Let’s make a pilgrimage nearby, to Saint Pampuri”. Notice that she chose Saint Pampuri because he was nearer, and that causes no scandal: if Our Lady of Caravaggio had been nearer, they’d have gone to Caravaggio. And they go there, they take the image of the saint and Laura says to the other, Cristina: “We need something concrete, so touch Saint Pampuri’s clothes with the image”. And the one with the image touches the hat of his bandsman’s uniform. They go to the hospital and give it to the woman. While she’s still there reading the prayer, the doctor arrives with the result of the latest tests: “I must have got it wrong”, he says in amazement, “let’s do the test again”. In half an hour the results arrive: just like the earlier one! Then the doctor says: “Listen, you have every right to speak of a miracle. You can go home”. “What?”. “You can go home, you’re cured!”. Not two thousand years ago with the widow of Nain, but now. Under all this is hidden the accomplishment of the most “wily” trick that God plays on mankind. With the passage of time, with experience that multiplies or ripens, develops, it becomes more evident – at first one doesn’t notice! – that one is really much more inside this description of miracle than in the feelings one had before of oneself, or in the feelings in which films or novels are shaped» (from the conversation of 19 January 1995 reported in Tu, (o dell’amicizia) [You (or of friendship)], Rizzoli, pp. 287-288). That final fundamental observation, i.e. that one needs to conceive one’s own existence as defined by what the Lord performs, was constantly to accompany, as we shall see, the evocation of the miracles of Saint Riccardo.
Saint Riccardo Pampuri

Saint Riccardo Pampuri

In those same early months of 1995, still under the impression of that healing, we find another reference to Saint Riccardo Pampuri at the end of a talk with the community of medical students at the Milan State University. Precisely as a result of the faithful transcription made of it (in Avvenimento in libertà [Event in freedom], Marietti, pp. 61-85), the talk comes across as very fatiguing and shows how little words – even the truest, and spoken with the vivacity and patience with which Don Giussani was able to make the most of every fragment of authenticity – could get through. Thus the reference to the healing above attributed to Saint Riccardo, along with the still more resounding healing in Belgium in 1875 of the leg of Pietro De Rudder through the invocation of Our Lady of Lourdes, seems almost like an invocation made by Don Giussani himself that the power of miracle might get through the armour of otherwise invincible formalisms. And it was in the same February of 1995 that Don Giussani spoke the much-quoted and ever more relevant phrase: «We are in such a universal degradation that nothing receptive of Christianity any longer exists except brute creatural reality. Thus it is the moment of the beginnings of Christianity, it is the moment in which Christianity arises, it is the moment of the resurrection of Christianity. And the resurrection of Christianity has a single great instrument. What? The miracle. It is the time of the miracle. People must be told to call on the saints because that is what they are made for».
In 1995, in the December Spiritual Exercises, again in front of university students, Don Giussani re-evoked the figure of Saint Riccardo Pampuri. Pampuri served as bridge between the gigantic figures of Saint Paul and of Mother Teresa. In his exposition Don Giussani set out how, on the one hand, «the measure of our desires as men» finds correspondence even in the simple figure «of this very young and silent local doctor». And on the other he recalled his miracles, of which he was getting frequent news, precisely so as to alert young people, obviously engrossed by a dominant climate of a different temper, to how familiar God has made Himself for mankind. «God enters into the fabric, shortlived, almost imperceptible, so small is it, of what happens to us. God has made himself familiar to mankind. That God became a man, Jesus Christ, means that God has become familiar to mankind; his way of relating to my life, to that desire for happiness that he gave me in creating me, is expressed in a perceivable familiarity: I am led, enlightened, sustained, checked, forgiven, I am the object of mercy, embraced as by a father and a mother, as by a bride or a bridegroom, as a friend embraces the friend of his heart. The relationship of mankind with God is the contrary of what the whole modern mind-set imagines: great enterprises and great schemes for plumbing the stars, attempts to survey the depths (or heights) of being. No! You are my Father! Jesus said: “Friend, you betray me with a kiss!”. Or he clasped the child in his lap and said: “Woe to those who hurt a hair of the smallest of these children, woe to those who cause them scandal”, for nobody has concern for children. God has become familiar. The miracle is a familiar method of God’s daily relations with us – the miracle in its most personal, private meaning, or in its most public and grandest meaning. Because our relation with God is altogether exceptional. If He is the creator He is of each instant: in each instant He constructs me, I am made of Him. Therefore that this appear, that it tend to appear familiarly – like a mother’s gesture of love tends to occur many times each day: a look, a caress, a kiss, a “hi” – such is the mode of God’s relations with us» (in Litterae communionis-Tracce, n. 1, January 1996, p. X).
This same notion, let’s call it such, sit venia verbo, of the concerned solicitousness with which God continues to become present through the change that He brings about, recurs in the brief mention of Saint Pampuri in Si può (veramente?!) vivere così? [Can you (really?) live like this?] (a book again published by Rizzoli in August 1996 but which brings together the talks of the two previous years). «Christ is present, so present that He works the change of a thing present – that is you [the person to whom Don Giussani was addressing himself in that moment] – and therefore the memory is recognizing, as present in a change, Christ, who began two thousand years ago, but remains to the end of time. Indeed He specifies: “I shall be with you all days”– and thinking of Saint Pampuri who in recent months has performed miracles for us almost every week, one understands that it is just so – “I shall be with you, all days, until the end of time”» (p. 122).
Don Luigi Giussani

