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The sunlight at La Verna, the silence of the woods and padre Basilio's smile

by Roberto‚ÄČNapoletano

Dear Editor-In-Chief,
I read your latestMemorandum with great pleasure: it struck me for the sensitivity and attentiveness you show to people, places, memories... Forever taking care to find a way forwards that can take us if not far, at least a little closer to the skies!
I send you a warm embrace,
Antonello Sica

The power of faith, to my mind, is imbued with the light and colors of Mount La Verna in Tuscany, where Saint Francis received the stigmata. La Verna is one of the Frassati Trails of Italy. I climbed up to La Verna for the first time when I was ten, driven there by bus one week in July, with don Cesare and a group of Azione Cattolica girls and boys my own age from the parish of Christ the King in La Spezia.

I have received a mound of cards, emails, texts sent me by the community of Italians that belong on those hiking trails honoring Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati; not to mention the personal phone calls – and throughout them, there was a palpable, smiling liveliness. Serenity and mirth go hand in hand with faith, they are the alpha and omega of a journey made up of small things, where nature, heart and mind cohabit, where you breathe the clean mountain air and the beauty and greatness of creation, the strong spirit of a community of adolescents and the cement that keeps them together, in harmony.

I returned to La Verna every summer up to my first year at the Liceo Classico, then my family left La Spezia and I had to leave my friends behind; yet as the years go by, I realize that I never really walked away from that mountain. La Verna stayed with me all my life, and I'm glad it did. Not a single July goes by that it doesn't come to mind, that it doesn't “do its work,” as don Cesare would say: every time I'm in trouble or whenever disappointment attempts to metamorphose into anger, it helps me be tougher on myself and easier on others.

Sometimes, it does me the kindness of making me see with my mind's eye once more, as if he stood before me, the chubby, cheerful face and high-colored cheeks of an “elder brother” who is no longer with us, Paolo Giuntella; and hear his imperious cry on the white Vespa scooter, or sitting at table in a Roman tavern: “Remember, death does not have the last word, understood?”

I feel a sense of deep relief in all this, a relief that's spiritual but radiates through the body, you can see it in your eyes, you suddenly find you have a strength all your own and can dissolve a fit of anger, turning it into a smile.

I've said it and written it so many times, allow me to repeat it here: faith is a gift I was given by the firs and beeches of the Casentino valley in Tuscany, the evening bonfires in the woods and singing Hail Mary, the silence of the little church, Santa Maria degli Angeli, the wooden cross and running on the paved yard by the sundial.

I recall an episode in particular, during one of those La Verna summers of my childhood, which I barely mentioned last week and that concerns one particular afternoon of adolescent turmoil, when a minor disappointment had seemed insurmountable and I'd felt like running away. I spoke to padre Basilio in one of the cells, he listened to me and said nothing, merely turned his gaze to the wooden cross, smiled and made a small, wordless gesture.

That smile of his instantly warms and soothes me. Forty years have gone by, my temper and temperament have been put to the test time and time again, and there's been no shortage of difficult moments: unemployment, mistakes on my part, pettiness on the part of others, human disappointments big and small; yet the sunlight of La Verna and the silence of its woods have worked wonders and that smiling presence in the background never truly deserted me, even when it came as an afterthought, the day after, in the face of anger or despair.

I like to think that many of our readers had their own La Verna, their own padre Basilio, and make an effort not to forget them. These are miracles too, in a way; the miracles of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.