This year we celebrate the centenary of the death of Blessed Luigi Tezza (1841-1923), a Camillian religious and founder, together with St Josephine Vannini, of the congregation of the Daughters of St Camillus.
Blessed Luigi Tezza (1841-1923) was a fruitful and original interpreter of the Camillian charism of charity towards those suffering in body and spirit.
The more than one thousand letters that have been sought out, preserved, classified, read and meditated upon with filial intelligence and devotion by the religious Daughters of St. Camillus reveal in their transversality that paper, ink and inkpot provided Fr. Luigi with an opportunity for deep recollection in the soul, for the finalisation of thought, for the condensation of the spirit, even though often in these letters one speaks of simple things, of normal affairs, of ordinary events, of daily relationships, of problems and duties of various kinds.
Ordinary life, steeped in joys and sorrows, projects and dreams and inevitable tensions and challenges, becomes, in Fr. Luigi Tezza’s style, a locus theologicus, a revealing place of his perception of the Providence of Di o, a testimony of a sincere faith open to the Lord’s permanent, and often shattering, novelties; of an unbreakable hope even if continually immersed in trials; of a charity that was always generous, attentive and refined in the style with which it was exercised.
His existence was a long, eventful, authentic pilgrimage for the mission.
Of his 82 years of life, in fact, 42 were spent in Italy, 19 in France and 23 in Peru: in Verona and Rome, the ministry of formation; in France, the fidelity and creativity to the Camillian charism; the authoritativeness of leadership, at the top of the Camillian Order; the humility of the Samaritan service and the ministry of consolation in hospital, ‘her true paradise on earth’; the foundation of the Daughters of St. Camillus and the intuition of the ‘feminine genius’ to serve the sick with a maternal heart and to witness the ‘Gospel of Life’ to the poor and the suffering; the mission in Lima (Peru) where gentleness and firmness, understanding and confrontation have reactivated the ancient ardour of the Camillian charism, offering new credibility to the hospitaller ministry and the domestic apostolate of the ‘fathers of the beautiful dying‘.
The existential trajectory that is traced – from the inside – in this epistolary reveals, in clear letters, a transparent and overwhelming identity:
- of his time – Fr. Tezza gave soul to every meeting, letting himself be challenged by even extreme situations of the ‘great’ Italian and French national history of the late 19th century, but also by every ‘small’ and precious individual story;
- of the land where he lived from stage to stage, as if he had always been a child of that country and culture, according to the humble and suffering logic of incarnation;
- within the Camillian Order, first, within the congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus, then, and more generally within the Church, structuring his personal belonging, marked by great gentleness and at the same time by a docile and obedient fidelity to superiors and Pastors, but also by a determined, continuous, ductile and resilient ministerial and project initiative.
The epistolary like a great prism reveals a multifaceted and multifaceted existence that bends, from time to time, meekly to the force of daily history but always finds its primordial form and profound unity between life and profession of faith, between teacher of virtue and prophetic witness to the Lord’s mercy.
In this consistency, lies the secret of the fascination that emanates from his figure: this connection has its name in what St Thomas Aquinas calls ‘credibility’. He said this of Jesus’ own preaching: ‘Praedicatio Christi facta erat credibilis per miracula‘ (Super Io, ch. 1 l. 15). Words spoken with the mouth and deeds performed with life, therefore. This is what makes witnesses. St Ignatius of Antioch wrote: ‘It is better to be silent and be, than to say and not be. It is good to teach if he who speaks works. One alone is the teacher and he has said and done, and what he has kept silent and done is worthy of the Father‘ (Eph, XV, 1).
Like life, holiness is also a journey. No one is born a saint! Fr. Tezza was a man on a journey for his faith, and between the lines penned by his pen, the firm coordinates of this itinerary emerge.
- In the midst of the whirlwind of experiences and work from a young age, he managed to unify his life thanks to the golden thread of a rich spirituality.
- In the abandonment to the Lord and his will, in the experience of pain that binds the human person to the cross of Jesus, the universal expression of every other form of suffering, Fr Tezza saw the way to unite oneself to Christ, to die to oneself and to imitate him in his Love.
- Union with Christ crucified finds its source in devotion to the Heart of Jesus which, in Fr Louis, makes a synthesis of his theology, his culture, but also appeals to his affective and spiritual dimension. In the Heart of Jesus he finds consolation and it is in this dimension that the most empathetic encounter takes place with the suffering bodies he touches and the tormented souls he touches to console them.
- The mystical dimension of his pragmatic and performing service to the sick made him a contemplative in action: a realist and daring organiser, an authoritative leader capable of motivating demanding decisions, he always transfigured, in imitation of Saint Camillus, the concrete service he rendered to his brothers, superiors, religious sisters, and the sick, into an act of worship rendered to God.
I believe this is where the prophetic relevance of Fr. Tezza’s existence stems from: care, attention, proximity, make the trial, the suffering, the need a place and a space where to place a sign and a proclamation of humanity for all; indicating the prophecy of daily life, with becoming close to those who bear the sign and the sense of the fatigue of living!
If, because of his choice of life, Fr. Luigi’s letters speak in a particular way to consecrated persons, his message is equally proactive for all Christians and men and women of good will, particularly those engaged in the world of sickness and health.
They are an invitation to keep one’s humanity alive and warm, to welcome, protect and respect life and especially fragile and vulnerable life, to find in the conscious and generous gift of oneself the very reward of one’s choices, actions and labours. To become aware that there is only one response to God’s love: Goodness done well!
- Gianfranco Lunardon
translated in English by DEEPL