Don Luigi Giussani

At a meeting at the end of January 1996 with the Executive Committee of the Families for Hospitality Association, in reference first of all to the apostles and then to Saint Riccardo, Don Giussani identified the idea of miracle with that of witness precisely in that both are founded on the change that God works. «The method that they used to reach the ends of the earth – as Jesus had told them – was witness. What does witness mean? Witness is a human reality in the total and common sense of the term – something that is seen, heard, touched – the content of a normal experience, but that vectors, carries within itself, something that is no longer normal […]. This exceptionality in normal behavior coincides with what is called miracle in Christian terms. The miracle is a thing that in its immediate aspects can be extremely normal, yet has inside something that recalls me perforce to God. […] The events resulting from Saint Pampuri are, for example, an exceptional grace. But what grace is it? The grace of God that forces us to understand that He is familiar! Hence the miracle is not a strange thing: it’s a normal thing! And there is nothing that could make us feel invested by a feeling originally and tendentially unitary, nothing that could make us feel brothers, in fraternal fashion, like the fact of this Mystery that is amongst us, that, as such, brings amongst us each day an overabundant witness of Himself, an overabundant comfort of miracle. […] Saint Pampuri is like few in his humility! Yes, because, what did he do? To the great amazement of the patients of the San Giuseppe clinic, he, the doctor, handed the bedpan to the patient, to whom not even the nurse remembered to give it. Everybody was struck by a doctor who was better, nicer, more humble, more helpful than a nurse».
The evocation of Saint Riccardo returned again at the end of the Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, on Sunday 5 May 1996. The leitmotiv of the Exercises was friendship, of which Don Giussani’s concluding words loudly lament the lack: «Friendship really doesn’t exist amongst us: we can be companions, “fierce” companions, in the sense of very attached, but not friends. Let us hope that this year your knowledge increases: we must know well what “friendship” means: yesterday and today have been the first hint. May our new friend, Saint Riccardo Pampuri (I say “our new friend” because he is called on by many amongst us, and he has done a great many miracles amongst us in the true sense of the word – even I know of hundreds! – but the Lord has sent him into our path that he may be friend to us in these bleak times), sustain us on our path» (Supplement to Litterae communionis-Tracce, n. 7, July/August 1996, p. 54).
Naturally there is present, in the devotion to Saint Riccardo, also this aspect, so fitting to Don Giussani, of territorial closeness (one perceives that Don Giussani was glad that «our new friend» sent by the Lord «into our path that he may be friend to us in these bleak times» was precisely a saint doctor/peasant from Lombardy ). A closeness strengthened by the suffering that, in the years of Don Giussani’s illness – permit me this poetic flight – had become the manifest expression of that wound of the heart of which Father Grandmaison’s prayer speaks, something he quoted several times, a wound that we trust has now finally been healed in heaven. «Saint Riccardo Pampuri was born in our countryside, a son of the Lombardy soil and its concreteness, hidden to the eyes of the world first in the years of his training, then in those of his work as local doctor, finally among the Fatebenefratelli, in whose congregation he found the definitive form of his baptismal vocation to holiness. […] May he be intercessor of many graces and obtain for us the gift of a heart like his “tormented by the glory of Christ, wounded by his love, with a hurt that does not heal except in heaven”» (from the preface to the book by Laura Cioni, Il santo semplice. Vita di san Riccardo Pampuri, [The simple Saint. The life of Saint Riccardo Pampuri], Marietti, p. 7).

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