June 1963. In a corner of the room the television had been left on – a rare occurrence. On the screen there was Saint Peter’s Square with throngs of people gathered there to say a final goodbye to Pope John XXIII. I remember the pope’s remains with the waxen face, the voice of the commentator, the words, and probably the expression on the face of my grandmother, my father and my mother when they said, “the pope is dead”. They told me about the way he had shown people how to see Jesus, about his kindness to everyone, and about his caress for children. I was four years old, and everything remained imprinted on my mind. It is one of the earliest memories I have. John XXIII is also imprinted on my heart, like soft wax, making an indelible mark on my life with a special seal. It is grateful love that has been an anchor for me ever since that time.
John Paul II came onto the scene when I was in my twenties. He was part of those years of growth and decisions, my journey to adult life.
His words “do not be afraid” are a real call to battle for me. Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, the centre of the cosmos and of history, is remembered every day as the centre of my heart’s affection. The book of the encyclical has a cover with the face of Christ by Masaccio, smooth and radiant. I remember the bare rooms where we worked on it for a year with a religious education group. We were twenty years old.
Those years turned our lives around. At the point at which you make, not “a” decision, but “the” decision of your life, that is, “to whom does my life belong”, we found John Paul II to be a transparent witness to what happens when a person is won over by Christ.
My engagement to Nanni from 1978 to 1985, the close friends that we had, medical studies from 1977 to 1983, battles shared with friends, like the one against the legalisation of abortion in 1981, that make us take a position and teach us what it is to have and show a Christian presence in society – all of this was assessed and measured against the witness given by John Paul II. It became clear to us that a Christian is not one who “living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country” (Alexis de Tocqueville). To take the destiny of the world to heart, to give of oneself with one’s time and energy in order to bear witness to Jesus – the one who asks us and equips us to give –, is the greatest gift for ourselves above all and also for these confused times. To do otherwise, as Tocqueville describes, is not enough, is not Christian and is not human.
Today, at the age of 55, after 29 years of married life, 4 children and 31 years’ service as a doctor, with gratitude and emotion I recognise the signs of the legacy of John Paul II in my life.
He made a renewed call, one that already existed deep down in the teaching of the Church, to the theology of the body, and to the essence and significance of being a woman. They taught me about the beauty and pride of being a woman in a Christian way, that is, in belonging to Christ. The words “do not be conformed” accompanied me throughout my life. I constantly had to choose anew against the zeitgeist (1968, free love, “it’s my uterus”, independent women, “my time”, equality of the sexes). I chose beauty, the miraculous nature of chastity, and self-giving, in my engagement, in marriage, in the choice of obedience to the teaching of natural methods which meant returning (every month!) to a greater Design. The first of our children was born in 1986, the second in 1988. I almost felt that I was now organised with the correct number of children. Then one evening when I was teaching my child to sing “Take my life, I give it to You”, I understood that the right way goes in that direction. I would have other pregnancies, two of which would come to term. We are the youth of John Paul II’s “Jeweller’s shop”. We learned about the infinite greatness of others and of ourselves. We came to realise that chastity is the only way to fill the infinite desire of us all, myself and others. It introduces beauty and ever new freshness to a relationship that would otherwise inevitably wear out.
I learned with John Paul II to affirm the value of my relationship with my husband "differently" from that of the dominant culture, which had also had a hold on me. It was not simply sentiments or rebellion, but it was the task of giving oneself to another, despite our differences and problems, the years that were passing and the very difficult situations that we experienced.
Another characteristic of being a priest that we see in John Paul II is his closeness to the families of his friends with whom he shared a journey. It was for life and it was deep, and it emerged forcefully from the brilliant and concrete way in which he spoke about the family, relationships between men and women and the role of women. Over the years, together with my husband and then also with our children, our family welcomes and tries to offer company to priests. We desire to support them in their vocation, in the knowledge that we show each other the tenderness of God.
In Christian friendship together with my husband, we have continuously nourished our awareness that educating children means placing our trust in our faith and not on our abilities or theirs. At a time of great aridity and lack of courage, Christian families have become, like the abbeys in the Middle Ages, custodians of human values in barbaric times.
In 1983 I graduated in medicine. In 1985 I married, and then I had children to raise, a family and work. Was this a difficult or impossible challenge? My generation of women, the baby-boomers, for the first time in history made a live experiment: most of them chose to work outside the home. This choice meant liberation for many and the affirmation of their autonomy and independence, also with respect to the family context. The leitmotif for women of my generation has mostly become: you are of value if you work, work and career come first and then the rest, if you can. Again, in order not to be conformed to this tragic confusion, I constantly sought the teaching and company of the Church. I wanted it to convert my love and attachment to my work day after day and to help me live in service to everyone, including my family.
Yes, dear John XXIII and John Paul II, what you showed me is true. It remains in my eyes. In the effort and obedience to the circumstances of each day, in Christ, my life as a woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and doctor, is infinitely more beautiful than I could have imagined as a young girl.
Elisabetta Buscarini - Gastroenterologist, Major Hospital of Crema, Italy