“The year was 1975. I was at high school in Sicily. Learning about Cicero’s denunciation of Cataline in ancient Rome sparked a lively discussion among me and my schoolmates about the hot topic of freedom. Our class teacher wisely channeled our increasingly heated argument into a formal debate between the supporters of Cicero, expressed by one of my companions, and those of Cataline, for whom I was the spokesperson. My passionate defense of freedom became so ardent that they all applauded me. And from that day, the idea of freedom has characterized my whole life. But what is freedom? And am I free?”
Francesco is Italian; he is 59 and is married to Paola. The progressive nature of his illness means he can no longer move his body or speak. But he can move his eyes. Last year he started a blog, at the suggestion of a journalist who contacted him for a brief interview. At first Francesco used his thumbs and later began using an eye-gaze device, which may be slow but allows him to communicate the strength and dynamism he is finding within himself even as his body is becoming less active. His blog is entitled: “SLA: io Sono Libero d’Amare”. SLA = Sclerosi Laterale Amiotrofica translates as “ALS. I am Free to Love”.
“I’m no author. But a voice within suggests what words to put down. I’ve found I’m watching a film of my life that I never knew of before. This is my strength and I’ve been able to start communicating in this way. I receive messages that are deeply moving. I’ve simply expressed some of my thoughts and I receive back so much love. People communicate their emotions, sufferings, joys and most of all, life!”
“In my life, I’ve always tried every day to find time for a personal and intimate moment with God. It’s not always been possible, but every time I passed a church, I’d say “Ciao” to Jesus present in the tabernacle. Often I would actually go inside the church just to dedicate a little bit of my time to God. I’d try to silence myself so that He could speak to me. And before leaving I’d entrust the difficulties of the day to Him, sometimes joking ‘Jesus, this one is yours because I certainly can’t solve it on my own’. And I have to say, He’s never let me down.”
“How often, no matter how full our life may be, do we detect a feeling of emptiness or apathy inside us which covers our life with a veil of unhappiness?”
“One man brought me a glimmer of light: Augustine of Hippo. Reading his Confessions prepared me for an event in August 1976 which changed my life: my meeting with God who is Love and who loves me immensely. How can I correspond to this infinite love? It was the Gospel, which I’d read but not actually lived, that gave me the answer: how can you love the God you do not see, if you don’t love the neighbour you do see? This was my Copernican revolution. I found myself among a group of friends living this experience: we would read the Gospel together and try to put it into practice. My heart practically exploded with joy, and I began to appreciate that even suffering can be life!”
“I can still remember the smell of the sea, even if my illness has left me with no sense of smell, (…) I can feel the sensation of water on my skin, even if I’ve not been able to swim for the past three years. But this is not nostalgia. I’m not suffering over what I used to be or what I’ve become. I close my eyes and my body is floating. It’s not a dream or fantasy; it’s my Lord who continues to say to me ‘Do not fear’.”
“This disease – ALS – was written in my heart from when I was born, but I didn’t know it until a few years ago. My tax code actually starts with ALS, and I don’t think it’s just coincidence! I don’t believe in fate, but I trust in one who has chosen me as her son and has never abandoned me. Mary, the mother of Jesus is my safety net, like the one a trapeze artist has (…).”
“It is an experience that keeps on repeating itself, every time I’m assailed by doubt and I feel my hope sinking. Mary is always there, so I can’t be afraid! (…) Mary has marked out the way for me, and Chiara Lubich has taught me every day to point my interior compass on Jesus Forsaken on the cross. He is the secret to finding the Truth.”
“Living the present moment perfectly brings us into God eternally. That’s what Chiara has taught me. And in the present moment I can cry out loud, maybe not with my voice but with my heart: I am FREE TO LOVE!” (In Italian = “SONO LIBERO di AMARE!” SLA – Sclerosi Laterale Amiotrofica).
Extracts from Francesco’s blog (in Italian)